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Richard Branson on the Entrepreneurs He Admires

When trying to make your way in the world as an emerging entrepreneur, don’t think of yourself as the next Bill Gates.

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Be true to yourself and pay attention to your own opinions and values, because one of your greatest advantages is your capacity to see things from a fresh perspective, unhindered by past failures or notions about what is possible. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t look to others for ideas – a number of businesspeople have inspired me over the last few years.

When I want to remind myself about staying true to one’s vision, I look to Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook, who has kept firmly to his principles throughout his company’s rise. I admire the determination, innovation and confidence he showed in setting up and then running the wildly popular social network.

This even extends to his decision to continue wearing a hoodie and T-shirt to work after he was appointed CEO, as he had almost always done. I’ve often said that businesspeople shouldn’t dress like clones – I dislike the necktie so much that I’ve been known to carry a pair of scissors in my top pocket to give unsuspecting entrepreneurs the snip – so I was dismayed to see Zuckerberg criticised earlier this year for wearing his hoodie on Wall Street when floating his company’s initial public offering. I hope that those who were so disapproving will see sense one day.

For inspiration in terms of innovation, I look to Steve Jobs, as do many designers, inventors and entrepreneurs. His death last year deeply affected people around the world. A college dropout who battled cancer for many years, his personal and professional successes gave hope to many.

Due to his lifetime of effort, Apple’s various devices have given us all new ways of connecting and engaging with the world, including those with disabilities; this was an immense source of pride for Steve.

For a reminder about the importance of hard work and common sense, I look to the British businessman Lord Alan Sugar, who has much to teach us all. A straight-talking man from a humble background, he pioneered the manufacture of affordable word processors in Britain and then built a successful property business as well.

More recently he has starred in the British version of “The Apprentice” television show, making the world of business interesting and accessible for a new generation of entrepreneurs.

For help and inspiration in my efforts to persuade business leaders to run their companies in a socially responsible way, I enjoy spending time with Jamie Oliver and Jochen Zeitz, both of whom have built successful companies that make a difference.

As chairman of Puma, Jochen is pioneering an environmental profit and loss reporting tool that helps companies assess the impact their products are having on our planet and our communities, and lets customers know which products are sustainable.

I have known Jamie for many years and have been impressed with his dynamism as he has ramped up his restaurant business and built his worldwide brand through his various TV shows, all the while pouring his efforts into teaching people to eat better, drawing public attention to the poor quality of school lunches, and developing Fifteen, his enterprise that trains unemployed young people to become professional chefs.

I should add that all of us at Virgin Unite are grateful to Jochen and Jamie for their contributions to our initiatives. Seeing fellow entrepreneurs throw themselves wholeheartedly into such good causes gives me hope that people’s attitudes about the social responsibilities of business really are changing.

For new ideas on creating youthful, vibrant, fun companies that provide fantastic products while not taking themselves too seriously, I look to Richard Reed, Adam Balon and John Wright, the co-founders of Innocent Drinks. Innocent Drinks sells inventive, delicious smoothies and vegetable-based meals, while doing business in a socially responsible way.

They put a lot of effort into buying ingredients from suppliers who treat their workers well and look after the environment, using sustainable packaging, and donating 10 percent of their profits to charity each year. It’s wonderful to see this company doing so well – I can see a bit of Virgin in it.

It’s never a bad idea to have a role model or to seek advice from someone you respect – just don’t let it stop you from being yourself. Originality is key. The world doesn’t need another Richard Branson – one is probably enough!

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Business Linkages And Investment Readiness

The Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) is hosting its flagship Growth Accelerator Programme for 2018, sponsored by Nedbank.

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The Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) is hosting its flagship Growth Accelerator Programme for 2018, sponsored by Nedbank. AWIEF is seeking 25 ambitious, innovative and committed early-growth-stage South African women entrepreneurs, from a variety of sectors, looking for support to scale their businesses.

Access to finance is the most cited challenge to the growth of women-owned businesses in Africa. Bankability and investment readiness are major impediments to attracting business finance.

This is an intensive six-week programme designed to support participants with the business modelling and growth strategy required to scale their enterprises, become investment ready and develop entrepreneurial leadership. The programme will cover:

  • purpose and values
  • target market, competitive landscape and value proposition
  • delivery model
  • financial modelling
  • conduct a creative force
  • growth strategy
  • financing for scale
  • pitch training.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

Nirmala Reddy, Senior Manager of Nedbank Enterprise Development, says: ‘We support initiatives such as this in line with our pledge to help clients see money differently, which is aimed at making a difference in South Africa, not just for women and children and business, but also for communities throughout the country. The bank strongly focuses on the development of female employees and black-women-owned suppliers, and this can be seen through our development and training programmes. We are also proud that women make up 62% of the workforce at Nedbank.’

The 2018 AWIEF Growth Accelerator, with its first 25 participants, is implemented as a build-up programme that will culminate at the 2018 AWIEF Conference, Exhibition and Awards event taking place on 8 and 9 November at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where participating entrepreneurs will pitch their business to an audience of investors, business leaders and corporate decision-makers.

The three best ventures stand to win monetary prizes from AWIEF and financial management advice from Nedbank.

The programme details are as follows:

  • Dates: Starts on 17 September and culminates on 8 and 9 November 2018
  • Location: Cape Town and Johannesburg
  • Participation fee: Free 

Eligibility

Businesses must be:

  • in a post-revenue phase;
  • scalable and innovative ventures;
  • in operation for not less than two years (ideally three to five years);
  • owned or led by ambitious and committed women entrepreneurs; and
  • seeking investment or funding to grow.

If you are interested in participating, click here to apply. Applications close on 31 August 2018.

The event is hosted by AWIEF and sponsored by Nedbank.

Read next: Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

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Investing In Women Key To SA Socio-Economic Development

Investment in women’s empowerment delivers long-term socio-economic returns, says Novartis. Women’s networks and mentorship engagements can help unlock personal and career success.

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Empowering women has long-term positive socio-economic impacts, making women’s empowerment, career development and mentorship programmes a compelling narrative for companies.

This is according to Sibonile Dube, Head of Communications & Public Affairs at Novartis South Africa and a mentor at Phakama Women’s Academy. Marking the start of national Women’s Month, Dube cites Bain & Company research into how and why the career paths of South African women and men differ, which found that in 2017, 31% of South African companies had no female representation in senior leadership roles. The research noted that the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) census on women in leadership indicated that 22% of board directors were women, but only 7% were executive directors. Only 10% of South African CEOs and only 2.2% of JSE-listed company CEOs were women.

“Considering that recent research by MCSI concluded gender diversity on the board has significant benefits for both productivity and profits, South African enterprises need to become more proactive about supporting women’s empowerment in the workplace,” says Dube. But Dube adds that while formalised empowerment and mentorship programmes are important, South African women hold some of the keys to helping both themselves and other women unlock success.

She outlines three key factors that hold women back from corporate and entrepreneurial success, and how these challenges can be overcome:

Lack of confidence

A key factor holding women back from achieving their true potential in the workplace – and as entrepreneurs – is fear and a lack of confidence, says Dube. “As women, we often undersell ourselves – we underestimate our potential, our power and the amount of influence that we have. In contrast, men are typically quite confident in themselves and their capabilities,” says Dube.

The Bain & Company survey of over 1000 women found an apparent loss of confidence amongst women in junior- and middle-management positions that they could rise to the top. At this level, some respondents noted political imbalances that were difficult to navigate; while their male colleagues had access to a sponsor or mentor (normally of the same sex and colour) to help navigate these issues.

Dube believes women need to become more proactive about empowering themselves, equipping themselves with a broad range of skills, and actively working on building their self-awareness and self- esteem. “Building skills goes beyond developing academic or technical expertise – we need to work on our relationship skills and communication skills, because human relations are crucial for success in a setting where you are looking for influence and significance.”

“Dealing with fear and lack of confidence is important, because this enables us to have relevance and contribute more meaningfully to in the workplace and in business,” says Dube.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

Lack of support networks

More than women, men generally back one another be it in corporate or in business deals and this has supported their career success a lot, says Dube. “Having a network is important – it is through these networks that opportunities are shared and support is gained. Having a strong network of people that back your career becomes an effective reference point especially in times of challenges. And through these networks, people are also able to find mentors.”

Dube believes mentorship is a crucial component of career success, offering both mentor and mentee opportunities to learn and grow. “We need more mentorship. With mentorship, training and coaching, women can actually pull out some of the strengths they possess which they may not be aware of. One is challenged and pushed to aim higher,” says Dube.

Bain & Company research found that sponsorship of individuals, especially at the mid-management level, ensures that contributions and performance are recognised and attributable to the individual. Often women, particularly in middle management, feel marginalised, ignored or simply worn down by trying to get their efforts recognised.

Dube, who mentors a number of women, says mentorship can be formalised through a corporate career development programme, but can also extend to informal and virtual mentor-mentee relationships. “You can be guided by simply reading the books, reading articles and watching videos and talks of inspirational leaders anywhere in the world on social media,” says Dube. Dube points out that good mentorship can be a mutually beneficial in the exchange of ideas and meeting of minds. “In an effective mentor-mentee relationship, reverse mentorship takes place. In an era where we now have four generations in the workplace, the digital and tech savvy younger generation have a lot to offer to the rest,” says Dube.

Poor Health and Wellbeing

In order to cope and remain competitive in the workplace, women have to ensure they take care of their health and maintain some resilience especially when pressure mounts. Recently, there have been a lot of conversations about mental health in South Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness. Gender determines the difference in power and control that men and women have over the socioeconomic factors of their mental health and their exposure to specific mental health risks.

“Women are under immense pressure to perform in various spheres of their lives. Juggling a career, motherhood and marriage or a relationship can be emotionally and physically taxing to the extent of affecting one’s health, especially mental health. It is therefore imperative that women take good care of their health and wellbeing amid the demands of a competitive and fast paced lifestyle presented by the demands of modern society,” says Dube.

Depression is not only the most prevalent women’s mental health problem but may be more persistent in women than it is in men. There is more research needed to determine the reasons for this and what can be done to address it.

Related: 30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

Unlocking empowerment

This Women’s Month, Dube says women should feel encouraged to be proactive about their own career development, and about helping other women to grow – both personally and professionally.

“As women we should be firm believers in one another. We hold the keys to opening doors for other women. By creating a support structure for one another, we can create phenomenal opportunities to make a difference for fellow women, with the aim of creating leaders and catalysing empowerment that has a ripple effect, benefiting all of society and the economy as a whole. Studies have revealed that women reinvest up to 90% of their income into their families compared to men who reinvest 30-40%. This has far reaching socio-economic gains for any society,” concludes Dube.

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Leaderex Drives Digital Transformation Agenda For 2018 Summit

Leaderex, Africa’s largest gathering of business leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs, returns to Johannesburg on 4 September 2018.

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Building on a successful debut in 2015, the organisers, Leader.co.za, in association with the JSE and leading think tanks, will host 250 masterclasses on key priority areas to drive digital transformation, including agile leadership, innovation, fintech and blockchain, AI, IoT, ecommerce and the future of work.

“Our programme has been designed around peer-based learning, allowing participants to gain practical knowledge from the trenches, engage with the best in the business, and thrive in a disrupted world,” says Leader.co.za.

Over five hundred CEOs and industry leaders will share actionable insights and advice on the day, representing one of the largest collaborations of its kind in the country.

Delegates will have the opportunity to connect with incubators, accelerators and start-up platforms, explore MBA programmes and business schools, and participate in one-on-one sessions with respected coaches and consultants.

South Africa’s lack of a savings culture will be another talking point, and investment vehicles, from tax-free savings to ETFs, will be thoroughly unpacked.

“We are pleased to be working with Leaderex again this year because we have seen the impact that the event has had since inception,” adds Mpho Ledwaba, Head of Marketing at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

For executives and entrepreneurs looking to unlock value through new technologies and ways of thinking, Leaderex 2018 represents a highlight on the business calendar.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.leaderex.com.

Read next: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

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