‘There is no room for arrogance in business,’ says top South African entrepreneur

Carol Weaving, managing director of Thebe Exhibitions and Projects Group, has made the finalist list for the South African 2012 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award. Thebe Exhibitions and Projects Group is an event organiser and venue management company. The group is also currently spreading its wings across the rest of the African continent. How we made it in Africa’s Kate Douglas asked Weaving about what it takes to run a successful business.

Carol Weaving

What’s the single most important reason for your success?

I have the vision to develop a concept and the drive and determination to make my vision a reality.

Do you think being an entrepreneur has changed you? If so, how?

I don’t think so. I was very entrepreneurial when I was young and I remain humble and grounded. You are only as good as your last success so it’s important to keep your feet on the ground and keep it real. There is no room for arrogance in business but confidence is essential.

How did you finance your business?

This is always the tough part and where a lot of people fail in the first two years. I started my company with nothing – R2,000 (US$242) to be precise – but worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day, to bring in as much income as possible to fund the growth of the business. I always re-invested into the business. I kept my team lean and mean initially. I then sold 70% of my business to a Dutch company which then helped me catapult to the next level. It’s about timing and seeing the opportunities in advance. I then realised we needed a Black Economic Empowerment partner so I approached Thebe Investment Corporation to buy the shares of the Dutch company. I then built the company to what it is today.

What was the tipping point for Thebe Exhibitions and Projects Group?

Getting my business to the point where it was attractive enough for the Dutch company to buy in.

What plans do you have for expansion into Africa?

As I write this I am sitting in Nigeria. We are looking at developing and growing our business in Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and Tanzania. There is a lot happening across the venue development side of the business with arenas, convention centres and stadium management and then we are looking at the content development of the business for these venues. I am bringing a group of Nigerian businessmen into our show in September and they are looking for South African partners who want to start up their franchises or business opportunities in Nigeria.

Where do you see yourself and the business in 10 years?

I see myself continuing the growth in South Africa and Africa and in international markets. I can only do this by surrounding myself with exceptional talent which I think we are good at identifying and also making sure we have the right partners in the right countries. I will still be working though as I love what I do.

How do you go about marketing your business?

We market our business across all mediums. We are very much in the public eye and our shows are profiled across various industries. We do above the line, below the line and we believe in PR. It’s important that we tell people about the good things we are doing. Communication is key.

In your opinion, what is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Entrepreneurs see the bigger picture, they come up with concepts, they have the courage of their own convictions and they are not scared to take a risk, calculated of course.

Looking back, what is the one thing you wish you understood about entrepreneurship before you ever got started?

Nothing. You cannot train to be an entrepreneur. I believe it comes from within and you either have it or you don’t.

The Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year winners will be announced on 6 September 2012. Over the next few weeks How we made it in Africa will feature interviews with many of the finalists.