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Updated 29 Sep 2020

8 Visionary entrepreneurs share their leadership secrets to success

How these larger-than-life entrepreneurs keep going and inspire their talented teams to succeed; even in the toughest of times. 

Nicole Crampton , 24 October 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

8. Learn how to perform better

Entrepreneur Bill Gates founded the world’s largest software business, Microsoft, with Paul Allen. He is the richest man in the world, with a net worth of USD81.7 billion. He started learning computer programming at 13 years-old. Using technological innovation, inspired business strategy and aggressive corporate tactics, he and partner Paul Allen built the largest software company in the world. 

In 1975, Gates and Allen founded Microsoft, by 1979, at the age of 23; Gates’ company was making USD2.5 million annually. Between 1979 and 1981 Microsoft’s staff increased from 25 to 128 and its revenue shot up from USD2.5 million to USD16 million. In 2015, Microsoft made USD93.6 billion. 

The lesson 

Gates speaks on the importance of turning caring into action, to solve problems across the globe. He advises not to be quelled by the complexity of the issue, but to attack them step by step.

“Determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have. The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working. The final step, after seeing the problem and finding an approach, is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts,” urges Gates. 

Related: 20 Motivational quotes from SA’s top entrepreneurs to inspire you this Heritage Day

7. Learn to make connections 

Jane -Raphaely

Jane Raphaely is a South African pioneer in the media landscape. She almost single-handedly created the English-language women’s magazine genre in South Africa. Raphaely played pivotal roles in magazine publishing and female empowerment and is the recipient of multiple awards for professional and humanitarian achievements. 

The lesson

“When I was at the London School of Economics, I was known as the party starter. When someone wanted to have a great party they were told to get me to round up the right people. I was good at connectivity, and connections are essential. Also, if T-shirts had been in at that time, mine would have had ‘WHY NOT?’ on it. I still use those two words about ten times a day,” says Raphaely. 

“I often describe myself as the village matchmaker,” she says. “Finding and retaining talented people is vital to making a successful business. Cultivating the perfect team takes a specific set of skills, and Raphaely recommends having relationships with the people you work with saying: “People who play together, stay together.” 

6. Learn to do what you love 

Richard -Branson

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, English business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, founded Virgin Records in 1973. Today, the Virgin Group is invested in more than 400 businesses, in more than 30 countries across the globe, including the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, Asia, Europe and South Africa. Branson’s journey actually started out as a high school dropout, because he wanted to begin building an empire, originally within the music industry. With an estimated net worth of USD5.2 billion, this high school dropout must be doing something right.

The lesson

“There is no greater thing you can do than follow your passions in a way that serves the world and you,” explains Branson. Passion is contagious and rubs off on everyone you come into contact with. It also helps to attract enthusiastic impassioned people into your sphere of influence.“Find what you’re passionate about, then find ways to do more of it,”urges Brandon. 

If you’re indifferent about your work, you need to do something else. Because: “When you’re passionate about what you’re doing then you’ll not only do it better, but you’ll be far more successful at it,” explains Branson. 

5. Learn from failure

Oprah -Winfrey

Entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, despite facing failure early on in her media career, never gave up. Today, she is best known as an outspoken TV host, actress and philanthropist, as well as an accomplished business founder. Winfrey is the chairperson and CEO of Harpo Inc., and made history when she became the first woman to own and produce her own talk show. She is now one of the wealthiest and most successful business leaders in the world.

The lesson

If Winfrey’s original cooking show hadn’t been rejected by ABC executives, she would never have been free of her contract. Failure is just a stepping stone for success, and you should learn from each and every bump in the road. “Nobody’s journey is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. It’s just life’s way of saying, ‘Time to change course’,” says Winfrey.

She encourages entrepreneurs, reminding them that risk-taking sometimes involves failure.

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire,” explains Winfrey. “So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground. You can never fail if you refuse to lose, especially if you have the necessary self-awareness to, ‘Turn your wounds into wisdom’.” 

Related: 4 Things no one tells you about entrepreneurship

4. Learn to see with fresh eyes

Ian -Fuhr

When entrepreneur Ian Fuhr decided to launch beauty chain Sorbet in 2004, almost everyone he spoke to told him not to go for it, or questioned his sanity. Fuhr and his business partner Rudi Rudolph started out with just four outlets in 2005. 

Today, they have 37 outlets with group sales equalling R100 million a year. They accomplished this by focusing on a retail model instead of a traditional salon model, dedication to quality customer service and a solid foundation before franchising. 

Fuhr’s massage therapist inspired it all: “She suggested to me that the beauty industry was on the rise, and I had a gut feeling that she was right,” explains Fuhr. “There were hardly any branded chains in the beauty industry. Done right, a branded chain can offer a consistent, reliable and branded service, and it’s a real vehicle for growth.” 

The lesson 

“My entrepreneurial journey has been rich and varied. Each time I enter a new industry, I try to look at it with fresh eyes. I bring the lessons from where I’ve come, and sometimes that perspective is very useful, like my approach to Sorbet via a retail model, and everything I’d learnt about staff, people and customers. Don’t let yourself become contaminated by conventional wisdom within an industry like, ‘this is the way we do things’,” explains Fuhr. 

3. Learn to have patience

Warren -Buffett

Entrepreneur Warren Buffett is the founder of Berkshire Hathaway, an American multi-national holding company. Because Buffett started creating businesses from a young age, and had many clever business ideas, he emerged from college with USD10 000 from the businesses he’d started. Buffett has been creating businesses since he was 13 years old, and all these businesses have allowed him to accumulate more wealth each time. He now has a net worth of USD65.9 billion.

Through his studies and mentorships, he was able to learn how to identify undervalued companies and this helped him become a billionaire. 

The lesson

Throughout his career, Buffett displays patience. However, you also need, amongst other things, bravery and perseverance to be a success. Great leaders need to resist the pressure that is put on them and have the tenacity to see a project to fruition.

Buffett explains: “No matter how great the talents or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” 

Related: Are you suited to entrepreneurship?

2. Learn to create a movement 

Mark -Zuckerberg

Entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook. He developed an interest in computers from an early age and was able to programme proficiently by age 12. In Zuckerberg’s first year at Harvard University, he and a group of friends developed The Facebook in 2004. By 2005, Accel had invested USD12.7 million into Facebook; and with this financial endowment the social network grew to 5.5 million users by December 2005. 

The lesson 

Great companies have a sense of purpose at the root of everything they do, whether it’s hiring staff, attracting the right investors, marketing or customer service. That purpose develops a sense of belonging, which sparks intense employee and customer loyalty. Great leaders create movements, not just products.

Zuckerberg explains: “At Facebook, we're inspired by technologies that have revolutionised how people spread and consume information. We often talk about inventions, like the printing press and the television, by simply making communication more efficient. They led to a complete transformation of many important parts of society. They gave more people a voice. They encouraged progress. They changed the way society was organised. They brought us closer together.” 

1. Learn to question yourself 

Elon -Musk

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for founding Tesla Motors and SpaceX, the latter of which launched a landmark commercial spacecraft in 2012. Musk taught himself to programme, and when he was 12 years old he made his first software sale.

In 1999, Musk co-founded, an online financial services/payment company, which would eventually go on to become PayPal. After a USD1.5 billion buyout of PayPal, Musk founded SpaceX, on May 22, 2012; SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space with an unmanned capsule. 

In 2013, Musk released a concept for a new form of transportation called the Hyperloop, which would cut travel time. In August 2016, he solidified a USD2.6 billion deal to combine his electric car and solar energy companies. Tesla Motors purchased SolarCity Corp, Musk explains: “Solar and storage are at its best when combined. As one company, Tesla (storage) and SolarCity (solar) can create fully integrated residential, commercial and grid-scale products that improve the way that energy is generated, stored and consumed.”

The lesson 

Musk explains: “I think it's very important to have a feedback loop [when it comes to employee communication], where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and keep questioning yourself.” 

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Nicole Crampton

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