The Power of Persistance

From humble beginnings to pan-African prosperity

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Zunaid Moti, Chairman of the Moti Group, is unquestionably one of the most successful businessmen in South Africa. The story of his rise from humble beginnings to success is inspirational, and the advice he has to give on business and life should be taken on board by all entrepreneurs.

Moti grew up in a home where money was always tight. His mother was a nurse, and at the time, his father wasn’t around. Moti would wash the school bus on weekends so that he and his sister could travel the 110 km round trip to and from school daily. Not one to focus on the negative and dwell in the past, Moti chuckles when recounting how, during one of his assignments, he had to choose a topic on which to write. He chose “When I am a millionaire, I will …”, his very succinct and indeed prophetic response being that he would “get my PA to write this for me”. Needless to say, he failed that assignment, but he has definitely succeeded in life. Through pure tenacity, a bit of cheekiness, and developing a deep relationship with his mentor, he made over R40 million from selling shares in a business just before his 22nd birthday.

Moti excelled at school, as he felt this was the only way he could repay his mother for her sacrifices and unwavering love and support. He did so well academically that he won a bursary for St Albans College in Pretoria. As this was during the apartheid years, he says jokingly: “I had never seen so many white people in one place. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t play soccer. I mean, that’s all we played because we didn’t need anything more than a ball. But, the other students would wake up at 4 am to run around the school.”

Athletics was not a sport Moti was used to, so he came last every time. Yet, once again he reached into himself and decided the only way to avoid embarrassment and ridicule was to succeed. He would wake up at midnight to train, this eventually led to him becoming the top athlete in the school.

Moti, with a sense of mirth, openly discusses what has been said about him in the media over the course of his career: “You can’t take every negative thing said about you and internalise it. You have to look into yourself, do a self-check, and then move on.”

A matter of life and death

Ultimately, Moti believes that an entrepreneur is someone who has been backed into a corner, with no options, and thus needs to make a plan in order to support themselves and their family. That, according to Moti, is why entrepreneurship is rife in Zimbabwe, whereas for many, building entrepreneurship in South Africa, whilst an economic imperative, still isn’t a matter of life and death. Moti says that one of the biggest problems facing South African entrepreneurs is that even the great ones are not given the correct opportunities. In a working environment, the younger generation are full of ideas that could revolutionise their place of work, yet, Moti says, they are often shut down by the older, more conservative members of staff. Unfortunately these are usually the managers of owners of the business. “They are too unnerved by change,” says Moti. He, on the other hand, is adamant that in the Moti Group, innovative thinking and changing the paradigm is actively encouraged.

One misconception about entrepreneurship is that this space is reserved only for the young. This is a fallacy, according to Moti, who tells a story about a man of 77 he met at an airport, who didn’t know he was an entrepreneur. They were discussing commodities, and which are the most important. They both agreed that the most important are food and water. The unknowing entrepreneur said that the best place in which to cultivate these commodities are on the African continent, where unpolluted water sources and virgin land provide a proverbial Garden of Eden. The 77-year-old is developing a water purification system that could change the way people view water. His goal is to educate and change the belief that gold, silver, or diamonds are the most important commodities. Moti adds to this premise by saying that the commodities with the most value are those provided by God, whichever God you may pray to. They are: unity of the family and business units, all of which can be attained through valued relationships, and natural resources like air and water. “We keep looking for diamonds and gold, when the most valuable assets are right in front of us,” says Moti.

So, what are entrepreneurs meant to do?

Moti has proved his mettle in the field of business, and as such, the advice on entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in his own experience.

Don’t be worried about a timeline

Everyone has a different path to take. We have been brainwashed into thinking we go to school, then university, meet someone, get married, have children, retire, and that is how it’s meant to be. It is incredibly important to realise that life is different now than it was when those timelines were developed. Our lives take twists and turns and we need to go with it. Take for instance how growing up without much, Moti turned his fears into success. He refused to go to university as he knew he wanted to be an accountant, so instead of spending years taking classes, he showed up at an accountancy firm and told them: “I want to be an accountant, so teach me everything I need to know.”

Don’t be scared

Failure is par for the course: it is how you respond to it that matters. Moti elaborates by saying that it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you stand up that counts: “Don’t worry about failing, if you reach three out of five goals – that is success.” You need to become your own worst enemy: taking constructive criticism and focusing on where you want to be will determine your success. “If it goes well, good, but if it goes bad, that is very good”—that is one of Moti’s mottos for entrepreneurial success. Don’t be scared to learn, don’t look at the people around you and think: “My friend is driving a Ferrari and I am only just starting out.” An example of this is when Moti was at one of the accounting firms in his early career days, and the senior partner said to him that if Moti worked hard, he too could drive a top brand, to which Moti replied that he would do better than that. And he has —he followed his own path and didn’t stick to the stereotypical timelines set out by society.

If you are constantly worrying about making the wrong decision, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and mistakes will be made, says Moti.

Don’t allow yourself to be put down by nay-sayers.

If you have a great idea, and you truly believe it is a viable business idea, then don’t be allow negativity to overshadow that. Remember, says Moti, the more a bank says no, the more it means your idea is a great one. Of course, warns Moti, not every entrepreneur can go into the future without doing the correct due diligence and risk assessments: “Entrepreneurs are not risk averse, quite the opposite – we are a breed who understand risk, but we aren’t scared of it. Managing and mitigating risk is one trait of an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Never surround yourself by negativity

There are people who don’t want you to succeed, for whatever that reason may be. It could be their own fear of failure, the fear that you will surpass them, or merely that you are deconstructing their reality. If you listen to the negativity, your spirit will be broken, and so will your dream. Listen to constructive criticism, take it on board, analyse it, and then use that advice or ignore it. Remember the decision is yours.

Don’t be scared to execute

Entrepreneurs can become stuck in the planning phase, and whilst planning is critical, without execution your business idea just becomes an outdated proposal. Think about car manufacturers who release concept cars year on year, but never put them into production. It is only when those cars go on sale in shiny showrooms that they recoup any of the capital outlaid in the design phase. Instead of focusing on where your business can fail, rather focus on where it will succeed – focus on those areas, and the rest will fall into place.

Positive thinking can change the world

Moti envisioned a chrome retreatment plan in Rustenburg and invested large sums of money to build the necessary structures and equipment. He had set up agreements to ensure a constant stream of chrome, yet on the day retreatment was meant to begin, there were no trucks. His suppliers had let him down, badly. He was in a bit of a slump but knew that something would give. When he was watching the news that night, he saw that Zimbabwe had massive amounts of chrome ready for retreatment. Not one to sit back, he went to Zimbabwe and struck a deal. He has never looked back, and because of that relationship, Moti now holds many businesses in Zimbabwe creating job opportunities for the local population and providing much needed service to the communities.

One of the first examples of Moti’s success was the formation of Future Fin Finance. Moti says: “The idea came around when I wanted to buy a sports car and it was difficult; as a young entrepreneur you want your money to make you more money and not invest it in a depreciating asset.” Future Fin Finance offered entrepreneurs the opportunity to purchase the car of their dreams, whilst balancing the capital in their growing businesses. Investing the least amount of money in the car, gaining the best tax benefits, whilst still allowing you to use the most amount of capital in your business was the premise for this venture. It was sold to Absa and quickly outgrew their debtors book. He then took the concept to WesBank, who eventually ended up buying it from Moti, who was then freed to explore other business ventures.

What are the most important elements of life and business?

Family

Moti is undoubtedly a family man. He gains great pleasure from seeing his children growing up in a very different lifestyle to him, and he values creating memories over anything else. Running through his schedule for the coming week is daunting, yet he insists on making time for his family. This is a non-negotiable. “You can’t take your assets with you into the afterlife, so you should enjoy the fruits of you labour now,” says Moti. Sharing time with family is critical to retaining the balance between work and play. Creating memories should be the only focus of anyone’s life, as the adage goes: no-one lying on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office.

Giving

Moti is a giver. He says nothing fills him with more pleasure than helping someone in need. This is evident in his social responsibility projects in Zimbabwe, where females are given the dignity of female specific healthcare. “Change your focus from receiving to one of giving and you will be astounded at the improvement in your own life,” he says.

Don’t forget your roots

Having money, according to Moti, can change people. They can become arrogant and forget where they started. Remembering your roots will keep you grounded and will provide the perspective required to remain focused on your goals. “If you can change someone’s life for the better, then do it.”

He relates a memory of his childhood where he resented the fact that the poor children in his school were invisible, whilst the students with more money seemed to do better academically and were picked first for activities, which made them appear more valuable than their poorer peers. He was asked to say a speech and in it he said: “I’m going to be rich.” The laughter that met that comment only spurred him on and it shows the power of positivity.

Take a minute

When things are not going as you had planned or when you are in a difficult situation, says Moti, take one minute. During that minute, think about what you were going to say and what the outcome would be. Once that minute is up, you will know that your initial reaction was not the best one, you are now able to respond appropriately.

Invest in yourself

Any entrepreneur knows the 10 000-hour rule, which states that to become a specialist in any field, a minimum of 10 000 hours is required. Read the relevant books, educate yourself, and most importantly, try.

Honour above all things

In the past, a handshake was sufficient to close a deal, yet Moti says, those days are over because the honour has been replaced by lies. His ongoing relationship with Zimbabwe under the leadership of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, he says, is based on the honour of yesteryear. Knowing that the person with whom you are doing business shares your ethos will aid in the business relationship being open and transparent, says Moti. In closing, Moti reiterates his passion for changing the lives of others: “When people are affected by fear and hate within themselves, their success cannot be guaranteed. Neither can it be guaranteed if you are too hard on or judgmental of yourself. Things often don’t work the first time: you need to have chutzpah, you win when you stand up every time thereafter. Don’t let people intervene with your personal mindset, and go all in. The part of actually walking the journey is the exciting part, so don’t be too focused on what’s next and enjoy the now. The true redemption is making a difference to the people who work for me and my family. If I can convert your hope into a reality, I have succeeded in this game we call life. Remember, it only takes on person to change the lives of many. Be that person.”

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