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29 Top Influential SA Business Leaders Learn from these South African titans of industry to guide you on your entrepreneurial journey to success.

By Nicole Crampton

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Entrepreneurship is said to be the answer to South Africa's unemployment challenges and slow growth, but to foster entrepreneurship we ideally need business leaders to impact grass root efforts. Business leadership is vital to improved confidence and growth. These three titans of global industry say:

  • "As we look ahead, leaders will be those who empower others." – Bill Gates
  • "Leaders are also expected to work harder than those who report to them and always make sure that their needs are taken care of before yours." – Elon Musk
  • "Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could." – Steve Jobs

Here are 30 top influential SA business leaders forging the path towards a prosperous South African future.

1. Zareef Minty

Vital Stats

  • Player: Zareef Minty
  • Company: ZRF Holdings

Zareef Minty is making waves in South Africa's politics, law and business industries. ZRF Holdings houses a PR company, a clothing company and a law firm. He's also a best-selling author of Empire, which is aimed at a young audience in need of life and career guidance.

Minty is a motivational speaker and a One Young World ambassador. He's been named one of the Top 200 Young South Africans by Mail & Guardian and he's on the Forbes 2018 list of 30 under 30 African's to watch.

What the leaders have to say:

"Get an education. That's the most important thing for every young person in this country. I know I will diversify in my career, but I have the safety-net of a law degree for the rest of my life. To cease being job seekers and rather become job makers, we need to be educated. That is the key to moving South Africa forward," says Zareef Minty.

2. Roger Boniface

Vital Stats

  • Player: Roger Boniface
  • Company: EDISIM

Roger Boniface is the founder of EDISIM, a training provider that uses simulations to offer real-world learning experiences in the classroom. In under three years, he has managed to integrate his business simulation concept into some of Africa's top business schools. He lectures at Wits and GIBS in South Africa and Strathmore Business School in Nairobi.

Named as one of the 30 under 30 Africans to watch by Forbes, Boniface is also the founder of Artson, an event company that hosts art and wine tasting experiences, and he took on JCB, a small textile wholesaler. Although he didn't launch JCB, he has increased the annual turnover to R13 million in 3 years.

What the leaders have to say:

"I spend my weekends at different flea markets around Johannesburg and Pretoria and there is no better way to learn about business. My first counterfeit-note experience happened at a flea market. I got paid for something I sold with a counterfeit R100 note," says Boniface.

3. Zuko Tisani

Vital Stats

Zuko Tisani founded Legazy Technology Conferencing that helps technology start-ups exhibit their talents on a global scale through platforms such as Web Summit. This enables them to reach their peers and sell their technology ideas to the right people at an affordable rate.

Legazy is now a subsidiary of the By Design Communications Group. It was acquired after
Tisani managed to secure a USD1 million letter of intent from one of Africa's largest TMT (technology, media, telecom) companies for the hosting of a new Web summit conference in South Africa in 2018.

He is also part of the world's top 350 handpicked entrepreneurs in the world under 25, according to the Kairos Global Society.

What the leaders have to say:

"I still believe start-ups in South Africa lack investment and market exposure, and our skill levels aren't competitive when you compare them with start-up ecosystems across the world. With Web Summit 2018, we hope to start addressing that," says Tisani.

4. Phuti Mahanyele

Vital Stats

  • Player: Phuti Mahanyele
  • Company: Former CEO of Shanduka Group, current Sigma Capital Executive Chair

At 17, she left South Africa to pursue her studies, and obtained a bachelor's degree in Economics and earned an MBA from De Montfort University. She would also later go on to complete Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government executive education programme.

Determined to be a success, Mahanyele joined an international investment banking company specialising in infrastructural development in New York City called Fieldstone Private Capital Group. She later became Vice-President of the firm, then transferred to the company's office in South Africa.

After returning to South Africa, she became the head of Project Finance South Africa at the Development Back of Southern Africa. She was headhunted, and advanced to the position of managing director of Shanduka Energy, later becoming the CEO of Shanduka Group. She would go on to hold this position for 10 years, securing major deals including those with Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

  • In 2007, she was selected as a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.
  • In 2009, she won the Rutgers Visions of Excellence award and The Most Influential Woman in Government and Business award from Rutgers University.
  • In 2011, she was named one of the 20 youngest power women in Africa by Forbes.
  • In 2013, she won the Distinguished Achievement award by the Douglass Society.

What the leaders have to say:

"For the young professional instead of being focused on how people are treating you, if you're happy in the organisation, learn as much as you possibly can, understand the market that you're dealing with, understand the products and important aspects of the business you're in. It's important to make sure you have the best work ethic, that you're applying yourself as much as possible and that you're not as dependant on what others can do for you, but that you're focused on what you can do."

5. Nunu Ntshingila

Vital Stats

  • Player: Nunu Ntshingila
  • Company: Facebook Africa

Nunu Ntshingila had humble beginnings in Soweto, she started out her corporate life with no creative know-how, but determination to learn and grow. After working her way up the corporate ladder, she became Chairman at Ogilvy & Mather South Africa, one of the largest advertising agencies in Africa. She went on to be inducted into the Creative Hall of Fame, and the first woman to be inducted into the Loeries Hall of Fame.

This achievement put her in the perfect position to say "yes' when offered to be the head of Facebook for Africa.

What the leaders have to say:

"A common thread in my career, and the single most important issue, has been learning how to work with people. It is so important to understand people, and to understand the dynamics, and to always treat people with a great deal of humanity and humility," says Ntshingila.

"Whether you're a manager or leading an organisation, it's really about getting the best out of people. That approach has helped me move along, and it has helped me bring people along as we embarked on a journey."

6. Dr. Judy Dlamini

Vital Stats

Dr. Judy Dlamini is a qualified medical doctor, with an MBA and PhD in business leadership. She is an accomplished businesswoman, an author, and founder and current executive chairperson of the Mbekani Group.

After a successful medical career spanning 10 years, Dlamini decided to explore new terrains, she enrolled for an MBA degree, after which she joined HSBC Investment Bank, and pursued her PhD through UNISA.

Today, Dlamini owns and operates luxury retail stores; Luminance. The fledgling business, Mbekani Group, she started 20 years ago has grown into a diverse and successful entity with operations and investments in medical devices, health management, facilities management, retail and property.

In addition to a long and successful business career, she and her husband are founders and trustees of Mkhiwa trust, a family public benefit organisation with a focus on rural development and education.

What the leaders have to say:

"It really starts with you. You need to invest in yourself, and when you invest in yourself you don't stop. You don't say I'm 50 now, I'm 60, you just invest in yourself all the time because when you do that you become a better person."

7. Tshego Sefolo and Londeka Shezi

Vital Stats

In 2015, after 13 years in the investment industry, Tshego Sefolo went to the market to raise hundreds of millions to launch his own private equity firm, Agile Capital. It took him and his business partner Londeka Shezi, less than a year to secure the investment, for not one, but two private equity firms.

Londeka Shezi, is a director at Agile Capital, but her journey started when she completed her articles with Pricewaterhouse Coopers in 2009. She then joined Standard Bank where she worked in the Leverage and Acquisitions team, and went on to become a senior associate at Zico Group.

What the leaders have to say:

"Sometimes you have to seize the moment," she says. "I love a smaller team — you're in the deep end, but you can take in as much as you can. The onus was on me to learn as much as I could," explains Londeka Shezi.

"It's all about timing," says Sefolo. "I needed to be comfortable that I had developed the necessary credibility and a track record to launch a strong and sustainable brand. Building a track record takes time in the market. You need to prove yourself repeatedly, and in-between that you're making a few bad investments, so how you handle those is critical."

8. Nonkululeko Gobodo

Vital Stats

Nonkululeko Gobodo first made news as the first black female Chartered Accountant in South Africa. Since then, she's continued to make news as a trailblazer and renowned leader of her generation.

Recently, Gobodo led the successful merger of two medium-sized black accounting firms, a move that has altered the accounting landscape in South Africa. SizweNtsalubaGobodo is now the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa with an African footprint.

But Gobodo made the decision to once again go her own way by launching Nonkululeko Leadership Consulting.

What the leaders have to say:

"It was a question of once you get in, are you going to make sure that you get the best opportunities or are you going to allow the system to dictate how far you progress and develop within the organisation?" says Gobodo.

"Our passion is to transform leadership teams and leadership organisations, to fulfil their purpose. Our passion is to see effective leadership; our passion is to see effective organisations and so our frameworks are designed around that."

9. Dudu Msomi

Vital Stats

At 24, Dudu Msomi impressed her interviewer so much with her views and input into their current clients that she was offered a job and placed on the Pepsi account. She was given a seat at the table with shareholders and this allowed her to give input. Interacting at that level at the beginning of her professional journey helped to shape her, and her interest in corporate governance.

Now, Msomi is a well-known and respected strategy facilitator for boards and management, a leadership and executive coach and team builder. Part of her objective at Busara Leadership Partners is to develop effective leaders with knowledge and wisdom she's gained from her many years operating in the business industry.

What the leaders have to say:

"My goal was to have somebody pay me for my brain and how I use it. And so, I worked very hard on this brain, and the mind, how it thinks, in terms of information, in terms of exposure, not just from books but from real experiences. My journey has been to understand what makes a business work and the leaders that make things happen," says Dudu Msomi.

10. Sibongile Sambo

Vital Stats

Sibongile Sambo from a young age had an interest in flying, but when she was rejected from South African Airways for not meeting the height requirement, she decided to reach her dream another way. In 2003, with the help of a small family loan, she launched SRS Aviation.

Not long after she started up, she won a tender from the government, which gave her the perfect opportunity to enter the industry and learn the ropes.

In 2006, her business was issued with a formal Air Operating Certificate, making her business the first black operational enterprise in South Africa to have full rights to undertake commercial flying activities.

In 2010, SRS Aviation opened its first airport-based shop and has since opened a chain of retail shops across South Africa.

What the leaders have to say:

Sibongile Sambo personal mantra: "I know who I am not. I can never forget where I come from. I know where I am going. To reach for my dreams and conquer the challenges. I will dare to be different, and with proper guidance and direction, nothing is impossible. I am indeed a Future Leader."

11. Ian Fuhr

Vital Stats

After 40 years as a serial entrepreneur, founder of Sorbet, Ian Fuhr, has learnt more than his fair share about business in multiple industries. In his 50's he decided to launch a new brand in an industry he wasn't familiar with, 13 years later the business is still going strong with more than 138 franchises.

In 2015, Sorbet opened its first international salon in London. Dermalogica is an international brand, and South African brand Environ is in more than 60 countries with a firm foothold in the UK, which means consumers are aware of Sorbet's products.

What the leaders have to say:

"Success should be measured by the contribution you have made to other peoples' lives. I have come to learn that life and business is not only about self-enrichment. If you have accumulated wealth without having touched the lives of other people in a positive way, then your achievements are meaningless and shallow," says Ian Fuhr.

12. Esna Colyn

Vital Stats

Esna Colyn started her professional career as a chartered accountant doing her articles at an investment banking giant. She spent 17 years in the investment banking, private equity and corporate finance trenches attesting to her mental toughness.

Today, she's the CEO of one of South Africa's foremost beauty franchises, Imbalie Beauty. She's had to reinvent herself and her roles numerous times along her journey towards business leadership.

What the leaders have to say:

"The biggest lesson that I had to learn was that you cannot do things on your own, it's never going to work. You need to get yourself into a position where you inspire people to come along with you on this journey. During this journey we all learn from each other and we all make a lot of mistakes. And it's all about you repositioning yourself continuously and continuously being brave and courageous and continuously stepping out of your comfort zone," says Esna Colyn.

13. Ryan Bacher

Vital Stats

Ryan Bacher originally set out to develop and sell technology that would allow retailers to transition to online. But at the time, no other retailers were looking to transition, so they decided to showcase how profitable the technology could be and launched NetFlorist.

"Our plan was to run the site for one day to prove that we could do it. And then we got R30 000 worth of orders. That was the equivalent of a whole month's revenue at a flower shop," explains Bacher.

19 years later, the delivery giant almost single-handily defined and established ecommerce in South Africa. NetFlorist now operates in major countries and cities around the world, offering its game-changing same-day delivery.

What the leaders have to say:

"I would like to see more young entrepreneurs building great businesses and employing lots of people. Personally, I started out as a young entrepreneur, and can attest to how great it feels to thrive at something you are passionate about. The trick is persistence and perseverance," says Ryan Bacher.

14. Nicky Newton-King

Vital Stats

Started out in life thinking she would be a lawyer, she went on to get her law degree. Her first ever client during her articles was the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), where she started to develop a working relationship with her future employer. After achieving her masters and becoming partner at her law firm, she was asked to join the JSE.

21 years later, she's CEO. "Every single day you're trying to do what you do better, faster, cheaper for the clients, you want to be more trusted and more secure," says Nicky Newton-King.

What the leaders have to say:

"Leaders have to provide purpose and direction to a company. I think you do that in two ways, the first part of that is you need to be able to put together a team that helps define and sift through the strategic tea-leaves. The second part is that you have to be a cheerleader, you have to get the team motivated, enthused, excited by the possibilities that those tea-leaves show you," Nicky Newton-King.

15. Adrian Gore

Vital Stats

"When we started Discovery in 1992, the country was in a state of political turmoil. We saw an opportunity to create a business that could positively impact the healthcare system and we found a way to move forward," says Adrian Gore.

Many consider Vitality to be Discovery's game-changer. It revolutionised the way businesses look at their clients and essentially places risk management outside of the company into the hands of the clients. This led to increased customer loyalty and clientele living longer, happier lives and created a win-win, because the healthier the users are the less they claim, and the longer they live the better it is for the company.

What the leaders have to say:

"It's been a remarkable 25 years. It doesn't feel like it. If you build a business and find the organisation ages better than you do, then Discovery feels brand new. We're always immersed. No one is sitting here in the boardroom drinking cognac thinking about the past. We are humble because we are building, it's like day one here," says Adrian Gore.

16. Terry Volkwyn

Vital Stats

  • Player: Terry Volkwyn
  • Company: Former-CEO of Primedia, founder of Lead SA

Considered as one of the most powerful and influential women in media but Terry Volkwyn never dreamed of a career in radio. She wanted to be a lawyer but didn't have the right matric subjects, so she went into dress-designing.

After another career change, Volkwyn sold advertising space for the Rand Daily Mail when Radio 702 was launched. She instantly loved the rebelliousness of it and started running its sales team and selling up a storm. Eventually she would move from sales to programme manager and up the ladder until she reached the very top.

  • In 2006, she was named Boss of the Year
  • In 2012, she won Company Women of the Decade in Media
  • In 2013, she was inducted into the MTN Radio Awards Hall of Fame

What the leaders have to say:

Being entered by her team into the Boss of the Year competition gave her the validation she needed. "That was another turning point for me, that I could do this, that I could lead very challenging people who are leaders in their own right, that I could run a business, that I could integrate teams and I was making money for the board, and we were growing at phenomenal double-digit growth."

17. Richard Maponya

Vital Stats

Richard Maponya studied to be a teacher but couldn't find work, so he became a stock taker at a clothing manufacturer. His manager sold him soiled clothing and offcuts, which he resold. He made enough capital to open a clothing retailer.

In the early 1950's Maponya and his wife established the Dube Hygienic Dairy, which delivered milk to customers daily. By the 1970's his clothing empire had grown enough for him to branch into other areas, including: general stores, car dealerships and filling stations.

In 2007, Maponya Mall in Soweto was opened, one of the largest shopping centres in the country. He continued to focus on Soweto's growth by establishing Maponya Motor City, which included a Volkswagen and Toyota dealership.

What the leaders have to say:

"I appeal to youngsters to be aware that there are no quick fixes or short cuts to making money. Becoming involved in criminal activities is the worst thing they can do to themselves. They must rather be trained, work hard and empower themselves for the future. There are opportunities out there like never before and the sky is literally the limit," says Richard Maponya.

18. Sisa Ngebulana

Vital Stats

In 2011, when Sisa Ngebulana listed Rebosis Property Fund, it was the first black-managed and substantially held property fund listed on the JSE. He is also the founder and CEO of Billion Group, a commercial and retail property developer.

Overcoming crippling illness, he went on to become a self-made millionaire with a net worth estimated at R400 million.

What the leaders have to say:

After finding himself in financial troubles and unable to pay back the bank he made the following decision: "I repaid the loan in 32 months. I didn't declare bankruptcy and I didn't walk away. If you default on a loan you can carry on with your life, but you cannot get credit with a bank, and you cannot be the director of a company.

Many people choose that path. It wasn't going to be mine. There were too many things I wanted to achieve. I needed to do it right, deal with the challenges and get through them. There will always be things outside of your control, but you need to own up to all the consequences of your actions — good or bad."

19. Wendy Luhabe

Vital Stats

Wendy Luhabe's first step into entrepreneurship came in 1991 when she launched Bridging the Gap, a consulting firm that assists young black South Africans entering the working world. In 1993, she launched Women Investment Portfolio Holdings, the first fund to provide capital to women-owned businesses in South Africa.

In 2002, she launched Africa's first Women-Focused Private Equity Fund. She also published her first book entitled: Defining Moments: Experiences of Black Executives in South Africa's Workplace. Luhabe launched her Foundation in 2002, to educate young disadvantaged black women, particularly from rural areas.

In 2011, Luhabe was asked by Hillary Clinton to join the International Council on Women's Business Leadership (ICWBL). In 2014, she was appointed Member of the Board at The Abraaj Group, a global investment firm.

  • In 2014, she was awarded Woman of Worth from the Jewish Achievers Awards in South Africa.
  • In 2014, she was awarded the Lieutenant of the Victorian Order (LVO) by the British Royal Family.
  • In 2015, she was awarded Lifetime Achievement Award at the Standard Bank Top Women Awards.

What the leaders have to say:

"I believe that courage enabled me to take on responsibilities that were way beyond my age and possibly experience, as a result, this positioned me for leadership roles early in my life. Courage is linked to your self-esteem, sense of worth, self-beliefs and overall attitude towards life. If all of these are healthy, we're likely to find enough courage to stretch beyond our comfort zone," says Wendy Luhabe.

20. Polo Leteka

Vital Stats

  • Player: Polo Leteka
  • Company: Chief Executive Officer of IDF SME Fund

Polo Leteka always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but couldn't quite decide on which direction to go in. She spent several years in the private and public sectors, and during her tenure in Government she knew she wanted to have a greater impact on helping South Africans follow their dreams by becoming entrepreneurs.

She launched Capital Partners, an SME enterprise advisory and fund managing service firm. She brought two partners into the business to expand the services they could offer.

Leteka went on to become one of the "dragons' on the South African edition of Dragons' Den, investing in start-up businesses.

What the leaders have to say:

"An entrepreneur is someone who identifies a problem or a gap in the market and provides a solution that can fill that gap. Ultimately, it's about finding a problem, and then identifying a way to turn that opportunity into profit," says Polo Leteka.

21. Vusi Thembekwayo

Vital Stats

At 25, Vusi Thembekwayo served on the operations board of Metcash Africa. He was tasked with launching a new division, which he built into a R461 million turnover business.

He then left to launch his own business in 2013, Motiv8 his own consulting business, which he bootstrapped with speaking engagements. "In my experience, the only way to succeed is to invest time in your own development and have "skin in the game.' Time enables you to build technical ability and establishes your credibility in the market," says Thembekwayo.

He went on to become one of the "dragons' on the South African edition of Dragons' Den, where he was responsible for allocation over R10 million worth of investment, as well as one of the "sharks' on M-Net's Shark Tank.

  • In 2011, he co-founded Watermark Capital Partners, a private equity firm
  • In 2013, he was appointed non-executive director at RBA Holdings Ltd.
  • In 2014, he founded The Inspiration Project, a tech enabled narrative lab reshaping the story of Africa, qualified to join the National Speakers Association of New York, and founded My Growth Fund, a fund to support business people as they start, build and grow their businesses
  • In 2015, he founded Iconoclast, a boutique specialist public speaker representation management agency.

What the leaders have to say:

"If you want exponential growth, you need to be disruptive. Safe strategies lead to linear growth, which for many business owners is fine. But it's not enough if you want to be a market leader. New business models, products and solutions are quickly old and ubiquitous, and while you keep innovating, so does everyone else," says Vusi Thembekwayo.

22. Marnus Broodryk

Vital Stats

Marnus Broodryk was a self-made millionaire by the age of 24, without taking on a single cent of debt. While completing his articles he also studied via correspondence. Although it was a tough four years, it enabled him to have his degree and articles completed by 22, then he moved to Johannesburg.

He launched his revolutionary accounting business called The Beancounter, an accounting practice that would help SMEs build bigger, more sustainable and profitable businesses. This completely disrupted the accounting industry, altering the way the industry operates. His business is now worth more than R1 billion and continues to grow from strength-to-strength.

He became one of the youngest investors on M-Net's Shark Tank.

What the leaders have to say:

By 2015, Broodryk had too many fingers in too many pies: "The whole experience taught me that you can build five to ten average companies, but you can't build a R1 billion business simultaneously with others — that takes focus and dedication," he says.

23. Thuli Madonsela

Vital Stats

  • Player: Thuli Madonsela
  • Company: Former Public Protector, Current Professor of Law, holding a chair in social justice at Stellenbosch University since January 2018.

"Thuli Madonsela is very centred. Her leadership style is non-reactive and very clearly on point. She signals her intention and she holds her presence. This gives her enormous integrity and adds credibility and moral authority to her professional presence," says Liz de Wet, course convenor of the Women in Leadership programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business.

Thuli Madonsela's greatest influence on the business industry is being a voice of integrity and reminding business leaders of the importance of ethical governance and business practises. "Business is in a position of power and privilege, and business has a voice‚ in the same way that when you become an advocate‚ you have a voice. It also means that you have an obligation to leverage your influence for good‚" said Madonsela.

  • In 2014, she made Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world
  • In 2016, she was named Forbes Africa Person of the Year
  • In 2017, she won the 3rd Commonwealth Law Conference Rule of Law Award.

What the leaders have to say:

Leadership that makes a lasting, worthwhile difference has the following aspects: "They do the right things for the right reasons for the right outcomes, regardless of the level of resistance and critique. They're authentic in all they do. They are true to themselves, and what they stand for. They reach out to others from the premise that everyone is trying to do the best they can. And if they knew better, they would do even better," says Thuli Madonsela.

24. Lebo Gunguluza

Vital Stats

Lebo Gunguluza started his entrepreneurial journey with R60 and a lot of nerve. He managed to secure a bursary, which enabled him to study a BCom degree at the University of Natal. To earn money while he studied he became an agent for Edgars on campus, then went on to work in sales for the SABC.

He launched his first business and made his first million by 27 but squandered it and had to work his way back to financial wealth. He launched Corporate Fusion, and at 33 his business was turning over R14 million, but he left it to others to run while he travelled the world, and he soon found himself in R4 million worth of debt. Several years later after paying off his debt, he launched GEM (Gunguluza Enterprises & Media) Group of Companies, which has become a multimillion rand business in it's first two-and-a-half years.

He went on to become one of the "dragons' on the South African edition of Dragons' Den, as well as one of the "sharks' on M-Net's Shark Tank.

What the leaders have to say:

Three key points stood out for him: "Whatever business you go into, you had better know it inside out, down to the last bolt; you must always have a strong sales ability in the business; and cash is king, so whatever money you make, try to retain as much of it as possible and use it to advance the company," says Lebo Gunguluza.

25. Dawn Nathan-Jones

Vital Stats

Dawn Nathan-Jones started her illustrious career at 21 when she joined Imperial Care Rental when it was just getting off the ground and only had five cars. Her ability to innovate, reinvent and drive change helped her become CEO of Imperial Group's Car Rental Division.

In the position for 18 years, she spearheaded the merger of Imperial Car Rental and Europcar, which is now used as a case study for rebranding by local and international business schools.

She went on to become one of the "sharks' on M-Net's Shark Tank.

  • In 2007, she won the Transnet Foundation's Boss of the Year Award
  • In 2012, she was appointed as Vice President of SAVRALA (Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association)
  • She is a member of the Business Women's Association, International Women's Forum, Institute of Directors and advocate of Equal Opportunities for Women and founded the Europcar Jewish Woman in Leadership Award.

What the leaders have to say:

"Know what you want and believe in your dreams and aspirations. Don't be afraid to challenge what you think are your limitations. By removing your own barriers, you can open the door to reaching your goals as each and every one of us has the potential to succeed," says Dawn Nathan-Jones.

26. Nicholas Bell

Vital Stats

While studying to be a CA, Nicholas Bell developed a merchandising app for SAB (South African Breweries), once he built one solution, he quickly acquired more clients and by the time he was preparing to do his articles, SAB gave him a three-year deal as part of their merchandising programme.

At 22, while still living with his parents, his first business comprising four people had a turnover of R700 000. By the second year, turnover grew to R1.6 million. After six years, his turnover was R21 million, he employed 25 people with clients including Simba, Harmony, ArcelorMittal, SAB, and Sibanye Gold. Eight years later, Bell hit R100 million, then pivoted the business to ensure they couldn't be disrupted.

He implemented an investor-led strategy, which will see the business doing 40% of its work offshore with a R500 million turnover in five years.

What the leaders have to say:

"I don't ever want a challenge to slow me down," Bell says. "You can let a setback derail you, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and carry the business forward. I believe it's important to dissect everything — even opinions and advice I don't initially agree with. Mentors have taught me that it's important to be adaptable and that nothing in business is hard or fast. We're constantly faced with new sources of data needed to grow our business, and I've learnt that the only real question is whether you're willing to use that data to drive the business forward."

27. Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved

Vital Stats

In 2015, Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved sold their business, The Creative Counsel for an estimated R1 billion. The Creative Counsel is the largest advertising agency in South Africa employing more than a thousand permanent staff and tens of thousands of temporary staff every year.

The Creative Counsel launched an incubator to support transformation within the industry. Start-ups in media, marketing, digital and mobile industries will receive support and mentorship from the agency's management team.

In 2017, Ran Neu-Ner pledged R50 million to assist young entrepreneurs develop and grow their businesses.

Gil Oved went on to become one of the "dragons' on the South African edition of Dragons' Den, as well as one of the "sharks' on M-Net's Shark Tank.

  • In 2016, Both entrepreneurs won the EY Southern Africa World Entrepreneur Award for 2016 in the Exceptional category.

What the leaders have to say:

"Firstly, PAs are powerful people, so build a relationship with them. And secondly, never ever give up. If someone tells you that they don't meet with suppliers, call back. And call back again. Break down the door if you have to. And if you can't, break down their resistance until they're dying for an opportunity to see you just, so they can tell you to go away. Often, what separates people who succeed from those who fail is the willingness and ability to overcome whatever hurdle is placed in their way." says Ran Neu-Ner.

"I think the thing to remember is that partners are neither your staff nor your suppliers. They do not work for you. They work with you – so treat them accordingly. Nurture and support them, but don't try to manage them. We had to learn the difference between mentorship and management," says Gil Oved.

28. Vinny Lingham

Vital Stats

  • Player: Vinny Lingham
  • Company: Founder and CEO of Civic

Vinny Lingham was an internet entrepreneur before South African venture capitalists were even investing in the internet. He emigrated to the US to pursue his business dreams and launch Yola. In 2007, he raised USD5 million.

Lingham went on to found a few more internet businesses including incuBeta and Gyft, which he sold from more than R500 million. He's currently working on his latest business Civic, which is an identity protection and management start-up.

Vinny Lingham put his weight behind the Silicon Cape Initiative, to increase South Africa's global competitiveness and place the Cape on the global entrepreneurial map.

He went on to become one of the "dragons' on the South African edition of Dragons' Den, as well as one of the "sharks' on M-Net's Shark Tank.

What the leaders have to say:

"When you're young, you need to sacrifice a lot to be successful; but it's worth it. When you're operating in your comfort zone, you're not learning or growing fast enough. To be successful in a new company, you need to go build yourself up from 0, it's not easy. There are no shortcuts when learning a new business or industry, you need to work harder and longer hours than anyone else to get ahead. Get used to 18-hour days, 6 to 7 days a week; that's what it takes. And hard work is not enough, you need to be smart, savvy and have tons of perseverance. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it," advises Vinny Lingham.

29. Patrice Motsepe

Vital Stats

After a successful career as a lawyer at Bowman Gilfillan, in 1997, Motsepe launched a business of his own called ARM (African Rainbow Minerals). He turned it into one of the largest mining and mineral groups in the world. Since then, he has diversified into several other key sectors, including financial services.

In 2008, Motsepe became a billionaire and the first black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he invested in a USD1 billion fund as part of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, launched by Bill Gates. He also launched a new private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital, which is focused on investing in Africa. In 2017, he was ranked as South Africa's fifth richest person, with a fortune exceeding R1.3 billion.

What the leaders have to say:

"One has to set high standards, I can never be happy with mediocre performance. All our businesses comprise of the best people money can buy. My policy is hire the best and pay them well. My parents insisted that we should always be respectful, never forget where we come from," says Patrice Motsepe.

Nicole Crampton

Entrepreneur Staff

Sales Enablement - Content Developer

Nicole Crampton is an SEO specialist who contributes to She has studied a BA Journalism at Monash South Africa and has continued her studies with a Creative Writing degree from UNISA. Nicole has completed several courses in writing and online marketing, and continues to hone her skills and expertise in digital media, digital marketing and content creation.

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