Mentor 17 - Gerhard de Bruin

Photographer: Ludwig Sevenster

MBOMBELA - Gerhard de Bruin was a  chartered accountant in a corporate company earning a good salary, with a bright future. However he felt unfulfilled and realised that he wanted to do run his own company his own way.
He doesn't mince words about it: he wanted to be independent,self-sufficient, self-supportive and make money.

“When I decided to go out on my own, I had to make up my mind about why I wanted to do it. I said to myself that whatever I do, I must make enough money to achieve my goals.  A boss just pays you enough to keep you quiet."

Now De Bruin is the boss. As the owner of a family business he had to build his business up from nothing, and in spite of occasionally enduring tough  times, he has never looked back.

De Bruin is an entrepreneur; the kind who cannot word for someone else. This makes him an ideally suited mentor to Bring Change Lowveld winner Ms Phephsile Maseko, who is launching her own start-up, Phepisa Natural Resources Institute today.

As part of the mentorship programme, De Bruin shares what he considers to be essential in achieving success with Lowvelder readers this week.

1. Be clear on what you want to achieve
For De Bruin the goal of starting out on his own was clear: he wanted to make money to enable him to be independent and self-sufficient. "I wanted to improve my life, that was my whole purpose. People say it is selfish - it is not. "Make sure of what you want to achieve and where you want to be in five years or in 10 years' time as far as your objectives are concerned. "Be sure of what you want and chase it, and don't be ashamed of that."


2. Work hard and persevere
Starting from nothing is tough, De Bruin admits. "When I bought my first company (a fish and chips shop) I had nothing. I had to get financing from all over to start it up.I had to do everything myself. "Sometimes it feels as though it never stops – you just work and work from the morning to the night and it can feel as though you are getting nowhere. "The first five or six years are very tough and sometimes you will want to stop. You must never stop. You won't achieve anything without hard work."
 

3. Are you going to make a lot of money?
Whatever you do, determine whether it has the potential to make you a lot of money. De Bruin says, "If the answer is no, start looking for something else. You could probably get a job working for someone else tomorrow. "If your business plan is that you will just survive, you must rethink it. In having your own company your purpose is to make a lot of money. "You don't necessarily want to be a millionaire, but you want to live well.  "If money doesn’t motivate you, nothing would."


4. Plan for growth
In building a successful business, plan for growth. He advises that you ensure your company has the ability to grow, and to make more money. Additionally, build in the possibility of getting your family involved in the future. De Bruin has four sons,  of whom two have joined the family business.

 
5. Be the best
"My dad used to tell us, 'Don’t do what you like, but what you do you must like.' Whatever you do, make it your point to like it and become the best at it." He recounts, "I made up my mind, I want to be the best." When he opened his fish shop, he didn't bother being cheaper than his competitors. He didn't even bother much with advertising. And yet, they were so busy, he had to work 20-hour days because they were the best, and that reputation contributed to the venture’s success.

De Bruin says after a while he realised he couldn't work those hours, and he started looking for something else, something with  potencia to grow and expand without taking a heavy toll on his family time. He also cites two specific employees he has encountered in the course of his career who only needed to be given an opportunity to grab it with both hands and become hugely successful - the best at what they did. At times they were seemingly unlikely candidates, with questionable backgrounds, but  proved themselves and worked themselves up from the bottom - and he has never regretted giving them the chance.
 

6. Be emotionally prepared for the tough times
There are going to be tough times, and you as the business owner will have to bear the brunt of it. Not only would you have to pay your employees their salaries before taking home money, you will have to work twice as hard to endure the tough times and emerge successful. There is only one thing you can do: "Work it out and work through it. People are going to disappoint you, but you have to continue to believe in yourself."

 
7. Ask for help
To assist you, surround yourself with positive people and people who can assist you. Your friends, spouse and children must all be with you. "One must never underestimate the role of a support group. I believe in that moral support." He adds that nobody has all the expertise in the world. You must admit to yourself that you too cannot be an expert in all fields, and that you would need to call in other experts at times. "I don’t use consultants, they just repackage what you have already told them. I want the perspective of someone who is outside my environment." De Bruin, with his two sons in the business, says, “We made a formal decision that even between the three of us we don’t know everything. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you need help. "You don’t have to do what they tell you, but at least listen to them. Make use of your contacts"
 

8. Cultivate a good relationship with your financial backers
De Bruin acknowledges that this may be difficult to establish at the outset. His advice is to show your bank manager and investors how you are going to make money. To assist, call in experts to help you tweak your business plan and iron out potential weak spots. "If you have a good story they will buy into that, I do believe," he said. "Once you have their buy-in, keep them in the loop, albeit casually. For your financier to have faith in you is very important. Don’t underestimate their impact on your business. "Remember, you can have the best ship, but without a good captain you would go nowhere."


9. Focus on your relationship with three key groups of people
"There are three groups of people who are the most important for you to achieve success," De Bruin says. The first is your staff. You need them to buy into and work towards your goal - whether you have two employees or more, you need them to work with you as a team. The second group is your suppliers. "The people you buy from must know they must look after you from the outset, they must know that one of these days you are going to be important." The third is your customers. "It is all based on loyalty and honesty. My suppliers know that I will be loyal to them. My customers know I do my best with them, I am honest with them. Similarly, my staff know they must deal honestly - or they will lose their jobs."

 
10. There is no handbook
Each individual has their own unique set of skills, personality, traits and strengths. Ultimately, each entrepreneur needs to figure out their own path. Your product, the economic or political climate, and your personal development at any given time impacts on your journey and only you can whether the given storm.

"Ultimately, success is inherent in you - you must just find a way to bring it out and be thankful to The Lord.," he concluded.


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