Without a doubt, says Christo Botes, Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) executive director, who has spent a the recent few weeks in discussions with many of the more than 50 business owners who had won Sanlam / Business Partners’ Entrepreneur of the Year® awards over the last few decades.
Despite all the difficult circumstances that can easily make an entrepreneur miserable in South Africa, the overwhelming attitude that Botes found among the Entrepreneur of the Year® alumni is a positive, can-do approach of finding solutions around the problems.
To be sure, they are very vocal about what is wrong with our entrepreneurial environment: the challenges in the education sector, the power cuts, labour unrest, the culture of entitlement plaguing the youth, insufficient infrastructure, red tape and the cost of compliance.
But the most striking thing about these leading entrepreneurs, most of whom are owner-managers who have started small and have built up thriving businesses, is how they manage to point out solutions, not only with what they say, but also by what they do.
Botes says the number and scale of initiatives to build good worker-manager relations in these businesses are striking. He found internships, education and training incentives, value-based training programmes and employee participation schemes the order of the day in many of the businesses.
In doing so, South African entrepreneurs are helping to solve several deep-rooted societal problems.
The bad industrial relations so prevalent in large businesses in South Africa today are largely absent from these businesses where workers feel nurtured.
The education and training that the workers receive in these small, intimate workplaces go some way towards bridging the educational deficit caused by the dysfunction in the South African schooling system.
And businesses with value-based training programmes also manage to counter, to a certain extent, the culture of entitlement and low work-ethic that seems to have gripped many young South Africans.
Some businesses even manage to foster and encourage a culture of entrepreneurship by nurturing so-called “intrapreneurs” – workers who act and think entrepreneurially.
Botes says the perception that our educational system and general cultural discourse do not foster entrepreneurial thinking is very real. Even here, the leading entrepreneurs are making a difference by mentoring other, younger businesses. The direct aim may be to outsource non-core business, to build strong alliances and efficient supply chains or to score enterprise development points, but the effect is that entrepreneurs themselves are working towards encouraging entrepreneurship around them.
Botessaid he found that the business owners were quick to give credit when things do go right. For example, a surprising number of them make use of one or more of the Department of Trade and Industry’s 26 incentive programs for businesses. Several entrepreneurs described the DTI as much more accessible and efficient than it used to be.
On the other hand, more than one entrepreneur pointed out inefficiencies at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) which are holding up the accreditation of products and services.
Even though South Africa’s slow growth rate is painful for the entrepreneurs, many are excited about the fast economic growth north of our border. Some already operate there, and others have advanced plans to extend into the rest of Africa.
Botes found no shortage of ideas among the entrepreneurs on how South Africa can boost its stagnant rates of entrepreneurship. Some felt that a decrease in production taxes (companies tax and income tax) and an increase in consumption tax (VAT) would go a long way to boost economic activity and grow the economy.