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Manage your business 19 January 2021

Vusi Thembekwayo on Practising the Skills of Management

Who could think of a better business adviser than self-made millionaire Vusi Thembekwayo?

These days he's the boss and has a reputation for innovation, but Thembekwayo says he learned everything he needed to know about running a business while employed at FMCG giant Metcash. 

“Entrepreneurship is a practice thing. You’ve got to practise the skills of management, and corporates teach you that,” he says. 

For some great business tips for young entrepreneurs, find out about the lessons he learned back then, which he still applies to his own businesses today and are a great source of entrepreneurship ideas. 

1. Managing money   

“Too many entrepreneurs don’t pay enough attention to the details of money,”  Thembekwayo says. “They want to transact; they want to sell, but invoicing and  getting paid end up falling by the wayside.” 

He adds that the MD of the treasury department was his worst nightmare while at Metcash, but his attention to detail taught him how to manage money and be frugal. 

“One of the most important lessons any business owner must learn is that making a  profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small,  smart money decisions lead to big profits. Also remember that without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost, so question every line item on a quote. Do we need it?  Can we get it cheaper?” 

Lesson learned: A strong treasury department with attention to detail when it comes to every rand that is made and spent is a key element of a successful business. 

2. Managing people 

“Whether you’re a manager, team leader or business owner, it’s your job to help your team see the future that you see. Business is a process, and it relies on the entire team working towards a common goal and investing in that process on a daily basis.” 

Lesson learned: Successful entrepreneurs make sure the people they employ feel invested in the future of their business and its success. 

3. Differentiate your business 

"In this market, most businesses want cash upfront. We turned that around and said we were happy to take the risk. I had a R17 billion balance sheet that I could leverage to offer credit. And so we went to market offering credit,” Thembekwayo says of his time at Metcash. 

"All of a sudden the sale went from ‘Are you going to deliver Iwisa at R19.99?’ to ‘Hold on, what did you just say? You’ll give me credit? Can I give you the order tomorrow?’” 

According to Thembekwayo, his job essentially entailed selling a product, in his case baked beans and mielie meal, a market that's all about price, making it hard to differentiate your business. While some of his competitors used their BEE status as a selling point, he did not believe his customers truly cared whether his business was black empowered. He instead decided to figure out what they truly wanted, which in this case was credit. 

Lesson learned: Determine what your customers really want and what will genuinely make their lives easier; then give it to them. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Every cent counts: a consistent focus on the small amounts will lead to big profits. 

  • To succeed, the entire team must be aware of and invested in the future you, as a manager, see for your business.   

  • You need to stand out from your competitors by working out what your customers want and being willing to give it to them.