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Billionaire Insights With David Rubenstein

Self-made billionaire, David Rubenstein regularly brainstorms business, life and success habits with entrepreneurial peers like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Here’s his take on what makes great entrepreneurs tick.

Nadine Todd



David Rubenstein

Vital stats

  • Player: David Rubenstein
  • Company: The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, launched by Rubenstein and his partners in 1987.
  • Claim to Fame: David Rubenstein is currently number 257 on the Forbes 400 Richest People in America list. His personal wealth is valued at $2,6 billion, and his Forbes self-made score is 9 out of 10, due to his lower middle-class upbringing. He is one of 140 signatories of the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy, spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates.

David Rubenstein knows a thing or two about the mindset of a successful entrepreneur. He’s not only built one of the largest private equity firms in the world, but he’s done so from the base of a blue-collar background, working hard to become the first person in his family to get a degree, to practising as a lawyer, and finally finding his entrepreneurial feet.

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Through both the Giving Pledge and his role at The Carlyle Group, he regularly interacts with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. Here are the five characteristics that he believes ultimately lead to success.

1. Tenacity

Great businesses are never just about a good idea, working hard, and then success comes easily. Most entrepreneurs face a multitude of struggles before achieving success. The tenacity to overcome those challenges is a real determining factor in what a business and the founder ultimately achieves.

Entrepreneurs don’t take no for an answer. By definition, if you’re starting a new company and selling a new product, it’s a product that doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean that someone didn’t already think of the idea, and didn’t think it would work.

Most entrepreneurs are trying to push against the grain and convince the naysayers that their take on the concept has merit. If you easily take no for an answer, you won’t be a good entrepreneur.

2. The drive to succeed

Entrepreneurs are driven people. It’s rare to meet an entrepreneur who says, ‘You know, I’m going to go into work today at about 10am, and I think I’ll leave at around 4pm because I want to play golf.’ It’s a rare entrepreneur who says, ‘I don’t work on weekends’. It’s a rare entrepreneur who comes from a wealthy family.

Generally, entrepreneurs are driven people who are more interested in proving their ideas work than making a lot of money. When I interact with other members of the Forbes 400 who built their companies, virtually none of them say, ‘I wanted to make money’. They say: ‘I had an idea and I wanted to prove it would work’.

In most cases, being a genius isn’t a determining factor of business success. Einstein was a genius, but there’s no evidence he was a good businessman. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to be a successful entrepreneur, but drive is a far more important determining factor: The drive to improve yourself; the conviction that you’re doing something that’s going to prove you’re correct; and the ability to work with other people, and get them to see the world the way you do are essential.

3. They’re not in it for the money


Obviously when you make a lot of money you’ll find people accumulating the trappings of wealth, but I don’t think most entrepreneurs are as pleased with having a yacht or a plane or multiple homes as they are with proving that the company they thought was a good idea when no-one else did is a success.

A key driver that I see over and over again is the joy entrepreneurs take in the fact that they were right and others were wrong.

4. The desire to change the world for the better

In many ways entrepreneurship is like parenthood. As a parent you have a great deal of pride for how your child develops. You will sacrifice everything for your child, and do anything to try and make their life better.

This is how entrepreneurs feel about their companies. They create them, nurture them in the early years, and see them grow and mature into an adult form. There’s an incredible sense of purpose to both parenthood and entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs want to make the world a better place. Businesses create jobs, help others earn a living and give them dignity and self-worth.

Entrepreneurs create wealth for themselves, their employees and society through taxes and hopefully offering a product or service that adds value to society and other businesses as well. There’s a massive sense of pride in a business that really adds value.

The interesting entrepreneurial conundrum occurs when the business matures, though. Some entrepreneurs want to keep creating, others can also be managers. Business owners often need to figure out which they are. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mike Bloomberg all created companies and ran them for many years, but this isn’t always the case. Many entrepreneurs are great at creating companies, but they aren’t good at running what they created.

The problem of course is that the personality of a successful entrepreneur comes with a sizeable ego.

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The trick is to also have enough humility to understand where and when you’re adding value, and when it’s better to step down for the good of the company. The truth is, you don’t need an entrepreneur to run mature companies, you need a manager. 

5. They want to give back

When I signed the Giving Pledge, it was because of a deeply held belief that those who have been fortunate and lucky in business have an obligation to give back and help make society a better place, whether it’s by helping people to get educated, medical treatments, or supporting charitable organisations.

When I grew up, I never saw myself as disadvantaged. I didn’t know about wealth.

Looking back I can say, okay, I didn’t have the wealth that other people had, some people might have said I was slightly disadvantaged because I didn’t have a wealthy family and contacts to propel me into success, but in hindsight it was a very advantaged upbringing. The most advantaged thing you can have, as Warren Buffet has said, is the unconditional love of two parents.

If you’re fortunate to have two parents, and they give you unconditional love and support in what you are doing, that’s worth a lot more than the money you might have gotten.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 6 Success Secrets of the World’s Billionaires

The hardest thing in life is to achieve personal happiness. The people who achieve it are not the wealthiest people. If you’ve created wealth, put it to good use.

6. The Role of Luck

Luck is the most important thing in life. Most successful entrepreneurs have had a fair amount of luck in their business endeavours. Bill Gates is a very smart person, but it was IBM’s mistake in not buying the operating system that he developed, and letting him license it to them instead, which helped propel his success.

Steve Jobs was thrown out of his company, and only later brought back as CEO. If that hadn’t happened, he probably wouldn’t have been heard from again.

I owe a lot of my own success to luck. It was not preordained that I would be a successful businessman. I came from a modest background; my parents did not graduate from high school, and my father worked at a post office and earned a modest salary. I worked hard to earn the grades that would secure me the bursaries I needed to study law.

My goal was to work at the White House, which I had achieved as a lawyer under the Carter administration by the time I was 27. Had Carter won the 1980 election, I would have stayed at the White House, and my career would have progressed in the political sphere, as a lawyer or lobbyist for successive administrations.

Carter didn’t win though, which meant I went back to the private sector, where I soon realised I actually wasn’t a good lawyer. Had I been a good lawyer, I’d probably still be practising law today.

What seemed like bad luck — working for a single-term President and then realising I wasn’t suited to my chosen profession, actually turned out to be incredible strokes of luck, because they gave me the opportunity to pursue something I was very good at, namely private equity.

Even more fortuitous was the fact that I was based in Washington DC. I didn’t have a Wall Street background, which meant there was no way I could have launched a PE firm in New York. Washington DC was different.

No one was doing this there. People laughed at me and what I was trying to do, but they also had no one else to compare me to. This meant I could convince people to join the firm who had more financial skills than I had, although they also had no Wall Street experience.

In 1987 I started the first private equity firm in Washington DC, and thanks to luck and good fortune, it became a highly successful global company.

There’s an art to using luck though, and that starts with the understanding that luck comes and goes. Spot it and use it when it comes, but let go of missed opportunities. They happen. Fixating on them doesn’t help you find the next opportunity.

I’ve personally missed more opportunities than I’ve probably taken. I had a chance to invest in Facebook at the beginning; I turned it down. I had an opportunity to be a big shareholder in Amazon; I turned that down. I had a chance to be an initial investor in Netscape and walked away from that too. We all make mistakes.

7. Entrepreneurial DNA

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world share similar characteristics: They come from modest backgrounds, often lower-middle class; they’re driven, intelligent people, but not geniuses; they’re people that know how to motivate other people, and lead either by communicating very well or leading by example; they don’t take no for an answer; and they’re more interested in the success of their company and showing people that they are right in what they thought than the trappings of wealth.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.



Joel Stransky Shares His Insights On What Makes A Great Leader

Enter Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent.

Dirk Coetsee




Posters displayed on companies’ walls representing the business’ Vision and value system are a common occurrence. A general value that numerous companies share is to be client centred and to provide excellent service. Yet, unfortunately a proportion of companies do not live according to their values as tools to actualize their collective Vision.

An observant individual would take only a few seconds to notice that the Leadership group at Pivotal has gone to great lengths to establish a definitive and value driven culture as well as a motivating climate for their team members. As I waited in the reception area I was met with smiles from several people passing by and there was generally no way to assess what their position was as they were all casually dressed, friendly and approachable.

Related: 5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Rugby

Enters Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent, is the use of Augmented Intelligence and data analytics within the “human capital space”.  The application of AI and data makes talent acquisition and career guidance much less of an enigma and challenge as opposed to the recent past where traditional talent acquisition and career guidance methods became less and less successful and more and more time consuming.

The “pivot” of the 1995 Victorious Springbok world cup team shared that he always starts off an employee-employer relationship with the assumption of mutual trust and respect. He believes that once you have put in the sincere effort to understand people better, bigger belief in them is a natural result.

“The greatest asset in business is people,” Joel passionately explained and added that it is possible for a brilliant product to fail in the long run when the wrong people are employed.


“Hiring the right people that would not only help sustain the current culture but add more value to it is critical to any team or companies’ sustainable success,” Joel explained. The Millennial generation think differently and have different expectations from a working environment, therefore it is a critical factor for any manager and/or Leader to understand what drives the emerging generation and also how to manage the polarity of generational gaps.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

As a result of diversity and generational gaps Leadership and management has become a fascinating space to operate within South-Africa as not only cultural and language barriers might offer a challenging HR environment, the millennial generations unique behaviours amplify the need for useful adaptations within all spheres of work.

As a practical example, employee X is twenty-three years old. Some of the key questions that management needs to figure out, that is if they sincerely want the best for, and the best out of employee X, are:

  • Is X motivated by monetary rewards and/ or does she/he need a regular hug to feel part of and add to the company culture?
  • Does X need to interact with management socially for example be taken out do dinner?
  • What skills does X have or lack that impacts his/her performance?
  • It is impossible to motivate someone else. In what way can I create an environment for X wherein he/she can motivate himself/herself and excel?

How you satisfy Xs’ needs and manage all related factors to his or her needs has become critical success factors in how we as leader’s approach career development in general.

Reflecting on the development of his own sports and business career, as well as his family life Joel is adamant that whatever drives you in sport also drives you in business and within your family life. Whatever he has achieved within all aspects of his life came as a result of setting goals and making those goals a reality.

Both in sports and in the business world within South Africa there is a general tendency towards over structured management and coaching. Although a structure and daily management is an integral part of business and sports, a paradigm shift towards inspirational Leadership that empowers other leaders to succeed is key in terms of serving others and creating a motivating and sustainable environment within which all team members can thrive.

Reflecting on Joels’ observation: “Our countries’ value chain is broken” the moment has most certainly arrived within which more and more value driven and ethical Leaders, emerging from all generations must arise and collectively work towards an improved future.

Critical to the actualisation of a collective future vision is the development of Leadership skills therefore one of the keen interests of the author is to recognise and learn from other Leaders’ character traits. Joel’s’ highly effective communication skills underpinned by the core people skill of active listening quickly came to the fore as he could quote part of my question and comments in each of the very insightful answers that he provided. His keen willingness to innovate and to create inspiring working environments makes his enthusiasm and skill as a Leader tangible.

Let us all challenge ourselves to learn from prime Leadership examples offered by individuals such as  Joel Stransky and leave more and more Leaders behind for only in such a way can an inspiring future be built.

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Nhlanhla Dlamini Not Only Has Guts, But Grit – In Spades

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla Dlamini did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

Wits Business School




It takes guts to venture into entrepreneurship. And when you’re in a ‘cushy’ job with a top global auditing firm who are grooming you for partnership, it takes even more guts.

Nhlanhla Dlamini not only has guts, but grit – in spades.

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

“I started thinking, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life?’”, recalls Nhlanhla. “I always felt a pressing need to get involved in lowering the unemployment rate in South Africa.  It’s a notoriously difficult space, but entrepreneurship is the real engine of job creation and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.”

When he left his job at McKinsey in March 2015, Nhlanhla decided to explore the agricultural sector – having no idea what product or what part of the value chain he would end up in. He spent until December that year exploring the agri-food sector, gaining as much understanding as he could about the entire industry by talking to famers, co-ops, agricultural associations and various other stakeholders.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

“I wanted to export products to the US and I looked at tree nuts, blueberries, dairy products or meat. Because of stringent FDA regulations, meat wasn’t an option – but a friend of mine from WBS days suggested meat in the form of pet food.”

And so Maneli Pets was born, and Nhlanhla moved his fledgling business into a factory, which he re-purposed for meat processing, in October 2016. By June 2017, he had started operations with 30 employees on board, and by September he had 50 employees.

Maneli Pets

What makes Maneli different from other US-bound pet food products in an already saturated market? The answer is high protein meat from animals that are unique to South Africa.

“I discovered a market for the off-cuts of meat  from specialist butcheries – so crocodile, warthog, ostrich etc,” Nhlanhla explains. “The result is a very high quality, high protein pet snack with a difference – and US pet owners are willing to pay for the best they can get.”

Under the brand name ‘Roam’, Maneli Pets products are exported to a pet food wholesaler in Boston, US, owned by the family of Nhlanhla’s former WBS classmate, who had planted the seed of the idea in the first place.  Nhlanhla is now preparing to launch the products under another brand name for distribution in South Africa and export to the EU.

But pet food is only the start. Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company which is looking ooking to build further businesses in the green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship.

According to a City Press report, South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, which is why government is actively promoting agro-processing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.

Nhlanhla has worked tirelessly to secure government funding, and was thrilled to obtain R26 million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Just last month, he received the news that Maneli Pets had been awarded grant funding of R12.5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Black Industrialists Scheme (BIS).

Nhlanhla, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, considers his PDM at WBS a “superb” way of preparing a student for the real world of work. “The group dynamics was an essential learning experience in terms of delivering on a mandate with a group with entirely different skill sets.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Describing himself as a “passionate and active WBS alumnus”, Nlhanhla still stays in regular contact with a core group from his PDM class, proving that one of the enduring benefits of a PDM (and an MBA) is the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people and form life-long friendships.

Apart from what he learnt in the Entrepreneurship Management module of the PDM, such as the pillars of entrepreneurship, macro trend support and financing an idea, Nhlanhla considers the keys to success are threefold: Recognising the value of a social network, tenacity – and just a little luck!

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See And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

The BCX Disrupt Summit has gathered some of the world’s most innovative and disruptive thinkers to guide you and your business into the future.



See And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

As one of the largest technology players in South Africa, BCX embraces disruption. As an organisation, one of its primary focuses is to move its customers into the future, not just with products and services, but a shift in mindset as well.

What tools and ideas do we need to embrace today to be ahead of the curve tomorrow? With this in mind, BCX has partnered with BrainFarm to launch the inaugural BCX Disrupt Summit.

“The BCXDisrupt Summit is a platform for South African innovators and businesses to learn from and be inspired by some of the greatest examples of possibility in the world,” says Dean Carlson, founder and CEO of BrainFarm, the event organisers.

A gathering of minds

The BCXDisrupt Summit is bringing some of the world’s greatest minds together under one roof for two days. The speaker line-up includes, Malcolm Gladwell, Rapelang Rabana and Nick Goldman and topics covered will range from where technology is heading, to how playing games can extend your life expectancy by up to ten years.

Seven-time Grammy award winning hip hop artist is also a significant player in the tech and entrepreneurial space, as well as a philanthropist. He was a partner in Beats Electronics, which was sold to Apple for $3 billion in 2014. “When was 16 years old, music was where it was at,” says Dean.

“And so, he focused on building a music career, and creating products for that industry. Today he’s learning to code, because that’s where it’s at. He’s got an unparalleled handle on where the world is moving to, and so many insights to share.”

Dean has built BrainFarm on a portfolio of incredible local and international speakers, each of whom he’s seen live. “I regularly attend international conferences to get a sense of which speakers and idea-shapers I’d like to bring to South Africa,” he explains.

“ is one of those global shapers whose ideas take everything to the next level. To get maximum value from him for our delegates, we’ve chosen an interview set-up instead of a key-note talk. Local tech expert Aki Anastasiou will be interviewing him, and the audience will be able to ask questions as well. This will give us an opportunity to localise’s knowledge and ideas.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

Author of five New York Times bestsellers, including David and Goliath and Outliers Gladwell is well known for introducing the concept of the 10 000-hour rule, which states anyone can become an expert in anything given enough time and practice. Dean first brought Malcolm Gladwell to South Africa in 2009.

“When I dropped him off at the airport, Malcolm signed his book for me with the words ‘Please invite me back,” says Dean.

“We’ve tried to bring him out a few times since then, but the timing hasn’t worked out. This was the ideal summit for Malcolm’s ideas, and this time, the timing worked.”

Having seen Malcolm in action many times over the years, Dean knows that he’s a speaker that always leaves his audiences wanting more. And so, the BrainFarm team thought about the best way give their delegates exactly that.

“Malcolm has developed a masterclass for the second day of the Summit that will focus on what makes a person successful, both in life and business. He’ll be unpacking tools our delegates can use to personally drive success.”

Nick Goldman

Nick Goldman

Nick is that rare breed of academic who is also an engaging and entertaining speaker. A UK-based mathematician and genome scientist, Nick is passionate about how we can store and preserve digital data.

“If you want to feed your brain, Nick is the person who will do that for you. His team recently coded five documents of historical significance onto a strand of DNA,” says Dean.

Each day, what we thought was possible changes. What does the future look like, and are you ready for it?

Related: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

Marieme Jamme

Marieme Jamme

Born in Senegal and sold into sex slavery, Marieme Jamme refused to accept the lot life had given her, and instead taught herself to code. It was a skill that enabled her to change her conditions and life. Today, through her latest venture, iamtheCODE, she has one giant, global goal: To teach one million women and girls to code by 2013.

“Marieme has a consultancy that helps tech companies get a foothold into Africa, the Middle east, Latin America and Asia, and she’s also focused on her mission to help other women and girls escape their fates by learning to code,” says Dean. “She’s one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever come accross.”

Sipho Maseko

Sipho Maseko

Heralded as the controversial CEO and saviour of Telkom, Sipho has helped the company rack up gains of 150%, making Telkom one of the best performing companies on the JSE. “A major focus of Telkom is getting businesses across Africa ready for tomorrow’s customers,” says Dean.

“To be ready for tomorrow’s customers though, you need to know who they are, and have a sense of what the future will bring.”

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal

A game designer, Futurist and New York Times best-selling author, Jane’s TED Talk, The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life, has over six million views to date.

Related: The 10 Strangest Secrets About Millionaires

Rapelang Rabana

Rapelang Rabana

Local tech-star Rapelang Rabana is the CEO and founder of Rekindle Learning, a company she has positioned at the crest of a rapidly rising online community across Africa.

Her mission: To deliver learning in bite-sized chunks across the continent.

Ian Russel

Ian Russel

CEO of BCX. BCX has invested millions in computer programming education so that young people from all social and economic backgrounds have the opportunity to become programmers at no cost to them.

Lars Silberbauer

Lars Silberbauer

When Lars joined LEGO as Senior Global Director of Social Media and Video, the company didn’t even have a Facebook page.

“Today LEGO has well over 12 million followers on Facebook and more than three million on YouTube where they’ve just knocked up five billion lifetime views,” says Dean.

“The big idea behind their social media campaigns is to leave the thinking to their fans. Lars understands the creative power of the crowd, and what harnessing that power can do for your business.”

Related: 8 Things Exceptional Thinkers Do Every Day

Bringing it all together

Dean Carlson

Dean Carlson

“We focus on projects that excite us, and that will change the perceptions and world views of our delegates,” says Dean. “We’ve partnered with BCX to put together an incredible event that will leave you inspired, amazed and driven to change your life and organisation – with the tools to do so.”

To find out more about the BCX Disrupt Summit or to book a seat, visit

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