Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 24, 2022|8 Minutes|In Billionaire Today

Billionaire Today

“I was prepared to be fired!”

He is a hard-working entrepreneur who hits the ground running  every morning for more than four years. His path to a  fortune was a marathon in the shadow of the sack;  seven rejections and 15 years of hard slog. This is a  peek into the disciplined mind of accomplished South African entrepreneur and investor Themba Baloyi.

Themba Baloyi made millions in his career and has invested many more since, yet he grew up watching the pennies between Newcastle and Dundee in rural  KwaZulu Natal, where water and electricity were luxuries, under the sage eye of his grandmother.

The grandchildren called her, very respectfully, Gogo (grandmother) Ma Khumalo and she was the matriarch. She would do everything from crochet, that she would send to sell in far off Johannesburg,  to negotiating with the nearby chiefs to release communal land so the youth could dig up coal to sell.

“We grew up with an enterprising grandmother. I know this is going to be a very contentious issue, but my grandmother would have frowned upon social grants (state money given to support 18 million  South Africans) she would have frowned on people standing by the streets begging, because she believed as long as you have got hands and feet you can always get them to do something and put food on the table,” Baloyi, who grew up to qualify as a cost and management accountant, told Billionaire Tomorrow.

Among the many things his grandmother told him was this : “Offence is inevitable, someone in business will short change you, you will get upset ; you may not get the corporate position you were hoping for. Your idea, no matter how brilliant you think it is , will get shot down like mine did…!”

The path of the idea that made  a huge slice of his fortune and set him up as a private investor was far from smooth. It all began with a chance meeting with a billionaire in 2003.

Baloyi ran into billionaire Adrian Gore – the founder of South African health giant Discovery and effectively Baloyi’s boss at the time.

“I was really moved by his beautiful speech about the future of the country and the opportunities that lie ahead. I thought he was very authentic…I said to him it was a great speech and it made all the keener to pursue my vision. Of course I was naïve! Here I was talking to the group CEO hardly three years into the business and I am telling him I want to pursue my vision,” recalls Baloyi with a smile.

“Then he wanted to know what is the vision..the point is you must have a compelling vision that you believe in; it should not matter what time of the night someone wakes you are able to articulate that vision.”

“In 2006, September, I met Adrian told him about the vision and immediately after that meeting about 11.30 I got a call that he was in the US and I was told to abandon the idea….That I will never forget, that was a defining moment for me.”

Bitterly disappointed, Baloyi went downstairs got changed and went to the gym before embarking on a run through Sandton – South Africa’s golden square mile.

“I went all the way past RMB (Rand Merchant Bank) and that moment I thought if these guys could build what they have built why can’t I do it?”

The vision that Baloyi had nurtured, since 1996, for the founding of short-term insurer Discovery  Insure.  It was to take more than 15 years and seven rejections.

“I went and presented to him (Gore) and of course, that was rejected. I was disappointed because they invited me to present. After that rejection, I realised that, If I give up, many people  who are invited to that table of opportunity to present will never see the light of day.”

Baloyi pushed on and in 2008 met up with insurance giant Hollard who became interested in a joint venture – an important step that led to a Memorandum of Understanding.

“That MOU I didn’t even have a mandate from the group to sign it, but I signed it anyway because I had such a deep conviction about what I was doing and what I believed in. I was very  much prepared to be fired!” says Baloyi.

Yet the Hollard connection in the joint venture lent credibility as did the recruitment of an experienced  CEO from within the short-term insurance business.

In the end, in May 2011 Discovery Insure was born.

“I am not at liberty to talk about my stake because it was minuscule!” says Baloyi with a laugh.

“Number two, Hollard had a 25 percent stake in the business and Discovery had the rest…The first six months were a hard slog, the first 12 months showed signs that the business was being received by the broker community….Brokers did not even want to look at us when we launched the product; there were 4,000 brokers at the launch but when it came to writing the business they were not biting.”

The company set up a call centre. Eighteen months later, when the brokers saw the growth of the clients stepped up, helping to create a multi-billion Rand business.

Fifteen years, seven rejections, the threat of dismissal, and sheer tenacity saw this African entrepreneur make his fortune and establish himself as an investor.

How does he tackle the tough world of business? Every morning he rises at 4 AM and writes down his thoughts for the day. He writes down five things that he will view as crucial.

He goes for a run every morning, at least six kilometers– something he has done for more than four years.

Baloyi has long gone off Twitter and Facebook, the obsession for shallow self-promotion among its members has long stuck in his craw.

Leaving behind the noise and fury of social media,  It is no wonder then, that Baloyi believes in the power of silence to ease his troubles and tension.

“There is something to be said about the power of silence, it gives you the opportunity to be present, it gives you the opportunity to know what is important and it sets the tone for who you want to be on that particular day.”