Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
My first job I worked as a dispatch clerk for Spar’s distribution centre in Pretoria, back in 1980.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
The only person who has had an impact on my career has been myself, because I was born and brought up in an area where we had no role models. I lost my dad at age two. My mother, when I started seeing what was happening around me, was working as a domestic worker in Johannesburg. So I was brought up initially without having immediate parents around. So I don’t believe I really have anyone who I can say shaped my life and my business career.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Well obviously what keeps me awake at night is the idea that one day things will turn out in a negative way because it is business and one’s life can always [suddenly] turn the other way. So I am always really nervous about this and that is what keeps me awake at night and gets me to wake up every morning to go to work because I don’t want to take things for granted.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I don’t know, to be honest. I operate purely on instinct, to a large extent. As much as I do use my instinct, I also take calculated risks. But I do operate on my instinct and it is something that I have always had faith in and trust in.
5. What are the best things about your country, South Africa?
I lived half of my life under the evil system of apartheid, and I have lived now another 20 years in a new dispensation and yes, I’m excited about the opportunities that the new South Africa presents and I think it’s up to us South Africans to ensure that we keep our democracy alive.
I’m really very happy that I have lived in this democratic dispensation for the last 20 years and I really hope and encourage all of us South Africans to keep and strengthen our democratic structures.
6. And the worst?
Obviously in the past there was the evil system of racial discrimination of black people. But right now, in the past few years, what I personally have a problem with as a businessman is our labour legislation which is really making it very difficult for small business owners to operate.
7. Your future career plans?
I’m committing the balance of my life to do two things that are very important to my life. Firstly is to ensure that my country – and I hope that I can even manage to influence the continent – to pursue a free market economy. I actually, personally, deeply love the capitalist system and I would really like to see that system being pursued by my country and eventually the entire African continent… because we can only really be powerful in the world if we are successful, and success can come from the capitalist system.
And secondly, I want to make sure that we as people are always vigilant around issues like racism, tribalism and so forth. So for me it’s all about committing myself to first ensuring that we protect and defend the capitalist system and then secondly to fight racism and tribalism.
8. How do you relax?
I enjoy golf which is a sport that I try to play once a week, every Saturday. I enjoy the sport. I have also discovered the passion to play the piano. And then I play tennis from time to time… And I’m an ardent reader.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
My advice to them is to rely on your own personal instinct and your own personal drive. Please don’t be misled by thinking that the politicians are going to be the ones to give you economic freedom. If you want economic freedom, you have to really strive for it yourself… And I think that people need to be conscious of the fact that they need to rely on their own initiatives, their own drive.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
The only way Africa will realise its full potential is for us, as Africans, to adopt politically a democratic system, where the citizens of our countries are the ones who determine the leadership of their country, and are the ones responsible for running their country. I think we need to find a way where we do away with this one party system and dictators. I think if we want to really succeed as a continent we need to follow democratic processes.
Herman Mashaba is one of South Africa’s most celebrated entrepreneurs and is the founder of the well-known hair care brand, Black Like Me, which he started in 1985. He is also the executive chairperson of Lephatsi Investments, a broad-based black economic empowerment company with investments in financial services, mining, construction, transport and logistics. He is also the CEO and founder of Leswikeng Minerals & Energy. Although Mashaba retired as CEO of Black Like Me in 2004, he remains a majority shareholder and a non-executive director of the company.
Mashaba holds a number of other directorships, including chairperson of the Free Market Foundation, an independent policy organisation promoting economic freedom, the rule of law and free trade. He co-authored his autobiography, Black Like You.