Entrepreneurs are born, not made! A business perspective on the Franschhoek Literary Festival!


Franschhoek Literary Festival Michael Jordaan Whale Cottage PortfolioWe have written about the odd titles given to the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2014 workshop sessions.  One of these was the discussion about entrepreneurism, entitled ‘Business Bundu Bashers’.  The alliteration in no way reflected what the topic of discussion was about!

Michael Jordaan, former FNB CEO, newly elected Chairman of WOSA (Wines of South Africa), and Chairman of Mxit (left), was the chairman of the panel of four writers, which had one hour exactly (well less to be exact, due to the slow microphone wiring) to discuss whether in essence entrepreneurs are made or born.  Panelists were Peter Vundla (author of ‘Doing Time’), Angela Makholwa (a crime author and writing agency owner, who seemed out of place on the panel, despite her charm), Herman Mashaba (writer of ‘Black Like You‘, a play on words of his very successful African beauty product company Black Like Me), and Bertie du Plessis (writer of ‘Your Small Business Nightmare’).

Peter Vundla worked at Ogilvy & Mather for ten years many moons ago, and shared that he used to watch his white colleagues, thinking that he could run an ad agency better than they could.  He called this process of learning by observation ‘Doing Time’, the title of his book.  He went on his own, setting up HerdBuoys, our country’s first Black-owned ad agency, and they saw tough times initially, having their homes and cars repossessed, in not having any start-up capital. But nothing could break their determination to succeed. Books have been ‘the companions of my life‘, he said.  peter-vundla-doing-timeVundla said his autobiography includes (former President) Thabo Mbeki, his father, the current government, and HerdBuoys.   He proudly shared that he brought the Zara retail outlets to our country, being the local partner of the  international clothing store.  He said that he is not afraid to say what must be said, even in his book, and he attacked the Franschhoek Literary Festival for most of the attendees of the discussion session being ‘White’.  He called for a Soweto Book Fair!  Vundla said it’s lonely to write a book on your own. For him it is not about the money he can make from a book, but about how many persons read it.  The agency did well, taking on Coca Cola, General Motors, and Sprite as some of its top client brands.   Makholwa said that the sale of the agency to McCann was seen as a ‘sense of betrayal’ by many ‘Blacks‘.  In conclusion he said that not everyone can be an entrepreneur.

Herman Mashaba went to university, and was a despatch clerk when he last worked for someone else.  He said that he got into the beauty product business ‘by accident‘.  After 20 years of making ‘women beautiful’, he said ‘I am an unashamed unapologetic Herman Mashaba Black like Youcapitalist‘!   When asked if it is a good thing to write a book, he said that it could be seen as ‘stupid’, as one exposes oneself to ‘public scrutiny’, but he saw that he could play a role in sharing what he had learnt with others.   The cost is higher in terms of time than money.  He said that he was naive when he entered business, but never feared failure. He takes chances, and he said that one is only as good as one’s last best day.  ‘Life is not an easy space’ he said, and he tells his children that no one is spared challenges.  Business is tougher since the new democracy, he feels, as it is all about ‘political connections‘.  To applause he said that ‘BEE is not for Black people‘!  Mashaba loves reading, has thousands of books he said, and likes reading biographies of sportsmen in particular.

Bertie du Plessis was an impactful and funny presenter, the audience not being told about his previous or current business background.   He said that the success that Vundla and Mashaba had achieved is not typical of that of the average entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs start a business because there is nothing else they can do.  Professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants start a business, looking after others’ businesses, but they are not job creators.  Du Plessis’ book is written as one of ‘the Bertie du Plessis Your Small Business Nightmarsmall guys’.  He shared the sobering fact that the USA has 18 million published authors, with an average of 14 readers per publication, of which half are family, he said to laughter from the audience.  On average they earn $1 per year from their publication!  The economic crisis from 2008 showed that the thinking about how the economy operates is incorrect, not explaining a shrinking economy.  Luck plays a strong role in business, he said.  He added that there is ‘no recipe for success in a business, only one for how to avoid failure‘!  When asked which books entrepreneurs should read, Du Plessis said that American motivation books on winners not giving up ‘are rubbish‘!  The majority of entrepreneurs fail, he concluded.

We learnt little about Michel Jordaan in the panel discussion, not yet having written a book and chairing the session, but he did say that he loves reading.  ‘Books are like friends which introduce one to life’, he said.  Schools should create curiosity amongst learners, and learners should learn problem-solving, saying that he and his wife have chosen their children’s schools accordingly.  When asked if he used an ‘entrepreneurial management style‘ at FNB, given that he was so successful there, and whether we could see a book about his success next year, Jordaan was humble in answering that he was not sure if he could write a book.   From the panel discussion it was clear that entrepreneurs are born, and not made!

The Franschhoek Literary Festival appeared quieter today than in previous years, few of the session shaving sold out in advance, and accommodation, parking, and restaurant tables still available in the village.   This session received no Social Media support from the Franschhoek Literary Festival, which is barely Tweeting about its event!   In general it is a shame that Social Media has been sidelined at the Festival this year, not receiving any recognition in any of the numerous sessions over the three days.  Odd too is that the writing side of the Festival has been poor, the media release about the Wine Writers’ Awards winners Tim James and Jacques van Zyl not having been issued yet, despite the prizes having been awarded last night!

Franschhoek Literary Festival, Franschhoek, 16 – 18 May. www.flf.co.za   Twitter: @FranLitFest #FLF   Book tickets: www.webtickets.co.za

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: WhaleCottage

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