An Interview with Bertus de Wet, Business Coach
Do you think entrepreneurship is in your blood?
I don’t know if one is born an entrepreneur, but I certainly got a taste for it when I was very young. I grew up in a small town in the Free State, and as a small boy, I made ketties and kieries and sold them to my school friends to earn my pocket money. Soon I was driving a tractor and a farm bakkie, helping out on a nearby farm from a young age. As a young student, my pocket money came from delivering pizzas while my friends were out jolling.
I think one’s values play a huge role in achieving success in life, and mine were built when I was young. By the time I ventured into business, the fundamentals were in place.
From my father I learned to value hard work and self-reliance; my tight knit family taught me the power of love and loyalty; and through adversity I learned perseverance and resilience. Another major influence on my values was my passion for martial arts, which I was very good at. Karate taught me self-discipline and focus; I also learned persistence – ‘never quit’ became a personal rule that has served me well in my business life.
What adversity have you experienced?
I had a very close bond with my father, but tragically he died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 18. As the eldest son, I took it upon myself to continue with his legacy and to work hard to realise the family dream of prosperity and independence. But I needed to find a deeper meaning in this loss. This came when I realised that although my father worked extremely hard for his family, he had to sacrifice spending time with us – and time with him was what we wanted most.
This has had a profound impact on my personal mission for the future – to help parents to spend time with their children – to give parents back to their children. This is one of the focal points in my coaching.
After you finished school, what did you study?
I trained as a structural steel detailer – which is a specialised draughting skill – and completed the 2-year course in 18 months as I need to go out to work. My lecturer saw that I had potential as a trainer, so he encouraged me to set up a training institute after I graduated, which I did. But I was hungry to get into business, so after a year I joined a steel detailing company in Johannesburg.
What was your greatest business success?
It was my first one, at the company where I started out as an employee, and I’m particularly proud of this. After two years of working there, I was confident that I understood the business processes well enough to start making some changes for the better. So I convinced my boss to let me earn shares in the company and work on improving the business.
Within five and a half years I grew the company value by 60% and turned it into one of the top steel detailing offices in the country.
We had to go through some tough times, during which several of our competitors went under. But I managed to get us through it by vastly improving our productivity and the quality of the work delivered, without retrenching any staff. During the lean time, the partners took pay cuts but we kept our staff and outperformed our competitors. When I eventually sold my shares in the company, I was paid out enough money to live on for 5 years.
What brought you into coaching?
I wanted to pursue my passion – to teach other entrepreneurs what I have learned over the past 10 years, and empower them to become successful. Building your own successful business is immensely rewarding. But for me it’s even more exciting to help people become successful.
I have a very clear vision of what can be achieved by a collective of successful small and medium-sized businesses. South Africa desperately needs a powerful SME sector. So although I know I could go on to establish other businesses – and I probably will – I believe I can have a much greater impact if I empower hundreds of other entrepreneurs to be successful. That is where my heart lies.
Do you think anyone can learn to be an entrepreneur?
Yes, if you have the desire and the self-discipline, you can learn the rest. I taught myself how to actually run my first business through self-study. I have a passion for lifelong learning and am an avid student of books, CDs and seminars about business, self-improvement and leadership. I’ve also invested a lot in my education. Prosperity in business has enabled me to afford management studies at Wits Business School and a personal development course at Dale Carnegie. Currently I am in the process of becoming accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). I’ve invested more than 10,000 hours on personal and business development – which, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” puts me in the category of expert, a master of my discipline.
Today entrepreneurs have access to phenomenal resources offering high value knowledge about every aspect of business. I’ve learned from some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and leadership coaches, just by reading their books and taking their advice. If you have the passion and the drive to learn how to do something well, you can do it. And if you can’t do it on your own, there are business coaches like me to help you.
Bertus de Wet