Meet the Boss: Juanita van der Merwe, owner, Little Green Number

Juanita van der Merwe

1. What was your first job?

When I was at school, I was a waiter.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Everything. If I have an order – I am a perfectionist – so I stress about the quality, I stress about deadlines. I also stress about whether people will have enough salary this month, will they be able to survive over Christmas, and will their kids be able to go to school? So I stress about almost everything.

3. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

It was from my 11-year-old brother, and it was: If you fail, fail forward.

4. The top reason why you have been successful in business?

I think it is definitely that I don’t have a fear to fail or a fear to try and fail. And then, I am driven by the desire to make a difference. I am very passionate about what I do – so even if there are small hiccups or if I don’t always understand the financials and the nitty-gritty – my passion to make a difference in the world drives me.

5. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

Oh definitely on the job – I didn’t go to business school.

6. How do you relax?

I love to do adventurous stuff. So road trips, sky-diving, bungee jumping, kayaking – so things like that. And then spending time with my son, just doing nothing, like playing at home or jumping on the trampoline.

7. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

Every day is different. So sometimes it is seven o’clock, sometimes it is 10 o’clock. I try to be very involved with my son, so it depends what time he wakes up.

8. Your favourite job interview question?

I have done interviews but it was always very relaxed. It is probably: What are you passionate about? And then seeing how they respond, and if there is something that drives them other than money.

9. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

I think we need to start supporting each other – so stop competing and start supporting each other and supporting locals, supporting Africa. Because I believe we have products that can compete with the international market and we have products that we can be proud of. And if we start supporting each other and we believe in ourselves, other people will start believing in us as well.

Van der Merwe is the manager and owner of South African company Little Green Number, which creates bags, and other products, from recycled billboard advertisements.