Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|June 16, 2022|11 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

Wise words from Wiese.

Millionaire Christo Wiese in his own words on life lawyers and Elon Musk.

On his home town of Upington in the Northern Cape.

“I was born on a farm but moved to town when I was about 6 years old. Upington is an amazing place; it’s this beautiful town in a very hot and dry area on the edge of the Kalahari but on the banks of the mighty Gariep so there is plenty of water. Still to this day if you go there people have beautiful little gardens and it is just a very special place. Even as a child when I went to school at Paarl Boys High, I’d notice when we travelled by car that there was a lot of energy when you got to Cape Town and you really only experience that energy again when you got to Upington. It had a particular vibrancy and I always thought that came from the fact that it was when I was a child a real frontier town. It was on the edge of a mighty desert and life was tough, very harsh climates, far away from everything.”

Are entrepreneurs bred or born?

“I think most people are born with what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I have been asked this question multiple times, but I can only say that it is your environment above everything else that sparks that fire. Statistically we know that only 1% to 2% of most communities around the world are entrepreneurs. I don’t think that anybody has been able to figure out why it is only some people are just not happy with their current position that they are wanting to do something that changes their community, or even the world, like Elon Musk.”

What about South African born Elon Musk?

“Someone saw a programme on TV with him and his mother; it is well known that he has a terrible relationship with his father who still lives here in Langebaan on the West Coast. The mother is very impressive and she said at the age of 3 or 4, she had known he was a genius. There was just something about him. I briefly met him at a conference in Spain. He has a complex personality but obviously an amazing visionary.”

Do you agree with him in terms of doubting he would have made it if he had stayed in South Africa?

“I think that is 100% correct, the things he tackled you needed the United States America environment. There is no way that an economy the size of ours wouldn’t have been able to produce the amount of money Elon Musk made in the USA economy.”

Do you think the money will ever be in South Africa for entrepreneurs like Elon Musk one day?

“Yes, one day. I’m a great believer that it’s a Upington economy, but ultimately the size of an economy is determined by the number of people. If you look at the demographic projections of South Africa, 40% of the world’s population by the turn of the century will equate to about 4 billion people that will live in Africa.”

What is the first opportunity that got you excited that made you think that this is what you want to put your life into?

“I think that the first thing that opened the world where we could go from 10 shops to 50 and then 70 and the 100 and then to the stage where we opened 100 stores a year, which comes to 2 a week. I thought, well this is amazing and nobody ever thought that way.”

How do you start out? What is the best way and how would you advise young people starting out?

“It’s very simple. First of all, you need to try to identify a need in the broad community and then try fill that need as best you can at making your consumers life better and making a profit for yourself. People who are anti-business often miss that point. It’s amazing how very few people object to the obscene amounts of money paid to entertainers and sports stars that amuse the population at large. They don’t begrudge their money, but a business person who makes money is somehow objectionable because it is seen as exploitation. But all the business person does is offer the consumer something in return for which the consumer must pay. You cannot force the consumer to buy it from him; he has got to offer what the consumer wants. So first thing is to identify the need then decide whether you can meet that need in a manner that is good for both parties to the transaction.”

What would you advise entrepreneurs, with your experience, never to do?

“Never believe that there is an easy way to make it. Don’t let anybody convince you that there is a free meal and that it is easy to do it. I often quote Anton Rupert on this, if he had known just how difficult it was going to be, he would never have started. Yet when he got to the end of his career, he looked back he marveled at how easy it was. Now that tells you the story.”

A lot of people say that on this continent it helps to have a rich family behind you, political connections and if you’re highly educated. What is your view on this?

“Most people I know that have done well had none of those things. They didn’t come from money, they were educated, maybe better than the average person but I’ve known some extremely successful entrepreneurs that did not even have a proper education. I think it can help, but if you ask me, on balance, I would say it’s more of a hindrance than a help to have these connections and money that people say it’s easy for that person because he has money, connections and influence.”

What are your thoughts on the many people in this country that say we need a benign dictator to sort out the economy?

“I think there are fantastic examples of it working, obvious ones that we all know. I could buy that, except there are too many instances where benign dictators are becoming less and less benign as time goes on. But I must say, I think on balance having gone through the latest debate if the system is really the best because so many people are left behind and all of the normal arguments that people raise against the capitalist, the liberal and the democratic systems. At the end of the day, I still think it is the best except, you have to understand that in communities like ours, or on this continent it will take time. People forget that it didn’t happen overnight in the developed countries.”

How do you relate to lawyers as an entrepreneur?

“Well… find the good ones. There is a saying about lawyers that 99% of them give the 1% a bad name, but that’s not true of course. But a good lawyer is important to have in your corner. An important thing that I often say to lawyers is, that they may be good lawyers but if you’re not available to me then you are not worth anything to me. Good lawyers are very busy people that have lots of clients that want their time and attention. That is how I would deal with lawyers.”

What advice would you, as an entrepreneur give with regards to politics?

“My advice would be to avoid it at all costs. I mean you can’t withdraw from the scene but try not to get too close and remember that as a business person, be a little bit slow to criticize too harshly. Because as I said before, politicians march to a different drum, as they should.”

What about employees? What is your philosophy there?

“First thing you need to know is that employees don’t work for you, they work with you. That was a very basic principle for Pep, we had each other’s backs, give them a fair shake and expect a fair return in terms of their contribution.”

Lastly, regarding investment and growth, how would you advise people with a small business to grow it?

“Work… just work.”