for man of a million daily ideas
The "long-time-no-see" bear hug lasted forever.
It was almost 12 years since I had seen Fulton Ramaphakela.
But an extraordinary story such as his is worth telling in a roundabout way.
Twelve years ago, two scrawny young men came knocking on my door, peddling a desktop computer. I sent them packing.
The next morning, the relentless Ramaphakela had the gumption to return. He was like a bloodhound which had sensed blood.
I never bought the damn thing, but I developed a liking and respect for the younger man. I knew he was born to go far in life.
At the time Ramaphakela had just resigned his 9-5 job at giant IT company ICL and gone on his own with his last pay cheque standing between success and utter failure.
He was operating his business from the boot of his car. But Fulton being Fulton, he talked me into letting him a spare bedroom which became his first office.
Those were damn hard times. Bills were piling up for both of us. At times he used his garage card to purchase life-sustaining stuff such as bread and spread.
As creditors circled, we hid his Polo sedan behind the house for fear of its repossession.
Fast-forward to 12 years later and Fulton has no reason to take flight whenever there's a knock on his door. The starter-pack sedan has been replaced by a big model of Germany's work of technological wonder.
Not only that. At the last count Ramaphakela had 46 cars which he uses to run an empire he had created out of nothing. And that's not the end of it.
As we spoke at his Moloko Group headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, last Thursday evening, he was awaiting delivery of 10 more vehicles.
As he explained how he got it right, memories of that young man who literally tried to force a computer on me came rushing back from the vaults of memory.
In the August edition of Men's Health, he dispenses freely: "Every day I have millions of ideas. You probably do too, even if you don't know it. The trick is to have the positive attitude to implement them."
The same month the magazine bestowed theMen's Health Best Man 2007 title on him in a hotly contested category. He wrestled the crown from the likes of MTN chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko. The magazine called him the future of South African business.
But perhaps the greatest accolade thus far was when a year earlier, he was voted the Ernst & Young-Rand Merchant Bank's World Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year (South Africa). The senior category was won by Koos Bekker, chief executive of Africa's biggest multi-media company, Naspers.
In the months following his glory, Fulton has become a media star. Almost every other business publication in the country wants a piece of the guy I refused to purchase a computer from all those many years ago.
But let us, dear reader, take another detour.
Ramaphakela studied electronics at a technikon. That led him into the IT world. A restless being with a million ideas every day, he worked for almost a dozen companies in less than a decade, including Combined Systems, ICL/Fujitsu, IBM, IQ Systems, Dimension Data, Mustek, SSD, Lotus SA, Global Technology Group, e2k, Thari Consulting, Microsoft SA, MGX and MB Technology.
Armed only with his last salary, he ventured into the world of business and as they say, the rest is history.
But then, let us share that history. Either Fulton was damn lucky or he knew how to read markets and trends well. I left him 12 years ago with his credit card in the red and now he is the owner of a company with an annual turnover of millions and a market capitalisation in excess of that.
Within months he aims to list on the JSE ALTX market, primarily because he wants to take his company global, and for which he hopes to raise at least R100million.
"It's been a long journey of struggle and heartaches," he told me, "but somehow, I enjoyed every step of that journey. It has been a challenge I wouldn't miss."
Today his holding group, Moloko, has the form of an octopus. His core business is security, a multifaceted organ trading under the name Vimba Security with interests in low-budget personal home security, neighbourhood patrols and a flying squad division, as well as iSOURCE, Asset Care and Moloko Information Systems.
To unravel all these companies will take acres of newsprint, suffice to say that in 1997 Fulton, together with Combined System asset management specialists, assisted Spoornet Infrastructure in compiling and maintaining their fixed asset register.
Since 2000, one of his own subsidiaries has been involved in IT management consultancy for various government departments, especially education.
He has, in turn, become one of the Gauteng education department's partners by regularly co-sponsoring some of their major programmes. "It's logical for me and my company to help wherever possible. When I was starting out, the department didn't doubt that I could deliver. The least I can do is to help wherever possible," he said.
This business transaction built on trust has helped set up Fulton in the big league.
"As you know," he reverted to the past, "I never had a big brother to bail me out and South Africa has a terrible track record for financing start-up businesses. So I had to make all this happen with that last pay cheque."
All those many years back, a young, exciting lady used to pop around to the "office".
They have been married for about eight years, have a boy of that age and a baby of a few months who is anaddition to their Midrand home.
Colleen Ramaphakela, the only other partner of Moloko Group, also has other business interests. She runs her own recruitment agency in Sandton.
Long time no see, guys.