Treading boldly where few have gone before in the ever-evolving world of business, Vusi Thembekwayo has continued to cultivate successful businesses and entrepreneurs alike as CEO, director, investor and most recently, through taking on the role of mentor once again with his latest mentorship and entrepreneurship venture, MyGrowthFund (MGF).
Thembekwayo shared with us how travel has impacted his winning approach to business, his hidden African oasis for savouring some downtime and what entrepreneurs seeking opportunities on the continent should keep in mind as they navigate Africa’s diverse and complex nuances.
What is a unique, yet powerful characteristic about doing business in Africa?
Complexity and ambiguity cannot be avoided when doing business on the continent. Things are not always straight-forward. You have to be agile and adaptable and those are powerful traits.
Africa has a diverse array of cultures, languages and ethnicities. How does one conducting business on the continent for first time navigate these intricacies?
This is a great question. For a start, the continent is not a single homogenous group, therefore there is no such thing as an African strategy. Different parts of the continent require different strategies. It’s important to look for broader sub-cultures. West Africa, for example, is different from East Africa, but having said that, Francophone Africa is different from Anglophone Africa because of the historical influence. Furthermore, it is important to be humble and understand that you can never have more knowledge than the local people. Expertise without insight goes absolutely nowhere.
How does travelling on the continent and abroad influence your perspective both professionally and personally?
One of the things you can’t escape when you compare the developed world with Africa’s frontier economies is how we as Africans perceive ourselves. We often concentrate on sub-identities, more than the broader identities, for example, ethnicity – “I am Zulu before I am South African or African.” We believe we are the only ones with issues of tribalism and this tends to polarise more than unite us. This has affected us greatly as a continent and we find it difficult to collaborate on anything as we concentrate on what makes us different. We also wait too long and defer and wait for affirmation from the rest of the world.
“Bleisure” – a mix of business and leisure travel – is on the rise. When not speaking, investing or growing brands, where do you enjoy spending your downtime?
Two hours’ drive from Zanzibar, you’ll find a hidden paradise in the middle of nowhere that stands apart from anywhere I have ever been – Hideaway of Nungwi is a breathtaking resort and spa with pools and powder white sands spilling into the ocean. The food is exquisite, courtesy of a French chef who creates heaven on a plate. The patchy network reception is ideal, shutting the rest of the world out so you can enjoy this haven of nature.
How do you spend the time on long-haul flights? Catching up on rest or working?
“I’ve gradually learnt to do both. When South African Airways first introduced power connections on flights, it was very difficult for me not to work the entire long-haul flight. But now I prepare my to-do list of work and set aside two to three hours for this. I spend two hours reading and thinking. I also have my downtime for catching a movie and resting.”
What’s the best travel lesson you’ve acquired that you have continued to apply in how you do business?
“To live simply. In my early days of travelling, I used to pack my mother and the proverbial goat, but now I pack only what I need. That simplification I have managed to translate into all other areas of my life. I always ask myself if I need to attend that meeting, buy that car, take that trip, etc. This makes my life simpler.”
What new ventures are you working on?
“Mentorship and entrepreneurship are my absolute passions, which I have been channelling through MGF, a company I launched last year to find and nurture high-growth entrepreneurs through funding, incubation and enterprise development platforms. Under MGF, I am running #Top40, a programme where 40 businesses will undergo an 18-month mentorship programme to help them scale to the next level. Success is about habits and I found that in my experience in business, most entrepreneurs fail because they have poor habits. Over the 18 months, MGF will implement systems in the business of the beneficiary entrepreneur that will ensure success habits such as practical financial and cashflow scheduling; robust market access systems that are scalable and measurable and people management, rewards and motivation systems to ensure the entrepreneur maximises their single most important asset: their people.”