Redefining what it is to be wealthy

It’s what you do with it, not how much you have, that counts.
Two entrepreneurs, one whose ad agency went bust but bounced back stronger and the other who brought the fictional Vuyo’s restaurant chain to life, have come to see wealth as a way to bring about a broader change in society. Image: Shutterstock

What story will your money tell? Two entrepreneurs were asked that question at the launch of a new campaign by Nedbank Private Wealth at the Inanda Club in Sandton last week – and the answers were surprising.

Pepe Marais, co-founder of advertising agency Joe Public United, said that earlier in his career wealth was about accumulating money, acquiring a yacht and sailing the world. “It was self-serving. I just wanted a lot of money.”

Then 13 years ago he underwent a spiritual transformation, in which his life’s goals were upended. Up to that time his personal and business goals centred on money and little else. Those goals came crashing down when Joe Public United went bust in 2009, after being sold and then wrested back from an international conglomerate.

This was an inflection point in his life, he says, prompting a complete rethink of his entire value system.

Marais and his business partner Gareth Leck – a former “surfer dude” who years earlier had saved Marais from a drowning incident off the Cape coast – relaunched Joe Public United and built it into one of Africa’s most successful ad agencies with revenue of more than R700 million in 2018.

Marais says he stopped examining the bottom line with a microscope. “Money is great, but our bottom line now is measured differently. We ask ourselves have we improved conditions for our staff, our clients and the country?

“After the business went bust in 2009 I decided to focus my energies on serving other people. Ironically, the money started to pour in after that.”

He started eating right, lost weight, and put family ahead of business. He also started a non-governmental organisation, One School at a Time, which adopts schools in underprivileged areas with a view to raising academic standards.


Miles Kubheka was a systems engineer for Microsoft when a television commercial for Hansa Pilsener captured his imagination. It was about a mythical entrepreneur called Vuyo who went from selling wors rolls on the street to opening his own restaurant chain named Vuyo’s.

Kubheka decided he would turn the story into reality, launching his first Vuyo’s restaurant in Braamfontein in 2012, catering mainly to Wits University students. He then expanded to Soweto.

Today he runs a ‘food tech accelerator’ company called Wakanda, named after the fictitious African country from the film Black Panther. Wakanda uses technology and shared kitchen, culinary and management skills to help food entrepreneurs get a leg into the market.

Still in his 20s, Kubheka – who describes himself as a humble boy from Soweto – believed his new-found wealth was best expressed by buying a Porsche.

“It improved my social life, I won’t lie, but I quickly learned that you shouldn’t let stuff own you. You should own stuff.”

With that out of his system, he got rid of the Porsche and settled down to a more modest lifestyle. “When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always paranoid,” he says. “You’re always expecting something to be coming down the pipe. You feel like an imposter a lot of the time.”

Like Marais, Kubheka sees wealth as an enabler for bringing about a broader change in society. “I got a lot of great advice from older people along the way, and I wished this could be commoditised. People in their 20s need to be hearing this [discussions about wealth],” he says. “These days I’m inundated with requests to give mentorship to others. This country needs entrepreneurs more than anything.”

The shaping of perceptions

Our perceptions of wealth are shaped by the wealth we see in others, says Mike Wilmot, head of advice and solutions at Nedbank Private Wealth.

“Wealth is about the money you aspire to have for a life well lived. People believe that happiness is achieving a wealth target, but this ignores the journey.”

There are basic building blocks to all wealth creation, the most basic of which is spending less than you earn.

For Nedbank Private Wealth, wealth creation goes beyond money management to advising clients at different stages of their careers.

Marais says those embarking on the journey of wealth creation often need advice on key decisions, such as buying a house. “It would be great if the bank could be a sounding board or advisor on these key decisions.”

Financial freedom is a highly elastic term that means different things to different people. Kubheka says what people need is “FU money”; the kind of financial cushion that allows you to leave a job you hate without having to worry about paying the basic bills.

Fear of failure, and lack of a financial cushion, is what keeps people stuck in miserable jobs.

“There is a materialistic obsession in SA,” says Kubheka. “Most people in this country come from nothing and want to move beyond that. Money is important, but it is not the only measure we should be looking at. We should be looking at how our staff are doing, how happy they are, and how our clients are doing. We need more balance in the way we measure wealth.”

The Nedbank Private Wealth campaign aims to start dozens of discussions about wealth – how to get it, what to do to keep it, and what story it tells about our lives.

Brought to you by Nedbank Private Wealth.

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