Serial Entrepreneur, author and founder of the Hatch Institute and Sorbet Group

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Ian Fuhr, is much more than just the founder of Sorbet Salons.  He is the definition of Serial Entrepreneur in South Africa and the proud father of Cultureneering.

Expedition Business talked to this inspiring South African Entrepreneur about the highs & lows of all his entrepreneurial ventures spanning almost 50 years!

Some of the questions that we have asked him include:

  • Did dropping out of University make any difference in his career?
  • How did his ‘Uncle in the Furniture Business’ help his career as an entrepreneur?
  • Would you recommend starting and growing a business with your family?
  • Why did you sell Sorbet?
  • What would you do if you could be 20 years old again?
  • Do you have plans to enter politics?
  • And a whole lot more.

Episode Transcript

Christél: Welcome to another edition of Expedition Business, where we talk to inspiring South African entrepreneurs about the highs and lows of their business journey, and how on earth they manage to keep the flame of business adventure burning. Cause facing your day with a smile is sometimes the toughest thing you have to do.

My name is Christél Rosslee-Venter, your host and the one lucky enough to be talking to Ian Fuhr, who some people refer to as the Jewish Richard Branson. But before I introduce Ian to you, I would like to remind you to subscribe, like, comment and share this podcast with as many of your friends and family as possible.

Without your help, we cannot continue to share the amazing stories of our South African entrepreneurs. But back to why we are here today. Ian Fuhr is the definition of a serial entrepreneur. He started the retail chain Kmart, not the American one, which was sold to Edcon. He started Priority Records, which was sold to Jive Records in the UK.

And then there was Labor Link, before he dived into the world of Brazilians and Hollywoods, and called it brand new culture. But at the end of the day, when the sun sets in the west, nothing excites him more than the word cultureneering. Or did I get that wrong, Ian? No, no, culture nearing is 100% right.


Welcome to Expedition Business. It is an amazing privilege to have you here. No, fine. Thanks very much for having me, Christél. I appreciate it. Yeah. Great. Fantastic. Ian, you have achieved so much in your life. Do you ever feel just a little bit insulted that most people know you from your days at Sorbet?

Ian: No, not at all. No.

I think that all the other things really culminated in the Sorbet brand, and that obviously became the most well-known of the various businesses that I was in. But, yeah, I know, there’s lots of history here in terms of the various entrepreneurial ventures that I’ve done, and you’ve mentioned a few of them, and it all culminated at Sorbet. And I’ve just been working all those years.

on trying to understand people in business and leadership and things like race relations and culture. Those are the areas that I’ve focused throughout my life. So even though I was running and starting businesses, that was always my real interest and fascination was how to build a strong culture in the business that would ultimately deliver fantastic customer service.

Christél: And Sorbet was a big experiment in making sure that all these things that you believe in does actually work in a company.

Ian: Right, correct. Yeah, so when I started Sorbet, it was a little bit different to the others because the other businesses I had identified an opportunity and then slowly worked towards making them successful over a period of time. And what I normally did was to focus on the people only a little bit later on.

But this time, by the time I got to Sorbet, I had developed what I call the culture nearing framework, which is really a framework of how to build a strong culture in a diverse workforce that delivers the platform for great service. So I had this framework already before I started Sorbet. All I needed at the time was a business to implement my framework. And that just turned out to be

at the end of the day. I certainly wasn’t looking to get into the beauty industry. I know very little about the beauty industry. At that time, I knew even less. And as you say, I had to learn about Brazilians and Hollywoods and things like that. But yeah, I thought that a Brazilian was a person who lived in Brazil. And so, I…

then found that business and someone told me there was a gap in the market. I went to have a look and I decided, okay, so it’s going to be the beauty industry. And I had my culture, which I implemented literally from day one. We started to buy up a few beauty salons, five or six of them over a period of about a year. And then rebranded them and launched Sorbet in August, 2005.

And so from day one, I was doing the induction training for every single person in the company. And I continued to do that throughout the 15 years that I was involved at Sorbet. And I did all the induction training for everybody that ever drew. And that was over 3,500 people. Wow. And it was really important that everybody understood our culture and what we were about and what our purpose and our values.

and how we were going to deliver this great service. So those are the things that I did to start the business essentially.

Christél: Just quickly going back to that person that told you about the gap in the market, as far as I know that was, you were having a massage at the time and that was your massage therapist.

Ian: That’s right, yeah, she was my massage therapist. I was having a nice, legitimate massage.

And she was talking to me about this business. And she said, why don’t you get into the beauty industry? And I laughed at her at first, because I’m so far removed from the beauty industry, and I certainly don’t look like someone who comes from the beauty industry. So I said, yeah, okay, you know, there’s no way that we can do something like that. And then she said, yeah, but there’s a gap in the market. And I asked her if there was a market in the gap. And she said, yes, there is.

because there are no beauty salon chains, national chains in South Africa, there’s not even one. And so that piqued my interest and I thought, okay, let me see what we can do here. I did a little bit of investigation and turned out she was right. There were no branded chains in South Africa and that then became the objective. Most people at first thought that I was crazy.

And I asked people, why are there no chains in South Africa? And nobody could give me a coherent answer. So, I had to go and find out for myself. And I did find out fairly quickly, actually. The reason that they don’t have these changes is because to be able to deliver consistent service in that industry across the whole chain, across the national chain in the country, is very, very difficult because of the…

the personalized sort of features of that type of service. You know, you’re doing facials and massage and waxing and nails. It’s very personal, and to get a consistent level of service delivery is very difficult, and that was our biggest challenge. And the only way we could possibly do that was by creating a very strong culture. And from the Sorbet point of view,

any of them could have come in and copied us. They could copy our treatments, they could copy our retail products, they could copy our pricing, they could copy the look and feel of the store, they could copy virtually everything. The only thing they couldn’t copy was our culture. And that became our competitive advantage. There were 225 franchise salons across the country.

The largest beauty salon chain in Africa and probably one of the largest in the world. And so it was all because of the competitive advantage that we were given by our very strong culture. And that suited you like a glove because that’s what you were working on. That’s exactly what we were working on, yes, indeed.

Christél: So why did you sell Sorbet?

Ian: OK, that’s a good question. I actually prefer to…

start and build things rather than run them. So by the time that I sold Sorbet, it was a very large business. The total turnover of all the stores was over a billion Rand. And that wasn’t my strength, running large companies and large corporates. So, I felt it was time to move on and start something new.

Just quickly going back to the very beginning of your story where you famously left Wits University with only a few months still graduation to get to start in the music industry. It didn’t seem like at the time you believed in education that much when you were 21 years old. Have you changed your mind on the value of education for entrepreneurs in the meantime?

Yeah, that’s an interesting one. I think education is very important. I’m just not sure that theory is important. So, my education came from life experience and actually doing this stuff rather than learning about it from books. And so that was really, at the time, and even now, I have no regrets, but I didn’t have a degree.

You know, I’ve got a pretty mediocre Matric and that’s all I’ve got basically. And then the rest was learned literally on the job, you know, the good, the bad and the ugly. So, what’s important now is when I’m consulting and coaching other companies, that I have that track record which I suppose gives me some sort of credibility because I’ve actually done the things that I’m teaching. I’m not just theorizing about them.

Christél: A living example of what works and what doesn’t work.

Ian: Correct, yes, well hopefully, yeah.

Christél: Ian, but still on the topic of education, you grew up in a very entrepreneurial family with your dad Ken Furr that made massive strides in the furniture business. How did that impact you as an entrepreneur?

Ian: Yeah, so I learned from a very early age about stuff. You know, I was the youngest of five children

four boys and a girl. And my father was always talking about business. I started picking up little things when I was young. And particularly the one thing I learned a lot from him, even in my youth, was the importance of service, of customer service. And he used to go on and on about that. And then later on when he was one of the founders, there were a few of them, he was one of the founders of Russell Furnishes.

And then he also was the man who introduced Joshua Door to South Africa. The uncle in the furniture business. Yes, but I had a father in the furniture business. So, yes, I learned a lot from him. And then my older brothers were also entrepreneurs. And so I kind of went in that direction. You know, it was a natural thing to do because everyone else in my family was all doing some of the kind of things.

Christél: So would you say that having your dad as an entrepreneur has had a massive impact on your whole history as an entrepreneur?

Ian: Yes, I would say so. But interestingly, because my older brother, my oldest brother, was almost 11 years older than me, he was the one that I went into business with, and he taught me probably more than my father did.

Yeah, so he was the one who started Kmart with me together and we worked together for a long time. Although I was actually running the business and he was like supporting it. He had his own business at the time, but I learned a lot from him as well. And that would be Rodney.

Rodney, that’s right. But you also worked with Lawrence. Lawrence was the one, yeah, he was the middle brother and he moved over to Australia fairly

early on in his life. So, I worked a little bit with him, but much more with Rodney. We also owned the Lion Park. I don’t know if you know the Lion Park in Johannesburg. So him and I owned that business as well. We bought that on an auction in 1999 and ran it. Although I wasn’t running it there myself, he was there mainly, but together we ran that business for about 20 years and then only sold it quite recently.

Christél: I remember a story where you were wondering how on earth you’re going to pay for that Lion Park that you have just bought on an auction.

Ian: Yeah, yeah, I know. When he came to me, I didn’t even know that he had bought it on the auction. He came to me, you know, we phoned me, I should say, rather, one day, and he said, listen, we’ve just bought the Lion Park. And I was shocked. I said, which one of us is we?

And he said, you know, both of us, we’ve just got, we bought the line park. And I thought, well, how are we going to pay this for this? And he said, well, I don’t know, we’ll work it out. It’ll come out of our Kmart business, which was then called Supermart. And yeah, eventually we managed it and it was great to run that business. You know, it was really wonderful. We all very interested in wildlife. And so, we really enjoyed that. And of course, we had a lot of…

celebrities over the years that have come to visit. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in Johannesburg, the Lion Park.

Christél: Is it not still one of the biggest tourist destinations? I think it is, yeah, it’s definitely within the top three. Absolutely, I can remember that was one of the major attractions that I took our exchange students to a couple of years ago. That’s what they wanted to see, the Lion Park.

Yeah, exactly. And we moved it. It was bought in an old location, but in 2016 we moved it and created a much more sort of upmarket type of park than what we had before.

Christél: Yeah, I went to that one. But Ian, just getting back to K-Mart, does the whole story with K-Mart and the K-Mart brand had anything to do with you making sure that you trademark culture nearing?

Yes, good question. So, I didn’t know much when we started Kmart. I was 22 years old, so I knew nothing about nothing. And so, we were going to open this business called Kmart, and I just thought, well, let’s just use their name and also their logo. It was even better. So, we learned a little bit of a lesson, but I suppose it’s like school fees.

And then about, I think, I can’t remember, about 12 years later, they came from America and they took us to court for the use of their name. And we thought that we could win the case because we had been using the name for 12 years already. But they won and we had to change it to Supermart, which wasn’t a major issue. Supermart also continued to be a big business until we sold it to Edcon in 2002.

and then they rebranded that business and called it Jetmart as part of their jet division.

Christél: Just quickly before you sold it, there was also somewhere along the line a liquidation that was imminent and where you almost lost absolutely everything that you had at that point in time. How on earth did you get through all of that and still smiling?

Ian: Yeah, at the time of the liquidation

I wasn’t in the business. I was running a record company at that stage. But I was still a partner in the business. And it went into liquidation at the end of 1985, after all the consumer boycotts, when there was a lot of unrest, the consumer boycotts really put a lot of pressure on us the end of 1985, and we just couldn’t carry on. And so, my brother closed the business down,

Because I was a partner, I also went into the liquidation. And we all ended up in Solvent, which was an interesting journey. And we had to start again from scratch. And then a bit later, we managed to buy back the business, the supermarket. And then we rebuilt it. And so, and then ultimately sold it to EdCon. So it was an interesting journey. And it’s a thought you get.

Lots of lessons in life, you know, and each one of them teaches you a lot. In fact, you learn a lot more from failure than you do from success, because those are the things that really make you stronger. And success can be dangerous. You know, you just assume sometimes that you’re going to be successful at everything you do, you become a bit arrogant. But I’ve learned in my life that the only thing that you get from looking back at your past success is a stiff neck.

and that’s it.

ChristéI: think you’ve also said at some point that the best thing that could have happened to you was for liquidation.

Ian: Yes, it was because we managed to buy the business back at half price. So we bought the stock at 50 cents in the Rand and we sold it at normal price. So the profitability turned around dramatically.

And then it continued to build from there. So it really worked out well for us.

Christél: Something that interests me is because you’ve mentioned that sometimes people think going into entrepreneurship is just all about success, but unfortunately that’s not how it works and we all go through lots of dramas, but how do you still stay smiling through or deals like this?

Ian: Yeah, well, look, I can tell you another ordeal that we went through, another failure of mine, was when we tried to open Sorbet in the UK, and that was a total disaster. So, again, I talk about my own arrogance there, where I just assumed that what worked so well in South Africa would automatically work well in the UK, but I was horribly mistaken. The markets were different.

Quality of the treatments was different. Everything was different. We just assumed that we would come in and people would flock to us, but unfortunately it didn’t work like that. So that was quite a costly mistake. But again, it was a great learning lesson, and we learned a lot, and then you just carry on. You know, Winston Churchill once said that the definition of success is moving from one failure to another.

without losing enthusiasm. And so I will always try and keep a smile on my face regardless of what’s happening.

Christél: That is so, so true. But speaking of your failures in the UK, that was actually one of my next questions. Sorbet to me sounds like a big fairy tale business adventure where everything fell into place with no stresses and strains whatsoever.

Ian: Not quite.

The first four years were difficult because we had wanted to start the business with a franchise model, and we couldn’t franchise, so we had to open eventually 22 stores, company-owned stores, and we needed to get money for that. A lot of it was my own money from the sale of the business to Edcon, the previous business, Supermart. And so we had to open our stores. It was very, very expensive, and we struggled.

So we didn’t make any money for four and a half years at Sorbet. And there were many times when I was literally looking over the precipice and somehow scraped through and we had to put in money every single month just to be able to pay the wages and all of that stuff. And then eventually in 2009, one woman who was a guest of ours in our Northcliffe branch,

And she came and said, you know, I think I’d like to franchise this business. And that was the whole turning point, basically. That was the game changer. And then from there, we managed to sell all of our company stores to franchisees. And then the business turned around quite dramatically on that basis.

Christél: As I say, the rest is history. And the rest is history.

So something…

that interests me is how many massages have you had through all of this? Not nearly enough, Christel. Not nearly enough, you know. It’s like the shoemaker who doesn’t wear shoes. It was always there and it was always available and I did go from time to time, but not nearly enough. And I really enjoyed massages, but you know, you get caught up in the work and that’s it.

I was very, very focused at Sorbet on the people side. So, people ask me, how much time did you spend on people and culture? And I kind of did a rough calculation that it was at least 50% of my time was spent on culture. And I had my family there, which was really fantastic. All three of my children, my niece, my daughter-in-law, they were all there, and a couple of other partners.

But that was probably one of the most rewarding periods of my life is watching my children take on senior roles in the business. One daughter was the group marketing manager. My son, her twin brother was head of operations, and my younger daughter was franchisee marketer. So, they all had big roles to play, and that was really one of the great joys of my business life.

was working with him.

Christél: And I suppose all fun and no stresses and strains working with family.
Ian: Well, yeah, I think, I mean, most people are petrified of that because they think it’s going to cause drama. But I was very fortunate. We had very, very little drama with that. Everyone got on well. We worked well together. As long as we didn’t do the same jobs, each person had a different role. It’s when you overlap with.

roles that you start to have disagreements and stuff. And so yeah, from the time that the first two came, the twins, the older ones, in 2009 they started. This was the year when we started to turn around and then the other one joined in 2012 and the three of them became a very integral part of the business. And some of your children still work with you today.

My son does, he works with me and my daughter who lives in the UK, she’s a, what do you call it, a digital marketer. She’s living there, so she does that. And my son just helps on a part-time basis because he’s got his own work. So I’ve got two of them with me.

Christél: But just quickly, as far as I can remember, your daughter had a bit of a flip out with service that she received and that led to your whole service policy.

Yeah, it was an interesting one because we were very, very, very customer focused. We did things that no one else did. For example, we would say that we had big signs in our stores. Anyone that’s been to Sorbet will probably still see them there. It says if you’re not happy with your treatment, you don’t have to pay. And everyone thought we were crazy about that, doing that. That we would that…

Ultimately, nobody would pay, everyone would want free treatment. But it didn’t work like that. In fact, by the time I left, we were doing about 400,000 beauty treatments a month. And of those, probably not more than 100 were refunded. So it’s a tiny, tiny percentage, but it was a massive, and it added huge credibility to our business. And so we were…

you know, insane and completely obsessed about customer service. And so one day my daughter went into one of the clothing stores and she had really terrible service because she wanted to exchange a product. They wouldn’t do it. And she came home and wrote a policy. It wasn’t the beginning of the policy, but it added on to our policy to say that you can bring anything back, anything, even if it’s damaged or half used or you don’t like it anymore or…

It’s not working anymore or you need the money for movies instead or you don’t like the packaging and it clashes with your bathroom colors, whatever it was, it didn’t matter. If you wanted to return it, we would take it back. And then at the end, she said, you can bring back anything, especially your business. And that was a really powerful statement.

Christél: Do you use it in your consultancy company still today?
Ian: Yes, very much so. So when we consult, we never sign contracts because I think that signing a contract makes people feel obliged even if they’re not happy. So we don’t sign contracts. If the client is unhappy with us, they can terminate at any time. So there’s no obligation to continue if they’re not happy.

So our philosophy at Sorbet and now again at Hatch is, we only happy if you are type of thing. Super inspirational.

Christél: But if we get to the question of what makes you feel on top of the world, would amazing service delivery be one of them? And people coming back.

Ian: Service delivery would be one thing, yes. The other thing that’s been a big part of my life, which we haven’t mentioned yet, is my whole fascination with

race relations. So from a very early stage, right in the early businesses, I became interested in how we could build a strong culture in a very diverse and polarized society. And working in that area and seeing where people start coming together in what we call racial healing exercises, that’s very rewarding for me. It’s one of my real passions in life.

to try and build this country again and give everybody in one way or another equal opportunities to be successful and to get access to the economy. So that’s been a very important driving part of my life. It was the same at Sorbet. We did the same thing. We really went out of our way to try and make the staff representative of the demographics of South Africa. I’m happy to say we were quite successful with that.

And so that gives me a lot of pleasure. The other thing I suppose is just to be able to make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve always felt that success should be measured by the impact that you have on other people’s lives. Not it’s not about money. Never has been, never will be. You don’t go into business to make money. You go into business

to serve the needs and wants of other people. And if you can do that well, then the money will follow. It will always follow. You’ve got to put service first and then reward second. And that’s been the big philosophy of mine from day one, is that you come to work to serve, not to make money. And if you serve well, the money will follow.

Christél: Ian, just while you were talking about race relations, I remember a story where one of your managers that you’ve put in charge of your store, you found was the person who were actually demonstrating against you. How on earth do you get through that?

Ian: Yeah, that was the early days. That was in the Kmart days when I was just really learning, trying to understand how to manage.

people of a different race. I mean, I was the only white person in the business. The staff were all black and the customers were all black. So it was a real baptism of fire there for me. And I had identified this one young guy and he, I mean, I was very young myself. I said I was 22 years old when I started that business. And I was just too young and too white and too naive to really know what was going on.

And so I identified him. He was one of our better workers, and I made him a supervisor and with a promise to be a manager at some point in time. And it turned out that when there were these consumer boycotts where they were handing out pamphlets in the street, you know, boycotting white-owned stores, and it turned out that one of our staff was handing these things out in the street, and it turned out to be him. His name was Ralph.

And so Ralph was busy trying to promote a boycott of our own store. And that was really quite a shock to my system. I felt terribly betrayed. And I called him in, I was ready to fire him because you could fire people in those days without any problem. I was ready to fire him and he was ready to be fired as well. He just assumed that was going to happen.

And I said, how could you do this to me? You know, after all I’ve tried to do for you, and I’ve given you this role, and I gave him my whole story, and he said, you know, thank you. I appreciate what you’ve done, and I do enjoy working here. But there’s a fundamental problem, and that is that every day, either on my way into work or on my way home, I get harassed by the police. And that is…

That’s a terrible ordeal, either me or my friends or my family or my coworkers or my parents or somebody who’s always being harassed for some or other ridiculous apartheid law. And so, he said to me, and that really shook me up quite a lot and opened my eyes, he said, for me, it’s always going to be freedom first and work second. And instead of firing him…

I decided, okay, this is now the beginning of my learning journey. I had successfully dropped out of university already. And I said, right, you’re going to have to teach me everything there is to know about South African politics and about race relations. And that was my sort of beginning of the journey and my interest and fascination on race.

Christél: Have you ever considered going into politics?

Ian: No, I don’t think, you know, because I would never be able to lie with a straight face.

I’m no good at that. Yeah, that is difficult.

Yeah, there’s a certain skill that you need for that. But yes, I’ve never been active in politics. In other words, I haven’t picked up a gun, or I haven’t done anything to sabotage or blow up a building, anything like that. I think I’m a bit of a devout, practicing coward when it comes to that. But…

I decided that I was going to try and make the changes that I could through the businesses that I was running. That was my way of trying to make a difference, no matter how small it was.

Christél: But you mentioned earlier one of your passions being building South Africa. How far do you still think we need to go?

Ian: Yeah, okay, well, I think we have a long journey ahead, but for me,

My interest, as I say, is in race. So I feel, and I feel quite strongly, that race is still one of our biggest, if not the biggest challenge that we face in South Africa. And it’s one of the things that is not being sufficiently addressed. I know for reasons that are, it’s too sensitive, it’s overwhelmingly difficult, we’re never gonna make a difference, we can’t change. And there’s a million reasons why we’re not doing what we should be doing.

That’s one of the areas that I’m focusing on heavily at the moment, is I’m in the process of starting what we call a racial healing movement, which is going to be focused around how we can heal people, particularly from the psychological damage that has been caused and created over the years, over all the 300 years of what we call systemic racism. And we haven’t solved a lot of these problems. You know, we’ve tried quite hard.

to give people economic empowerment, which is also not working too well. But we haven’t done much at all in the area of psychological empowerment. That’s the one that we want to start working on, is trying to help people to understand why we are such a polarized nation. How did we get to be like this? Why are we struggling to ever do anything together?

Why is there always different views from different race groups? And then you can go on the whole day. In fact, I’m going to be writing a book. I’m starting, I’ve been doing the research. I’m going to be writing my fourth book now. And it’ll be called Racial Healing in South Africa. Yeah, so.

Christél: Ian, just a quick question. We had Wayne Duvenage from OUTA as one of our guests recently. And one of the things that he said was,

He believes that we are much more united than we think we are. And looking at how we celebrated the Springboks victory has just shown how we can get together and celebrate in the streets, at the airport, wherever. Do you disagree with him on that point?

Ian: I agree to a point. I agree that we were able to celebrate.

and unify around the rugby team. But unfortunately, we did that as well in 2019, and there was no real impact on anything else in the country. So yes, it’s a euphoric moment, and it’s wonderful to see it, and the unity is just amazing. But it doesn’t filter through into the economy, it doesn’t filter through into business.

And that’s where we’re having all the troubles, is that we’re not acting like that. We have a nice reason because everybody loves sport, but when it comes to the hugely unequal society that we live in, I’m sure you know that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world by some distance, and we’re not solving those problems. So, yes, it’s nice to unify around rugby.

but a lot more work needs to be done before we can say we’re doing well in terms of unifying this very polarized country of ours.

Christél: But it sounds like it’s going to be a very interesting book. When are you planning to publish it?

Ian: It will be published, I’m hopeful, around about May next year. I think it’s somewhere around there.

Christél: That is very quick. So, Ian…

I suppose you never get days when you feel that you would rather want to stay in bed with your head under a pillow

Ian: Very very seldom, very very seldom. I can’t remember a day like that unless I was feeling sick or something. But I can’t I I love what I do, you know after I saw Sorbet It was a sense of my family said maybe I should retire and you know Just sit back and I don’t read the newspaper.

Christél: Play some balls?

Ian: Yeah, so, but I think I retired for an afternoon nap and then carried on and then started the Hatch Institute almost immediately. Because I need to work. I find it very stimulating. I’m 70 years old now, so I’m kind of retirement age, but I have no intention of slowing down at this stage of my life.

Christél: Very, very impressive.

be the, if you do get days where you do feel a bit not so energized as normal, what would be the fun and exciting ways that you use to regroup, refocus and rejuvenate your soul? That’s quite an interesting one. I tried, I tried to… Except for massage.

Ian: Except for massage, that would be a wonderful way. But I tried to do exercise.

and you know three or four times a week if I can, I don’t always manage that. But that helps me, keeps me a little bit more positive. I do an enormous amount of reading and stuff which I always enjoy. But and then of course my best time if you want to know my really happy time is when I’m out in the bush and and watching wildlife. Yeah, that is my best. So I go two or three times a year.

into the bush and spend some time there. And it’s really, that’s very sort of rejuvenating for me and invigorating. I come back ready for more.

Chrristél: I believe that on the topic of exercise and loving nature, you went on a walking safari three months after your hip replacement.

Ian: Yeah, that was a bit of a miracle.

I didn’t expect that to happen. I thought it would take me at least six to nine months before I could do that. But I suppose the miracles of modern meds, and you have a hip replacement, they make you stand up on the first afternoon. Just after the op, you have to stand up, and they make you walk the next day. And then they give you enough exercises and physio and things to do. And within three months, I was able to go.

and walk, I think the walk, on the first day of the walk was about eight kilometers in the bush. I was able to do that, yeah. So that was very nice.

Christél: And the next day was six kilometers. That’s right, you’ve done your research well. Well. There’s a lovely friend called Google. Ah. Yes, but Google also tells me that they are grandchildren. Do you still have enough

energy left to spend time with them?

Ian: Yeah, I must say that’s where I’m kind of falling short a bit. I don’t think I see them enough. I would really like to see them more. I’ve got six now. And I really love to see them more than I do, but I try wherever I can. Fortunately, two of my children are still here with their five children combined and they live with.

and they live within a kilometer of where I live. So we are very close to each other. It’s just my youngest daughter who now lives in London that I only get to see, you know, obviously less often.

Christél: That’s super sad. Would you ever consider leaving South Africa?

Ian: No, no, no, I can’t leave this country. This is my country, for better or for worse, as they say. You know, I’m never going to give up. I try and keep a positive…

attitude and try and visualize what this country could look like one day. And, you know, with all this and reversing all of the trauma and the dramas and the corruption and the poverty and the crime and where we have a country that is really, you know, worth living in and fit for human consumption. At the moment, it’s very sad and a little bit depressing, but I never lose hope because I feel that

hope is the only thing stronger than fear. So we keep hopeful and we keep positive and try and do whatever we can. You know, it’s when you sit back and moan about everything, that’s not great. But if you’re trying to do something, no matter how small it is, and if we’re able to transform people’s minds, even one person at a time, to try and build a united South Africa…

And then we then we must do that. And that’s that’s what I’m determined to keep doing for as long as I can. As far as I know, on the part of United South Africa and working on race relations, you work mostly in the corporate space where you reach many, many people. Is it do you have any plans on franchising that so that more people can get

to your message?

Christél: Yeah, yeah. So not within the Hatch Institute, but what we’re doing, this racial healing movement that I want to start, that will be quite a large-scale operation if we can get it off the ground. We can obviously need some funding and stuff from the foundations and corporates, which we’re working on at the moment. But that’s where we’ll scale it and to try and get to as many people as possible.

So it’ll be in companies, but also in public organizations, NGOs, NPO’s, and just also general individuals who want to participate in these programs.

Christél: Would that be if you think of the next three to five years and what you still want to achieve within the next three to five years, would that be part of it?

Ian: Very much so.

Very, very much. In fact, that’s kind of my last sort of big initiative that I’d like to do. I think after that, I think when I get to age 75 and beyond, I probably need to start slowing down a bit and taking it easy. But the next five years, I’m still going to give it my best shot.

Christél: That sounds super, super inspiring. Ian, just if you could be 20 years old again.

Would you change anything and what would it be?

Yeah, that’s an interesting one. Going to music. You know, I can’t think of too many things that I would like to do differently to what I’ve done. I did so many different things and I’ve learned, and I’ve had the good experiences and the bad ones. But what I find now is, you know, this thought that when I was young, my teachers were old and they taught me about the past. And now that I’m old…

My teachers are young, and they teach me about the future. And so that is, you know, I think I should have been a little bit more in tune with what was going on. I was a bit naive. I suppose we were protected in South Africa, particularly as white people. We were very protected, and we didn’t really know what was going on. And so I was not only privileged from a lifestyle point of view, but I was very privileged that at the age of 22,

I was able to start seeing the other side of South Africa, and I was given a lens into what was happening there in the townships and things like that. Very, very few of my white friends and colleagues ever had that opportunity, and so some of them still to this day do not really know what happened in this country, which is one of our biggest challenges. We live in a lot of blissful ignorance.

about the extent of the discrimination and the injustice and things like that over the years that have caused a lot of damage in this country and are still feeling the consequences of that.
Christél: Luckily, we’ve got a younger generation that were brought up without that or with much less injustices.

Ian: Yes, indeed.

Indeed, that is the case. But there are also now, we get a bit of a different scenario with young white people in particular who are feeling now that they are the ones being discriminated against and that there’s reverse racism. And that is a difficult scenario. But unfortunately, we have to do what we have to do. We have to redress the imbalances of the past.

And even while those people were not responsible, they weren’t there at the time. And they don’t want to be blamed for the sins of their fathers. But the reality is that they are still the beneficiaries of the past. And that is something they need to understand and may have to compromise at some point in time in their lives to try and create that equality that will reduce…

the massive gap that we have in South Africa between the haves and the have-nots.

Christél: Well, maybe we’ll have more entrepreneurs seeing that they can’t find jobs in the corporate world. So-

Ian: Exactly, exactly. And that’s what I’m encouraging them to do.

Christél: A massive opportunity for our youngsters to go into entrepreneurship. Exactly. Okay.

Ian, you mentioned that you’re an avid reader. What would be your number one book that you can recommend for an entrepreneur out there?

Ian: Well, OK, that’s another tough one. Except your own books. Yeah, well, my book would be one. And in terms of the best books that I’ve ever read, oh, there’s lots of them. There’s I can name about five. And I write what I like.

I write what I like by Steve Biko, and then so much about what’s going on in this country from him. The Mind of South Africa by a guy called Alistair Sparks that teaches you a proper history of South Africa and you understand exactly what’s been happening here. And then from a business point of view, obviously I think most people know Simon Sinek and his wonderful book called Start With Why.

understanding why you’re in business, just not so much how and what. And then there’s an amazing woman by the name of Brene Brown, who has written some great books, and one of them is called Dare to Lead. It’s one of the best leadership books I’ve read in a long time. And then finally, there’s a book called Radical Candor by a woman called Kim Scott.

in America, and she talks about how to be, how to give and receive feedback, how to speak openly and directly, but with compassion. Most people in South Africa do not know how to deal with confrontation in the workplace, and that’s often exacerbated by race. So this book teaches you that you must be direct, and you must speak your mind.

but do it in a way that doesn’t harm the other individual. And, you know, do it with compassion and empathy. So, those are some of the books that I would strongly recommend. I can hear that you read quite a lot and haven’t taken a bull’s shit. No, no bulls not for me. That’s an old man’s game and I’m not old yet. There’s a…

There’s a saying by Clint Eastwood, the actor, you know? They asked him how does he continue to be active in the film industry well into his 80s? And he said, I don’t let the old man in. And I’ve learned from that. And I’m trying my best not to let the old man in and keep going before I start acting like an old man.

Christél: Well, I think the nice thing is, the older you get, the more you can act like a child and nobody thinks anything of it. Exactly. They forgive you for the little missteps. Absolutely, absolutely.

Ian, just some, in summary, some wise words for our entrepreneurs out there that want to start a business, or they’re feeling down and out, what would be your…

big inspirational words to them?

Ian: I think from an entrepreneurial point of view, there are four characteristics that people need to be successful as an entrepreneur. The first one would be intuition. Intuition is the ability to know when something is right, even though you don’t have the evidence to prove it. And so…

You have to believe in what you’re trying to do. You’ve got to really believe it and know that what you’re doing is right. And then if you’re making mistakes, then know that you must keep tweaking until you get it right. So that’s the one thing. The second thing is you need not to have a fear of failure. You can’t have a fear of failure as an entrepreneur because then you will never do half of the things that you need to be doing.

because you’ll be afraid of what might happen if you fail. Thirdly, you need courage. Courage is definitely important. You need to be able to hold your head when everyone else around you are losing theirs. And when things go bad, instead of retreating into your shell, is to continue to be bold and look out going forward and not be afraid. So, courage is very, very important.

And then finally, determination for the long haul, is that these things are very… And there’s no such thing as a quick, easy way to riches. That’s a myth. Forget about that. It’s a long, hard slog, and you’ve got to keep your head down, and you’ve got to keep believing, and you need the values, and you need the purpose. You need to do all the right things. And it’ll come through in the end. But as soon as you start…

doubting yourself and retreating and focusing more on profit than on people, then you’re going to struggle. So always put people first before profit, because the people are the ones who are going to be doing the serving. And if you serve well, the profit will always follow. But if you don’t have a strong culture, it’ll be toxic and they will never…

go out there and serve their customers to the best of their ability. So, when you have a bad culture, the people that really suffer are the customers. And so just, those are some of the things that I could possibly share now. Well, being an entrepreneur.

Christél: Well, that is definitely very, very powerful intuition, fear of failure, courage and determination, the magic numbers to the lotto.

Exactly, exactly Christél.