Business giant Johann Rupert recently provided a glimpse into his enigmatic personality through a rare live interview and public question session lasting about two hours.
A charming and relaxed Rupert, talking on local radio station Power 98.7, displayed his highly developed entrepreneurial acumen and razor-sharp mind that does not take anything for granted, like a deceptively timid leopard ready to pounce at any moment.
He candidly shared his thoughts on a wide range of topics including politics, his family background, land reformation and business.
The prospect of a smug multi-billionaire Afrikaner at the pinnacle of international business success, operating in a racially segregated society with the highest economic inequalities in the world, must have exposed him as a juicy political target on the screens of the strategists at Bell Pottinger, the disgraced global PR firm retained by the Guptas to assist the family in its state capture goals.
Notwithstanding the politically focused narratives, Rupert’s practical advice on business was insightful and succinct. In a few matter-of-fact bullet points he covered what many spend fortunes hoping to learn in business schools. Who knew that South Africa had its own sage of Somerset West.
Rupert-controlled public companies valued in excess of R600 billion ($40 billion-plus) – including luxury goods holding company Richemont and diversified holding company Remgro – have been patiently built over decades, and have made a wide range of stakeholders very wealthy over the years. These include government employees and the fiscus.
Rupert founded Rand Merchant Bank, consolidated a global multi-billion dollar luxury goods business, redirected tobacco interests, and has invested in and managed numerous other commercial and social endeavours over the last four decades.
This bears testament to a businessman par excellence. Fortunately, he outlined his business approach in the interview which would have certainly formed the cornerstone of the above successes.
The following steps formed the basis of his method:
1. Identify the market – Skeleton
Is there a market for the product or service you wish to offer? Most people do not reflect carefully enough on this crucial point. This does not mean you need to be the only one doing it or the first to do so but determine whether enough people are willing to pay you for your product or service. It is a cardinal point often confused through amalgamation of other aspects of the business but a central theme that must be able to withstand scrutiny on its own.
2. Develop a strategy to meet this market need – Bones
Once the market for the product or service has been clearly identified, develop a strategy to fulfil this objective. What is the business model to service this market?
3. Detailed plan to execute the strategy – Meat
“The plan is on paper, but the game is played on the grass,” said Rupert. Attention to detail is now required in the execution of the strategy by competent executors.
Each of the above often require individuals with a different nature. For example, executors have a different inherent nature to strategists or the entrepreneurs generating the ideas. Match the appropriate individual to the role for optimal results.
4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Identify and correct mistakes as soon as possible but never be afraid to make a mistake. In our age of social media this requires a mindset change.
5. Have a level of paranoia
There should be a keen awareness of competitor activity to keep you moving. Inaction is death. When complacency sets in, even great business houses have gone into terminal decline.
The above summarises both theoretical and practical aspects that all business schools and strategy workshops attempt to convey. Often most of them are unable to adequately differentiate these three distinct phases or unpack them succinctly, resulting either in information overload or a generous use of vague jargon. This simple yet effective framework can be used from a small business idea all the way to a very large investment. Test it in the cases you are familiar with.
In a country that has many developing entrepreneurs this wisdom from a seasoned business master with an illustrious list of accolades will prove invaluable to anyone who uses it.
* Riaz Gardee is a mergers and acquisitions specialist and financial writer.