If you want to live like a boss, you have to change the way you think about work, wealth and success. Rebekah Kendal gets some wisdom from the pros
Richard Maponya long had to contend with a government intent on keeping him poor and disenfranchised.
Born in Transvaal in 1926, Maponya, who trained as a teacher, took a job as a stocktaker at a clothing manufacturer. He bought the offcuts from his manager and sold them off in Soweto. After having built up a bit of capital, he applied for a licence to open a retail store in Soweto, but his application was turned down.
With the help of Oliver Tambo’s law firm, he managed to obtain a limited grocery licence instead. Together with his wife Marina, he started Maponya’s Dairy Products. Because most of the people in Soweto at the time did not have electricity, he organised daily milk deliveries by bike. By the 1970s, they owned several grocery stores, vehicle dealerships and petrol stations.
These days, the Maponya Group is associated with property development (including the 200-store Maponya Mall in Soweto), horse racing and breeding, cars, petrol stations and liquor stores.
Lesson With hard work and the right mindset, make your own opportunities.
With a net worth of R26 billion, Patrice Motsepe is one of the richest men in Africa, but you wouldn’t say so from his modest lifestyle. Well, modest by rich people’s standards. Sure, he owns Mamelodi Sundowns football club, but he has only one home and possesses neither a jet nor a yacht.
Motsepe, who founded and chairs African Rainbow Minerals, made his money by turning unproductive mines into thriving ones.
As a lawyer in the 1990s, Motsepe studied what made mines successful and others fail. When he started his own business – gleaning gold dust from the rock surface after industrial mining crews were done – he worked out of his briefcase because he simply couldn’t afford an office.
He borrowed roughly R95 million to buy up unprofitable mine shafts at a time when gold was doing poorly, also managing to make the mines profitable within the first year because of his lean operating style and novel pay structure.
Within three years, he had paid back all the money he had borrowed and by 2002, his company had been listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
Lesson Waste not, want not. Don’t waste money on any overheads you can’t afford.
Learning and growing
US financial guru and television host Suze Orman started her career as a waitress. She decided that she wanted to open her own restaurant and some generous restaurant regulars and her friends lent her just over R600 000.
Orman decided to invest the money with Merrill Lynch while she saved up enough start-up capital, but the financial advisor she used lost all of her money. Concerned about how she was going to repay the debt, Orman applied for a job at Merrill Lynch.
While she was studying to become a financial advisor, Orman realised her advisor had behaved in an unethical manner. So she sued the company. She won and was able to refund the people who had lent her the money.
In 1987, she founded the Suze Orman Financial Group and in 2002, CNBC started airing The Suze Orman Show.
Lesson You can turn failures or mistakes into success.
Try, try again
Sir Richard Branson, who has a net worth of R56 billion, has had his ups and downs as an entrepreneur.
Branson, whose motto is ‘Screw it, let’s do it’, began his business empire at the age of 16 with a magazine called Student. He then went on to set up a mail-order record business, a chain of record stores, a record label and an airline. In 1992, he was forced to sell his record label to EMI to keep Virgin Atlantic Airways from being perma-nently grounded.
Though Branson has founded many successful companies (the Virgin Group comprises more than 400 companies), he has also founded quite a few that failed to impress, such as Virgin Vodka, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides (bridalwear, not human trafficking) and Virgin Vision.
Lesson Don’t quit simply because a few ideas don’t work out. To succeed, you need to be resilient, driven, bold and persistent.
With a net worth around R35 billion, Folorunsho Alakija is the richest black woman in the world. She started her long career as an executive secretary, but after 12 years in the finance sector, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer.
She studied fashion design and then founded Supreme Stitches, which was later to become Rose of Sharon House of Fashion. As a designer, she rubbed shoulders with Nigeria’s political elite.
These political connections proved valuable: in 1993, the Ministry of Energy approved her oil prospecting licence.
At the time, no one else wanted the oil block, because it was deep offshore. Alakija partnered up with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited and now, her company Famfa Oil holds a 60% stake in the oil field OML 127, which pumps about 200 000 barrels of oil a day.
Lesson Who you know can be as important as what you know.
Patrice Motsepe has vowed to donate at least half of the funds generated by his family’s assets to the Motsepe Foundation to improve the living conditions of the poor.
Folorunsho Alakija founded The Rose of Sharon Foundation for widows and orphans. In 2014, she pledged over R50 million to help those who have been adversely affected by insurgency in Nigeria.