Our Joburg itinerary was so jam-packed with interesting people and places that it wouldn’t have done it justice to cram everything into one post. So here goes Joburg Part Deux…
George Bizos & The Apartheid Museum
The timing of this post is most appropriate as we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. tomorrow in the United States. George Bizos was friend and colleague of the late Nelson Mandela. He was also part of Mandela’s defense team during the Rivonia Trial when Mandela was sentenced to life in jail. When we met with him, Bizos (humbly) denied that he saved Mandela’s life during the trial, but he is credited with shaping Mandela’s testimony in such a way that would be both true to the cause but not overly antagonistic to the judge (who could have sentenced Mandela to the death penalty).
Prior to visiting Bizos, who graciously welcomed us to his house in Joburg, we visited the Apartheid Museum. The museum was designed by some of the same team behind Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. To those who have visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum, you will not be surprised to know that the museum is very powerful. Upon entrance to the museum, guests are given a ticket that reads “White” or “Non-White” and instructed to walk through separate entrances based on their designation on the ticket. What followed was a tour de force of South Africa’s Apartheid era and the Struggle that eventually led to its demise.
The Apartheid Museum visit served as excellent preparation for our meeting with Bizos. He provided more context to the Rivonia Trial and the ANC movement to end Apartheid. Bizos is a leading human rights lawyer and continues to practice law (he is serving as part of the legal team for the families of the deceased in the Marikana trial). He encouraged us to fight for what we believed in but cautioned against violence and extremism:
“Be a revolutionary, seek fundamental change, but avoid fanaticism.”
Brett Levy, CEO Blue Label Telecoms
Mr. Levy founded South Africa’s leading e-commerce platform with his brother, Mark. The visit to Blue Label’s office was fantastic for a couple reasons beyond Brett’s insight into entrepreneurship: (1) the office features an incredible collection of memorabilia (allegedly the largest private collection in the world) (2) we got a peak at the Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky collection that inspired the name of the company. Brett and his colleagues celebrate every major achievement for the company with a bottle of Blue Label. Based on the number of the bottles on the wall (and the company’s continued success), they’ve had a lot of success.
“The worst handwriting in the world is better than the best memory. Document everything.”
Mr. Levy is a battle-hardened entrepreneur. While he has had a lot of fun on the path to building a successful business, he has also encouraged us to learn from his experience that it is essential to document everything when business deals are done. There is, of course, one exception: he has never signed a contract with this brother (and co-founder), and they share a bank account.
Andile Khumalo, CEO, MSG Afrika Investment Holdings
Mr. Khumalo is the founder of MSG Afrika, a private equity firm specializing in media companies. The company won the rights to the 1st commercial radio station in post-Apartheid South Africa. He spoke to us about the opportunities and challenges of starting a business in South Africa as part of the “next generation” of black South African business leaders. He caught his first break when Deloitte sponsored him to go to univesrity and gain a degree in accounting (full disclosure: yours truly will be joining Deloitte’s consulting practice this coming fall).
“South Africans want liberation from the isolation of apartheid. They want a clean break from the past. We want to present ourselves as the liberated South African radio station.”
It was powerful to hear an entrepreneur in South Africa branding his business as part of the “new” South Africa. While respectful of the politicians who led the movement to end Apartheid, he spoke with optimism and anticipation for the next generation of political leadership in South Africa who, he hopes, will place fostering entrepreneurship higher on the list of government priorities.
Stephen Kosoff, CEO, Investec
“I like people who tell me what to do, even as CEO. If you want to hire intelligent people, then give them a voice. It gives them a sense of ownership.”
Mr. Kosoff attributed much of the success of Investec, South Africa’s leading investment bank, to the attitude of his employees. He emphasized the importance of culture, and client-first service, especially in the banking industry. Mr. Kosoff told us that he hires people to join his team based on their demeanor and their ability to inspire. He believes that skills can be taught, but attitude is intrinsic and distinguishes great hires from mediocre hires.
Adrian Gore, CEO & Barry Swartzberg, Managing Director (Co-Founders), Discovery
In my humble, and highly biased opinion (as someone interested in a career in healthcare), we saved our best business for last. Discovery’s health insurance division (Discovery Health) is amongst the most innovative company’s in the world. They pioneered a program, named Vitality, that incentives its client base to live healthier lives: buy healthy foods, exercise at the gym, and receive preventive health screenings. By making people healthier, Discovery has created a profitable business. This, in my mind, is the ultimate accomplishment in business.
“Our mission is simple: we want to improve people’s lives. We want our employees to feel like they’re part of a family that is changing the world.”
Despite their lofty goals, Mr. Gore suggested that their continued success is grounded in their sense of hubris and a healthy paranoia of competitors. Like Mr. Kosoff, he also believes strongly that values and attributes drive success, and that education and IQ are secondary tools for employees and entrepreneurs.
Well, that wraps up my recap of some of the highlights from our time in Joburg. I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely incredible dinner that the Mizrahi family hosted for us at their house. It was very generous of Eran and his family to have us over, and I know I speak for everyone when I say we are very grateful to have had a fantastic family meal during our adventure. Thank you, Mizrahis!
Next up: beautiful Cape Town.
Samuel Wollner ’14