Vusi Thembekwayo on making (African) millionaires

Vusi Thembekwayo. Image by Mike Turner Photography.

Vusi Thembekwayo. Image by Mike Turner Photography.

Entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo was the youngest Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Director in the country at age 19. Now in his 30s, he is now a sought-after professional speaker, TV host and  South African TV viewers got to see him as one of the ‘dragons’ on the screens of Dragon’s Den (Mzansi Magic channel) when it was launched on pay channel DSTV last year.

He was inspired by the Dragon’s Den experience and by the ideas and innovation of South Africa’s young entrepreneurs.

In an online article, Thembekwayo said that the experience had changed his life, ‘”We always seem to focus on what is different about each other, but listening to entrepreneurs from different backgrounds, races and levels of education left me inspired that we have so much in common. It was a fantastic look at the South African kaleidoscope.”

“I left the process feeling very optimistic about our country’s future,” he said. “The level of education, thought process and attention to detail was really impressive a.nd there were some really good business opportunities.”

He was further encouraged by the notion of “African solutions” to “African problems” and is determined to map the way forward for South Africa’s next generation of millionaires.

So what sets him apart from the pack? According to Thembekwayo, early lessons from his parents when he was growing up with four siblings in Benoni, Gauteng, have stood him in good stead – including the ethic of excellence instilled in him by his father, whom he lost when he was a teenager. That spirit of merit is still conveyed in his talks, but the narrative about growing up in the township has now changed to how global business leaders can go from good to great.

“One decision I made very early on was that I didn’t want to be a typical motivational speaker. I didn’t want to be a guy on a stage who tells people how to live their lives, because that doesn’t work,” he says. Instead, he draws on personal, real-life experiences in running a business, as well as research conducted by his team, to set themes for his talks.

“I wanted to be a person of substance, so I speak about integrity. That’s how I got into business. I was employed, became a Senior Executive and then the youngest Director running a R700-million-a-year division. I bought that organisation and subsequently sold it. Parallel with my public speaking career, I’ve deliberately built a very strong corporate profile, because my audiences are mainly business people.”

Thembekwayo travels a lot, it’s a case of  ‘if it’s Monday it must be Lagos, Thursday it’s London and on the weekend Dar Es Salaam is calling’.

Having talked his way to the top, he’s shared a stage with former President Thabo Mbeki, had the late former President Nelson Mandela as an audience member and been called “the rock star of public speaking” by John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia.

However, he still has big dreams for himself and others – primarily a vision for creating 10 young African millionaire entrepreneurs in the next six years. “Vision 2020 is well on track: it’s been running for less than two years and four millionaires have already been created,” he says.

“I’ve reached a stage in my life where what I do has become greater than I am. I want the conversation about entrepreneurship to be driven by real entrepreneurs, rather than salaried employees”.


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