Vusi Thembekwayo “rock star of public speaking”
No. I wanted to pursue a corporate career. There weren’t many commercially successful role models when I was younger, from which one could realize the potential of being a successful businessman through speaking.
What led you to become a motivational speaker?
I am more a classically trained public speaker that stumbled upon motivational speaking. The truth is that I was a well-trained public speaker that wanted simply to make an impact in the lives of others. It just happened that “motivational speaking” was the way to do that.
Your work as a motivational speaker focuses on businesses and entrepreneurs. What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing businesses and entrepreneurs in Africa?
For businesses and business leaders, the challenges are on leading in the modern world. We live in highly volatile times, where the decisions we make are clouded by the complexities of competing interests from the communities we operate in and shareholders whose interest we serve. The task of the modern-day business leader is navigating these challenges with character and integrity.
For entrepreneurs, the challenges of doing business and being successful in Africa are wide and varied. From raising working capital finance at favourable terms to creating a robust offering that is as responsive to your customers as it is affordable. The added issues of lack of infrastructure make reaching your “choice consumers” difficult whilst the highly rigid financial products (most of which are in no way innovative or tailored to the African entrepreneurs’ environment) continue to keep the small entrepreneur in Africa financially excluded. The extent to which we are able to unlock this challenge is directly proportional to the extent, which we can create a better Africa for all.
Your testimonials reveal that you have motivated countless individuals, how do you motivate yourself?
For me, motivation is not a static concept. It’s rather more fluid. So I have different things that motivate me at different times. It may be creating a legacy for my family or simply the ability to make someone else’s life better and more meaningful. Sometimes its how much commercial success we can have as a business, or the tenacity of my team and the people I lead. I draw motivation at different times from different sources.
A singular truth remains; I am motivated by my ability to make an impact. If I cannot make an impact in the spaces I exist then I withdraw myself and refocus.
You are the youngest director of a JSE-listed company, how did you achieve this impressive feat?
Simple, hard work, building a strong reputation of delivery and an ability to manage pressure, having fun and have a clear vision of the future. There is no part of real success that is “by chance” or luck. I have a simple rule for achieving your goals:
Clarity: you cannot be propelled towards a goal that you are uncertain of. You must be crystal clear on the goal, the motivation for that goal and the impact your achieving will have;
Be ready to fail: I should have been a director of a listed at 25years old. But the business I was in chose a different path and I chose to move on. My view is that setbacks are a set-up for a comeback. So I ask the question, if not this path then which? I don’t argue whether or not I can achieve my goals. Achieving them is a given for me. I really want to know the best path to reaching them;
Smart work is a lie created by lazy people: the truth is that the harder I worked at being smarter, the harder I worked period. You have to be willing to put in the hours, do the time, walk the miles and earn the stripes to your success. So this idea that you can work hard is nonsense. You work smart by being more organised but you still have to do the work. There is no effortless path to any place worth going;
Build and protect your reputation: it is really important to know and never forget that your most important asset is not money, it is your reputation. Building and maintain a strong reputation is actually really simple.
Do what you say. Say what you do.
Bring your best self to the room everyday.
What words of advice would you offer would-be entrepreneurs who are afraid to take the leap and pursue their dream?
Fear is good. You should embrace the fear. The truth is that many of the business leaders I have come to meet and admire are equally fearful. The trick is not whether or not one feels fear, but rather having the discipline to move past the fear. Fear is like bad winter, you cannot conquer it, circumvent it, avoid it or wish it away but you can certainly outlast it through being focused, being diligent and being deliberate.
In the explanation for your Millionaires 101 project you state: “we are unashamedly for the development of African entrepreneurs and their accumulation of real wealth.” What does “real wealth” mean to you?
Real wealth is not wealth that is encumbered. It is about creating a class of African entrepreneurs who are building real businesses and through this creating real wealth and empowering their communities. What we have seen as the display of wealth in Africa has been rather the accumulation of spending power rather than real wealth. We have tended to demonize wealth accumulation is a manner that tends to discourage entrepreneurship and enterprise. Ours is to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship and its ability to generate wealth and uplift the lives of communities.
Do you believe the old adage that “good things come to those who wait” or are you of the opinion that “fortune favors the bold”?
I don’t see these as antitheses of each other. I think diligent application to a skill and the assiduous practice of an ability will bring you good fortune. But it goes without saying that you have to be bold to make an impact and a difference.
On your website you mention our ability as humans to not only ask questions, but also, importantly, our ability to pursue the answers. What do you believe is the most important question in your life?
Simple, what will be my impact in the world and my legacy for my family? This journey I am walking is my attempt at answering that question.
With such a demanding schedule, how do you unwind and relax?
I have had to learn to make time for family and for self. I have more recently learnt how to treat this time as a non-negotiable. Regardless of how lucrative an opportunity appears or important a meeting is, if it clashes with my “downtime” I will not accept it. What has been interesting to note is that the world listens when you set a set of rules and then implement them.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
My son and my daughter.
On your website you have spoken out against B.E.E., what would you suggest as an alternative solution?
I don’t think the BEE as a system is perfect and it is the imperfections of the system against which I have commented. However, the achievements of BEE (more specifically BBBEE) far outstrip its inefficiencies. Its really important that we learn as South Africans that one can comment and criticize elements of a system whilst in support of the spirit of what it intends to achieve. These are mutually exclusive.
As Jacob Zuma embarks on his second term, what words of encouragement would you offer our president and his cabinet?
I would have three:
Surround yourself with the people that are technically sound in a portfolio: it’s a misnomer that the DGs have all the technical competence a department needs. Having a technically sound minister can make the political leadership of a department better and its management more accountable. Ultimately this will build a more performance focused work culture in the public service; Create conducive environment for talent in public sector: I don’t have an empirical evidence to support this but my view is that top talent does not explicitly look for opportunities in the public service. So the part of our country that needs the talents does not attract it, which makes it less efficient, which makes it more unattractive. My view is that the president and his cabinet should embark on a programme of action that will make the working environment stimulate, dynamic and engaging so that it can attract top talent;
Answer the corruption question: the president should show that corruption regardless of the guise or the extent to which it benefits any party or connected individual will not be tolerated. I am afraid this had hardly been the case.
In your 12 years of experience as a motivational speaker, what is most significant lesson that you have learned?
Humility is critical in your success. There is always someone more talented than you, more educated and better trained. Be humble as you achieve success. Win and fail with the same emotion: it’s easy to embrace success and despise failure. However, when you learn to take the good and the bad with the same humility, you truly move toward greatness.
On your website you mention how humans emulate other humans, who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My father. He died when I was thirteen years old but his advices, his coaching and his mentorship still drive me today.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Read a book a month. My teacher and public speaking trainer Mrs. Buchanan told me this. I still haven’t quite achieved that but I am an avid reader and love the knowledge acquisition process.
What is your future vision for yourself and your business?
The next few years our business is focused on building more annuity income opportunities and investing quite heavily in the rest of the continent. We made an acquisition into a research business so that we can bolster the knowledge input into our advisory business. The bets are yet to pay off but we are on our way.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Brush my teeth and make my bed. I find making your bed adds a certain structure and discipline to the rest of your day.