Brian Joffe’s

five tips for en­trepreneurs

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Front Page -

What drives you? Ini­tially I was driven largely by wealth, but now it’s about see­ing the suc­cess of other peo­ple in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, pass­ing on my skills, and see­ing the busi­ness thrive. Bid­vest has a strong and happy spirit.

Do you have to be an op­ti­mist to be an en­tre­pre­neur? You have to see the op­ti­mistic side of pes­simistic views. The big­gest wealth cre­ation op­por­tu­ni­ties are where most peo­ple see the neg­a­tives.

What were the tough­est times and how did you get through them? We’ve had few dif­fi­cult times, but 1987 was par­tic­u­larly hard. But we’ve had rea­son­ably good times. In 25 years Bid­vest has grown in all but one year.

What would your top five pieces of ad­vice be for bud­ding en­trepreneurs? Don’t get bogged down by too much in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice. The se­cond thing is to be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween profit and mak­ing money. Profit is an ac­count­ing term, which is the dif­fer­ence be­tween sales and costs; mak­ing money is the gen­er­a­tion of cash. Mak­ing a re­turn is ab­so­lutely fun­da­men­tal. At­ten­tion to de­tail is ex­tremely im­por­tant. And you have to work hard.

What would you ad­vise en­trepreneurs not to do? It’s not about win­ning or los­ing. It’s base-by-base, not hit­ting too many home runs. As a leader you have to be as­sertive. Be unique and dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from the com­pe­ti­tion.

How do you choose the peo­ple around you? I pre­fer peo­ple who have the to­mor­row vi­sion, who are will­ing to make changes and work hard.

Do you have to be born an en­tre­pre­neur? You’re not nec­es­sar­ily born one. Ob­vi­ously your her­itage, your fam­ily life, and the peo­ple you as­so­ciate with have a di­rect im­pact on you. But luck and cir­cum­stance make a big dif­fer­ence.

How do you bal­ance be­ing a cor­po­rate with re­tain­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit? It was eas­ier years ago. What de­stroys en­trepreneur­ship is too much gov­er­nance. Gov­er­nance is­sues, trans­parency is­sues, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues make it a lot harder now. The pen­du­lum swung a lit­tle bit too much to the right and it will swing back but there are ben­e­fits in the pub­lic com­pany space. The cap­i­tal to grow is avail­able to you, but there are the neg­a­tives, like hav­ing to be ex­posed to pub­lic scru­tiny.

Do you be­lieve in work-life bal­ance? Yes. You can’t ex­er­cise your mind un­less you have a mind that’s rested and able to ex­er­cise. There are things you need to do to op­ti­mise what you do. That doesn’t mean com­ing to work more of­ten or spend­ing more hours at work. I of­ten tell my man­agers we should spend more time do­ing noth­ing. I take leave of­ten — it gives the op­por­tu­nity to find new ideas, which is crit­i­cal in en­trepreneur­ship. If you’re just do­ing the same thing ev­ery day, you’re a man­ager and man­agers don’t make money.

Who in­flu­enced you most? My father, who ran a small grain milling com­pany and my un­cle, who was in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. I would earn pocket money by pack­ing bird­seed for my father and by count­ing tablets in my un­cle’s phar­macy. Manny Sim­chowitz (the founder of the W&A Group) was also a big in­flu­ence. He was a unique en­tre­pre­neur, he was an op­er­a­tor. He taught me the con­cept of re­turn on as­sets em­ployed, and he was a firm be­liever in peo­ple. Those fun­da­men­tal val­ues live in me and in Bid­vest.

Do you read busi­ness books? No, I gen­er­ally read few books but I’m not say­ing that’s a good thing. I don’t look for guid­ance in books or ad­vis­ers. I have never con­sulted with an ad­vi­sory firm. If we had to get an ad­viser to tell us what to do then it’s time for them to do it and us to move on.

How did you know you could do this? I didn’t. I ex­ceeded my own ex­pec­ta­tions. I am quite shy even though I have gained a lot of con­fi­dence. Peo­ple find con­fi­dence to sur­pass their ex­pec­ta­tions of them­selves with a lit­tle bit of en­cour­age­ment and one or two suc­cesses.

What did you want to be at school? I was not a good stu­dent, I pre­ferred sport. My first choice was to be a school teacher but my mother said I wouldn’t make enough money. She wanted me to be a doc­tor. I tried that for about six weeks un­til I had to cut open my first frog. That was the day I went straight into ac­coun­tancy.

If you were not do­ing this, what would you be do­ing? I’d prob­a­bly be a re­tired school­mas­ter.

What is your big­gest fear? Fly­ing. I have to take tran­quil­lis­ers when I fly. There is also the fear of fail­ure. I am also con­cerned by the pos­si­bil­ity of not fully un­der­stand­ing all the is­sues that are at stake, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of look­ing af­ter 140,000 em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies.

Which has been the most dif­fi­cult com­pany to turn around? So far, Ren­nies, be­cause it came out of An­glo Amer­i­can which was a very reg­i­mented cor­po­ra­tion. There were lots of rules that needed to be un­wound.

What type of busi­nesses do you seek out to buy? We don’t want to buy per­fect busi­nesses that are in “show­room con­di­tion”. There’s isn’t much one can add to them. One of the things that drives value is growth po­ten­tial. You want to be in­volved with a busi­ness that has a fu­ture. Our well-used in­ter­nal term “Rofe for Joffe” acts as a re­minder to al­ways con­sider the Re­turn on Funds Em­ployed when mak­ing de­ci­sions.

What trait do you dis­like about your­self? I can be over­com­pet­i­tive.

What tal­ent would you most like to have? I did learn to play the pi­ano but I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly good. There are two things I would have loved to do but never re­ally had much tal­ent for: mu­sic and swim­ming. I was a good sports­man but not good in the wa­ter.

This is an ex­cerpt from the book, South African Busi­ness Lead­ers: What Makes Them Tick, by Adele Shevel, avail­able on Ama­

Il­lus­tra­tion: BRAN­DAN REYNOLDS

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