Jack of all trades

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Stephen Blewett has sold 600 copies of his third book after only a week on the shelves.

Blewett is the managing director of Altech Autopage Cellular, the largest mobile service provider in South Africa.

The company went head to head with the Department of Communications in the High Court last year, winning the right for hundreds of small service providers and re-sellers to build their own network infrastructures.

The company also signed a deal with Neotel recently that would see it run a channel for the second network operator's bundled Internet, data and voice products.

In this fast-changing and increasingly competitive landscape, Blewett has managed to find time to write two books on leadership and one marketing book, teach himself to fly a helicopter, ride mountain bikes and raise his two children.

"I believe in balance. I don't believe you need to measure people by the number of hours they spend at the office. I'd rather look at output. I like to challenge myself but I also make sure I spend quality time with my children. I'd rather spend one or two hours with them than six watching TV," he said.

During the economic downturn, when most companies have lost as much as half their value on the JSE in a year, Altech (AAC's holding company) has remained relatively stable.

Blewett's latest book, The 3D View: Living Your Successful Life Story, is not a conventional book on leadership.

It uses African stories of tribal chiefs, Pharaohs and African warriors to teach important leadership lessons based on his own life experience.

"I wrote the preamble to this in 2001. That one was called 3D view: Business and Life Strategies. Before that I wrote a sales and marketing book in 1999 while lecturing part-time at Damelin.

"All countries use storytelling to convey wisdom but in most countries that has either been modernised or just disappeared. I believe that in Africa, more than any other part of the world, the use of stories to convey messages and wisdom is still very prevalent today.

"When you tell a story, people stop to listen. If you have bunch of children running around and I say: 'I want to tell you a story', they stop and sit to listen.

"It's the same with adults; they'll focus and listen. It's deep within us. When I talk, you listen. When I tell a story, I talk to your soul. It hits you and you absorb it. It's a key thing that we don't lose that art. I think a lot of people don't realise how powerful it is."

Blewett doesn't attribute the lessons he writes about to any marketing guru or great writer. As in one of his mini-tales about a wise falcon and the Pharaoh, he owes his lessons to the ability to observe and learn from the people he meets.

"I learn from bad leaders as well. The best leaders are those who serve rather than rule. Humility is very important. You don't need to be in any particular position. You can lead in your own family, at work or just in your own life decisions," he said.