Speaker, Metaverse, Culture changer, Brand maker

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Jason English is an Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Chief Eco-System Officer, and co-founder of CG Tech, a company that provides strategic management oversight and innovation to its underlying investments.

Today the CG Tech group of companies employs more than 4500 people in 6 operating companies across the EMEA Super region through 8 companies. Jason is also the CEO of Al Laith as well as director of The Virtulab, Prommac, New Age, and Kumunyack.

This is the story of Jason English’s entrepreneurial highs and lows and how he managed to build himself up from a paramedic in the Police Force to the Global Entrepreneur & Influencer that he has become.

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to Expedition Business where we talk about the highs and lows of South African entrepreneurs and how they manage to survive and thrive. Today’s guest is Jason English who is amongst other things part of a very prestigious young presidents organization.

Check out all Jason’s accolades in the description of his podcast. And don’t forget to like and follow us on your favourite podcast platform and share it with all your friends and family. My name is Christél Rosslee Venter, your host for today. But let’s get back to our conversation with Jason. We have met up with him at our sponsor’s venue,

on the Vaal River, just outside Vanderbijl Park.
I had you on my phone, saved for many, many years, as Jason English Lake Umuzi event organizer. That’s what I thought you did. I was slightly misinformed.
Jason: Yeah, so it’s kind of interesting. I mean, when I, you know, one of the things that I guess has always come naturally to me is trying to give back to society and people.

And I think back in that day where you would know me from Lake Umuzi events was Johan and I had looked at… I really wanted to bring an event to Secunda which was a relatively quiet town at the time and we were very active in that community and I just felt like it was lacking something mega. And so I had a friend of mine who was the World Jet Ski Champion, I was very plugged into that circuit and I thought, well, why don’t we bring the World Championships to…

Secunda. You know, we’ve got the contacts, know a lot of people, we could probably raise some money and I’m sure we’ll be able to pull it off. And yeah, I went to Johan and said to Johan, hey, let’s start an events company and let’s bring this world jet skiing champion here. And it was a non-profit, I mean, you know, so it was just really to do something for the community. And so then I think you got involved with some publicity at that stage and that’s how we first met.
Christél: Yeah, a very, very long time ago. But before that, as per your LinkedIn profile,

you started off as a paramedic in the police?
Jason: Yeah, so actually I started off as a paramedic first and then sort of moved into the police. But yeah, I mean, I’d actually wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. Unfortunately, I did what most kids do and didn’t pay too much attention in school. And so I didn’t get that grade and I failed med school. So I didn’t get in. And so the second best thing I could do was to become a paramedic and…

And in that journey of being a paramedic, I worked very closely with a lot of the police. And so there was an opportunity that came up where they started a collision unit, where we would be first responders to accident scenes. And so, of course, that was the, you know, I always played cops and robbers as a kid. And I thought, well, now I can play cops and robbers and be a paramedic at the same time. So basically moved into that collision unit and became a first responder. So by default was a paramedic

in the accident unit of the police. And then the police sort of transitioned, then I got very excited into the dogs and so we became part of the K9 unit. And then I went into the anti-hijacking unit where it was, every level you get a little bit braver and you kind of wanna push the boundaries of the things that you do. And so I then ended up in the anti-hijacking unit. And I think in 1999 when I got shot was the moment that everyone sort of said to me, right.

enough cops and robbers and now time to actually have a bit of a serious job.
Christél: And I’m sure you looking back you don’t mind making the transition?
Jason: Yeah, I mean obviously like listen there’s a whole bunch of lessons that I learned from being in the police actually. You know the one was, there were some major lessons that I learned actually. The one was the importance of systems and processes like you know whenever you go through the door.

you always had this protocol, you know, one would go left, one would go right, one would go centre. If you all kind of went into a building and all went right and the guys were sitting on the left, they’re going to shoot you in the back, you know. So, so I learnt a lot about that, about, you know, how to respond when gunfire starts, how to respond in different hostile situations and the importance of systems. And that carried through actually into business where I’m a, I’m such a pedantic stickler of, I want to know, like I want a system, I want a one page process for everything.

And if the process is too long to remember, then it’s a waste of time. So it needs to be very simple and straightforward. And of course, the other thing that you learn about in the police force is completely trust, trust and teamwork. Because if you don’t trust your partner and what they’re going to do, well, then you’re going to end up in a body bag. So I think carrying those lessons through into the business environment has also been super helpful, actually. So yeah, I always say to people like…

Don’t think that, and even being a paramedic, there was a lot of lessons from that, but just the importance of teamwork and trust and having a systematic approach to things is the difference between success and failure.

Jason: sort of a bit of a hooligan at school to be quite honest and I didn’t really have clear direction in terms of what I wanted to do and actually at the school for post matric they only offered three subjects and was mechanical electrical and electronic engineering and so I didn’t never wanted to stick my fingers in plugs because I knew it would shock me I had no interest in electronics and so by default I went into mechanical engineering and that sort of spearheaded my career where

after post-Mitric I continued studying mechanical engineering while I was working in the police. I actually used to study during the day, work in the police at night. So it was kind of a 24-hour job I guess.
Johan:Kind of that Batman life. Yeah. There’s Wayne at day and Batman at night.
Jason: Yeah exactly, so two hats in for different scenarios.
Christél: Wow, and today you’ve got two MBAs.
Jason: No, so I did the first MBA with Leicester University in the UK.

It didn’t go down as well as I would have liked it to have gone down. And then I think about halfway through, I was trying to do that a bit remotely, which was really a challenge. And then I defaulted, I decided actually I need to do a permanent, I need to be an in-person MBA. I wasn’t disciplined enough just to do things virtually. And so I went full time to study my masters and…

I mean that was also a really interesting time right, I used to travel so I’d finish work 6pm I’d get in my car, actually at 5pm I’d get in my car in Sukunda, I’d drive to Johannesburg for an hour and you know a little bit Wow Go study from 6 to 10pm in person every night, 4 days a week no, 4 days a week, 7 every week and that was for 2 years. And there was a lot of actually lessons that came from that too because when I used to drive back

a very good friend of ours or friend of mine, Jose Maciel, who many people will know from that area, he was he was busy building his new Scar Hill facility. And so every night at 11pm when I was driving back home, I would see him outside his workshop. And so I’d sort of pull in there and we just have general chats. And I was always like, why are you doing this? Why are you doing this? Why are you building such a big thing? And I guess I learned a lot of lessons, actually from Jose, back in those days. So it was really interesting to see how, you know, all these

different pieces of your life come together, but they actually shape who you become.
Christél: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you almost went to work for Jose at some point.
Jason: Yeah, it was close. I didn’t end up there. And I guess in hindsight, it was good that we didn’t. So sorry Jose, if you do ever want to. It’s not that. Yeah, I didn’t end up going there. And I ended up going on my own, which ultimately was probably the best decision that I ever made. But yeah, I mean, I have a lot of respect for…

our competitors and Jose being one of them and I think he’s an amazing man and amazing leader and yeah there was a lot of lessons that I learnt.
Johan: So you tried the MBA twice and do you feel it added value to your life or like many people that all today would say in many circumstances the MBA is slightly outdated and a bit more a relic of the past?

Jason: No, so I mean for me personally, like my experience with an MBA was unbelievable. I think that, you know, when you, when you get into a room and you have a number of different personalities that are talking about different topics that you may have your own bias towards. So for example, you know, employee incentives, you know, I had my own beliefs about employee incentives. And I remember it was the guys from Romans Pizza were also doing the MBA with me.

And I remember them saying how they had tried the incentive plan that I had adopted and it failed completely. And I remember sitting there going, wow, I never thought about it from that angle. Right. I always just thought about it from my perspective and the type of business that I have, but I can see how that wouldn’t work in their type of business. So I think what we ended up, you know, and that those lessons just happened over and over and over and over again. So for me, the value of the MBA is really…

It’s fast tracking, getting multiple people’s experience and being able to share that experience with each other about different topics, whether it’s the way you manage people, whether it’s operational, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s business development or sales, or it doesn’t really matter what it is. Everybody’s got their own perspectives and each company’s got its own perspective. And yeah, sharing those in a room is powerful.

Johan: Don’t fall into the camp of Elon Musk saying, there are too many MBAs ruining great companies and not enough engineers.
Jason: Well, luckily I’m an engineer with an MBA. So maybe he’s true. I mean, maybe his point is true. That was another lesson that I learned, right? Like when you follow your passion and you do things for the reasons that really are important to you, you can yield good results. But if you’re just doing things for the sake of doing things or because somebody else has told you to do something, actually,

you don’t really get the success that you’re expecting.
Christél: And I’ve also heard that people say that when you’re an entrepreneur, you should just follow your passion and you don’t need a degree to do that. What’s your opinion?
Jason: Yeah, I mean, look, you know, everything with a little, you’ve got to bring perspective to statements like that. I mean, the reality is, you know, if my passion is, you know, I don’t know, if my passion is

collecting wood from the trees around a river. You know, the reality is what kind of business is there for that, right? So you’ve got to take these things with a pinch of salt. I think where people go wrong is they say, what is the trend that’s happening? And I know nothing about that trend or I have no passion for that trend, but I’m going to go and I’m going to pursue it because it’s the hot thing. And you know, Metaverse, for example, is one. Now I hear people talking about the Metaverse all the time. I’m passionate about the Metaverse, but there’s a lot that aren’t. And they just, I want to be involved in the Metaverse.

And when you talk to them, they have absolutely no idea. So, but at the same time, if you’re going to go into a business where you don’t have that passion, it’s very hard for you to sell a story. Like, I truly believe that the way that you make money as an entrepreneur is you can tell a story about your product, your service or whatever. And it’s that storytelling which is so powerful. So, if you’re passionate about a topic, you can talk about it for hours. If you’re not,

You just, what did I read last week? Or what did I prep in this meeting? And then you forget half of it, right? It’s like public speaking. If you go up and stand and try and public speak with a whole bunch of notes, you forget half your stuff. But if you, if it’s really true to what you believe in, you can talk about a topic for days.
Johan: You mentioned previously, you are a member of YPO, like the Young Presidents Organization. When did that start?

Jason: Yeah, so it’s kind of interesting because it starts before I joined YPO. So you’ll remember, I think you might have even covered the story, but I was involved in the the sleep out for good on the streets of Johannesburg, which is essentially the coldest night of the year. Everyone got together on one of Johannesburg’s bridges and we slept on the street in an effort to raise funds for the homeless. And it was an initiative of Nelson Mandela. And, you know, sort of we just we all.

climbed in and supported that. And it was at that event, I actually met three incredible characters. And they were, they sort of said to me, hey Jason, have you heard of YPO? And I was like, no, I never heard of YPO. They were like, you need to join. So I was like, okay, sounds interesting again, coming back to conversation we had offline is, do we take these opportunities or do we just shut them all down? And I’m opportunistic, so I was like, okay, I don’t know what it is, but I’ll try it. And so, so.

registered and subscribed and I got accepted and joined YPO and I mean that ultimately became…
Christél: Sorry, can I just quickly interrupt you? Got accepted is not as easy as that. It’s quite a long process.
Jason:Yeah, I mean look there’s criteria and so, you know, you have to be… back then it was slightly different. I think the criteria today is like 15 million dollars of revenue as a business, 50 employees and other than that if you tick those boxes, you know, you’re pretty much there. So, but yeah, but once I was in…

it opened up my eyes to a whole new level of experience. I mean, the mantra line of YPO is lifelong learning. And so for me, going back to the MBA day, this was all about me becoming better through just learning about things in general. And so when I joined YPO, I started learning so much more than…

I ever could have imagined because instead of being surrounded by a bunch of friends that you go to the pub with and drink and have a party with, I was being surrounded by executives of Coca-Cola, ATC Towers, big packaging businesses, Pick and Pay, and that was on a local level, Vodacom. When you start going internationally, all of a sudden you’re in the mix with Google, Tesla, Facebook, Salesforce, Ripple.

Exo, like all these, you know, all the latest and everything that’s going on. They’re all YPO members So it was a it was really important for me when I started to be Sitting around this level of person that I was learning so many new stories and learning so much about you know Technology and sort of that drove my technology path Just because I could see how it could add a lot of value to life
Johan: Talking about technology your new startup

Virtue Lab or Virtue Works. It’s confusing, I understand. I remember Virtue.
Jason: Yeah. So actually, it’s a funny story. So that started out as CG Labs, because we were CG Tech. Actually, before CG Tech, we were CG Holdings. You know, it’s amazing how in business things just don’t work out the way that you plan. So we had CG Holdings, we thought we’d be a public company one day and so CG Holdings would be a good name.

And then we realized that going public was not a great idea. And so we then rebranded to CG Tech because we thought it was more sexy. And in the process, we had the startup that we were sort of building software with. And so we then called it CG Labs. And after CG Labs, we said, well, I think we’re confusing people because CG Tech and CG Labs are very close. They think it’s the same business, but it’s not.

So we changed it to the Virtue Lab. And then with the Virtue Lab, they were building essentially two things, doing sort of consultancy and building software predominantly in the virtual space. So virtual reality, augmented reality, holographic imagery, now metaverse technology. And then we stumbled across a platform that we built, which was called the Virtue Works. We called it the Virtue Works.

So now we’ve created even more confusion because people get confused between the Virtue Lab and Virtue Works, which is actually just a product.
Christél: Something that interests me is when I open up LinkedIn, you are always at the top. There’s always something happening. How do you get time for your family?

Jason: Sho, so I mean look the reality is that it’s like it’s a hard balance right? I sort of have this triangle that I live in so it’s sort of wealth, freedom and meaning. And if you look at those three I think if you’re not balanced within those three like you’ll never be fulfilled as an individual. So you know you can have all the money in the world for example but if you’ve got no freedom to enjoy your money and you’ve got no meaning

in life, you’re going to be lonely and you’re going to hate all the money that you have. Likewise, you can be the most charitable social worker in the world, right? And if you’ve got no money and you’re still every weekend doing social work and you’ve got no freedom, you’re still going to be miserable. Or you can be a person that has no job and you can have all the freedom in the world, but you’ve got no purpose in life and you’ve got no cash, you’re going to be miserable. So it’s how do you find the balance between those three? And I think coming back to the social media and work and family and trying to find that

I think each one of us as individuals gets fulfilled differently. And that’s good because I think if we were all fulfilled the same way, this would be a really boring world that we’d live in, right? And we wouldn’t innovate. You know, imagine if Elon Musk didn’t do what he did, you know, people think he’s crazy. He is, but he’s changing the world, right? And so if he wasn’t the radical person, well, who is that radical person changing? So for me, I’m kind of set in my destination. You know, I understand that I’m making sacrifices for my family.

with my family, hopefully one day for my family, but actually it’s for a greater good I think. And so a lot of the sacrifices that I make are really for me personally to touch communities and hence the reason why I changed from chief executive to chief ecosystem. But you know I believe that we live in this ecosystem and if we have the power to make a difference to that ecosystem we should.

because if we don’t, nobody else is going to. So, you know, we can contribute, we can do our little bit. And I think for me, you know, I sort of cut, carve my day up into different segments and I’m really bad at it. Right. So don’t think that I have all the answers. Like I suck at this. Right. And I get told all the time that I suck at it. But my peers will tell you that a lot. But.

but I do try and have these segments where, you know, I allocate time for YPO, I allocate time for the different slots in the businesses. And what I find works for me is I just got a pencil in my diary, these slots for me to do things. Because if it’s in the diary, generally I’m more committed. If I just mentally allocate like Monday, I’m gonna focus on this business Tuesday, it just goes out the window. So I have weekly calls with all of our companies. I then have weekly slots allocated to my wife, have weekly slots allocated to my kids.

And of course, you know, when business comes in this, you know, a high level environment, then the family gets trumped. And I try not to let the family events get trumped by business, but it does happen. So, yeah, there’s never a perfect balance, but it’s just a choice that I’ve taken and not to say that I would advise other people take that choice. But we do need different personalities in the world. And it’s just I’m prepared to make those sacrifices so that I can make a difference.

Johan: like to say if everything, if everybody had a perfectly balanced life we all would be just average.
Jason: Exactly and listen we like you know why be average when you’re born to stand out right so stand out.
Christél: Okay so speaking of your family and your kids if they want to go into an entrepreneurial field one day what advice would you give them? Sho,

Jason: don’t follow in dad’s footsteps. Don’t make the same mistakes. No, look, I mean, I think, you know, again, we have to bring perspective on these. I think there’s different generations that get created in families. I think the reality is that, you know, I wasn’t born into money. And my father started in the army. My mother was a secretary, you know, and they kind of, they worked themselves up and they were pretty, what I could call it, life corporatiers, you know, my dad.

I ultimately ended up in Toyota for many, many years. My mom ended up in a caravan place for like 40 years. And so they were very, what we call, lifers in the job. But that was a stable enough footing for me to grow up with a reasonable education and being able to get good education and just have a good start in life. So my kids, of course, are gonna have it much different. They’ve got everything on their plate.

You know, there’s an old saying, the first generation learns how to manage money. The second generation learns how to create money and the third generation learns how to destroy the money. And so for me personally, I think a lot of the values that are still in my kids now is not even about entrepreneurship. It’s just about the challenge of managing money. And so, you know, I try and force my kids.

to learn different life lessons. We have family mantras like be kind to each other. Other people don’t have what you have. You have to respect that. People look different. People have different lifestyles. And I’m just trying to really educate them around that concept of the life that they live is not a normal life. And so they should be grateful for it. And then every now and again, we try and take them out of that zone and bring them back, for example, to the bush and take them back into Africa.

Christél: take them back to South Africa?
Jason: They take them back to South Africa, no electricity. I mean, you know, like these things are really stupid, but they’re actually quite funny when you think about them. Like my son comes here and he’s like, dad, I can’t play PlayStation, the Wi-Fi is too slow. You know, and I’m like, yeah, well, that’s, you know, that’s South Africa for you, boy. The rest of the world is not all the same as Dubai. So you have to think about these things differently. You know, in my, for example, they have a nanny and I forced the nannies not to carry their bags, just because I know that otherwise they’re gonna grow up.

not understanding that that’s not normal. You know, they have a driver that drives them around and that’s not normal. So, you know, it’s all these things that you’ve got to kind of keep reminding them and trying to bring them up and understand. And I think part of the rationale for us choosing the school, for example, that we chose is that they run from the age of six, a junior MBA program for these kids. And it’s run by business leaders and you know, it’s all about money management. It’s about the concept of idea generation.

Turning that into a business, marketing that business, and then being able to monetize that business. And so from a young age, they’re already learning a lot about that. And so, you know, I see a lot of the values coming out in them. And probably one of the biggest lessons that, you know, my wife and I are focused on is that we don’t want to raise our children so that we love them. We want to raise our children so that everybody else loves them. And if we’ve done that-
Christél: That’s difficult.
Jason: And if we’ve done that, then I think, you know, we would have ticked a lot of those boxes.

Christél: I was about to say, Johan, you also had a nanny and a driver. But the only problem was… Different circumstances. The driver you had was only when he had extra time between the deliveries for my company.
Johan:Not everybody is privileged enough to get picked up by a van at school. Fully branded, they know, oh, he travels in the yellow car. What a cool guy. But you didn’t have an MBA at school.

No, unfortunately not. That’s something we can bring to South Africa. Speaking of South Africa and Dubai and all the differences, how do you see the future of South Africa? Look, I mean, I’m an optimist at heart, right?
Jason: I think as South Africans, we’re very much optimist at heart. So we all, you know, I can’t think of a bad South Africa. It’s just, it’s not within, you know, it’s just not within my capabilities. So, but, you know, South Africa has got amazing things. You know, we’ve got…

beautiful cities, we’ve got great bush adventures, we’ve got amazing places like this on the river. It’s hard to find all of those in any other country around the world. So we’ve only got a few things that we need to get right. And I think at the moment, I ask this question a lot, like when you run a business, you have a vision. Without a vision, your business is not aligned, the employees are not aligned, the shareholders are not aligned, and ultimately the business doesn’t succeed.

So what is the vision of your business? And then the bigger question is, what is the vision for South Africa from the presidency’s office? And I guarantee you, if I had to ask any one of the ministers, what is the vision for South Africa, I don’t think they’d be able to tell me. And if I had to ask any member of society, what’s the vision for South Africa, I don’t think anyone would be able to tell me. We’d say what we think it is. But I think it all starts with, if we can just, you know, Nelson Mandela, when he came out, he had a vision. He wanted to break down black and white and bring us together. And that was clear.

And I think, you know, what the actions he represented at the stadium, when he came out in, you know, Franco Pienaars rugby jersey, the things that he drove, having the white bodyguards and, you know, making sure that he was representing what he wanted the future to be. It got everyone behind him. I think that that message has changed drastically over the years. And, yeah, I mean.

We hope that somebody’s gonna come along, a leader’s gonna come along with a clear vision and you just look at, I don’t want to talk politics, but you look at what’s happening with Ukraine and Russia, you know, nobody even knew about Ukraine, you know, and people have their opinions and that’s all fine, and there’s no right and wrong opinion, but you look at what Zelensky’s done as a person, in terms of being out there, being on the front line, his vision is to keep his country intact, and people are rallying behind that, the world’s rallying behind that.

in a lot of cases. So I think we just need a leader that’s going to come out and say right this is the vision for our country and we’re going to go these are the strategies we’re putting behind that vision and we’re going to achieve our success.
Christél: I think we can stand here and talk for the whole day. That’s beautiful setting I’m sure we could. It’s a pity it’s not summer but yeah Jason thank you so much for the time today.

amazing experience chatting to you. So for everyone else, all the links will be in our descriptions. Any other information that we mentioned, all the people, all the companies, just check in the description below for all the links. And that’s it.
Jason: Thank you, thank you for having me. Cheers.