Is the South African Entrepreneur really one of the five worst CEO jobs?

Leading financial journalist Bruce Whitfield recently wrote a cover story where he picked the five worst CEO jobs in South Africa. While there were a number of obvious candidates (Telkom, Lonmin and SAA), the less obvious selection was that of “The South African Entrepreneur”. Bruce argued that local entrepreneurs find the deck stacked against them from a regulatory perspective and an entrepreneur-unfriendly operating environment.

Here is the view of one reader who mailed in:

I picked up a copy of your latest edition as I boarded a flight to New York, and I was rather disappointed by your inclusion of The Local Entrepreneur in the list of the five worst CEO jobs.  As an entrepreneur myself and someone who works with a range of clients – from the leadership teams of NYSE-listed companies, pre-IPO companies, and startup founders and their teams, I will concur that being an entrepreneur can be hard work however, I’d like to counter your assertion.
Entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of a dream, is the focus of economies all over the world.  As a generator of business activity, it has been shown that the revenue and growth created by a small business has a much greater effect on local economies and communities (reinvestment, support of other small businesses, etc.) than similar growth of a corporation.  Generally, we see entrepreneurs exhibiting far greater passion than corporate employees, an incredible commitment to overcoming whatever barrier or challenge they may encounter, and consequently an ability to move things faster than most companies can.  If we want more jobs, sustained economic growth, and a broader base of people who activity participate in the economy, then we need more people taking risks as entrepreneurs – not fewer.

By striking down entrepreneurship as a profession – precisely because it is harder than “simply drawing a monthly pay cheque” or the fact that capital may be harder to come by – reinforces the message that “you need to get a good job” instead of create your own job and build your own future.  I’m not denying that the admin isn’t troublesome – but I’d equate that with the internal corporate processes, bureaucracies, and politics that equally burden almost all corporations I have ever seen and worked in.
If indeed the evaluation of success is purely financial and “substantial personal wealth” is the end game, then you’re right – not everyone is going to make millions in their own business.  However, if we consider that personal and professional fulfillment is about more than (lots of) money, I believe we can instead contribute to creating a generation of bold people who look forward to exploring their passion, taking a risk, and starting a business – instead of waiting for a job to be delivered to them.  I don’t think the latter approach has or will always work – and we need to put our energies into figuring out how to encourage people to own their own futures, and not discourage people from starting to realize their full potential.


  1. Partyforever says:

    You work with Nasdaq companies, probably travelling between Israel, New York and London. How many South African companies are listed on the NASDAQ? How about the NYSE? Very few.

    Those businesses have access to billions of $ of investment. The average South African Joe is lucky to get a loan from the bank. How many succeed? I’m going to tell you the truth: 10% last 10 years. 50% last 5 years. 70% last 3 years. Those are the realities. We are far from the world’s developed markets – 15,000 km to Japan, 12,000km to London or New York. Very far. Our labor costs are some of the highest in the developing world. Our workers strike 6x more in a year than any other nation on earth. Our education is in such a disarray, that grade 9 has a pass rate of 2% for mathematics. 2%. 2% pass mathematics after 9 years being at school. Our electricity will soon be more expensive than Washington DC per KW hour in $ terms. We have city rates that are sky-high, corruption, nepotism, crime, murder, probably some of the worst in the world. Our infrastructure is decaying, hopefully the $100bn the government spends will help. We are looking after 12 million illegals in a country of 55 million people. Our neighbours are all bankrupt. Our AIDS infection rate is higher than 15%. Our productivity is at a 50 year low. 50 year low.

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