Entrepreneur is the talk of the town: Vusi Thembekwayo

TALKATIVE: Vusi Thembekwayo Picture: Russell Roberts
TALKATIVE: Vusi Thembekwayo Picture: Russell Roberts

VUSI Thembekwayo is a smooth talker. And a very successful one .

At 29, the founder and managing director of Motiv8, a consulting company, is also an entrepreneur, businessman, a leadership strategist and the youngest JSE director in the country, as a stock market investor.

He's come a long way from the nervous teenager who had to address an audience of about 1000 at Benoni High. He was booed off the stage by his schoolmates before he could even finish his speech.

Although he was shattered, Thembekwayo, then 15, was determined to turn the failure into a lifetime challenge.

"I relentlessly practised to perfect it [public speaking], and went on to win debating competitions.

"Early academic work at university was not my cup of tea. I was kicked out of university while doing a BCom degree. I only studied later."

He went on to find a job in IT, but did not crack it. All he wanted to do was talk.

Thembekwayo has since amassed numerous accolades and awards as an international public speaker and self-made job creator. He employs a total of 12 people at his Joburg and Cape Town offices.

On his journey, he remembers being given a presentation job by a woman when he was starting up. He only charged R35 for the session.

"She was bemused and irritated. With a straight face, I told her I needed the R35 to call a client for my next booking. She nearly fell off her chair in disbelief."

Since then, Thembekwayo has approached his clients for funding because his principle is that "there are no impossibilities".

This "rock star of talk" won the World Championships motivational speaking competition at 18.

A talk expert told him that he would never make it because he was too young, but that only spurred him on to prove his detractor wrong.

"He gave me the chance nevertheless, and I blew him away when addressing a gathering of white business barons.

"If you say turn left, I'll turn right. If you tell me I can't, I will prove I can."

A word of caution for start-ups: "Forget about making money overnight.

"Many people tend to blur the lines between a business and a personal account.

"Before they even know it, they've blown it on expensive cars.

"We all love fancy wheels, but ask yourself: 'Do I need it?'"

Thembekwayo says brand consistency is important.

"Perfect that which you are good at. Business growth is a different ball game to business expectations. Always interrogate your expectations.

"Do not emulate the Richard Bransons of this world. They have been consistently perfecting what they do.

"Start small and grow the venture over years. Embark on what will work. It's all about reaping the rewards in the long term.

"When we started Motiv8, we approached clients to help finance the business and offered them a percentage of our profits in return.

"The important thing was for everyone involved to make it [the business] succeed."

Thembekwayo believes in building a solid reputation to get access to the market, especially when banking institutions turn you down.

That's what he did when he started a new division at Metcash, turning it into a R460-million-a-year turnover business with the highest earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation within the Africa group.

In 2004, he addressed a Black Management Forum gathering and his speech bowled over former president Thabo Mbeki, who hugged him for a few seconds.

Public Enterprise Minister Malusi Gigaba is another of the many high-profile South Africans who have fallen victim to Thembekwayo's captivating talks.

Last year, Thembekwayo visited 17 countries and delivered 209 presentations.

He is the only South African speaker to be invited to speak at the World Bank in Washington, DC, and has addressed the Australian parliament and the British House of Commons.