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The Buffett Of Southern Seas

Francois Kuttel is the son of a lawyer turned fisherman. He quotes Warren Buffet and surrounds himself with clever people.

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As the recipient of a prestigious fishing award, the chief executive officer of the biggest fishing enterprise in South Africa and the driving force behind the leading canned pilchards brand in South Africa, Francois Kuttel is surely deserving of some accolades.

Recently, Oceana Group Limited, of which Kuttel is CEO, was rated the second most empowered company in South Africa.

Kuttel is inspired by Warren Buffett, arguably the greatest investor in the 20th century, and the CEO and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway.

His ability to embrace some ‘Buffettisms’ might have contributed to Kuttel’s rise from virtual obscurity to the CEO of a big company.

Buffett’s emphasis on value addition, knowing his product and investing in people has had a major influence on Kuttle.

The American billionaire says that nobody should invest in a business they do not understand.

“Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down,” says Buffett.

He also claims that it’s better to hang out with people better than you.

“Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction,” he said.

Kuttel’s insight into the truths of these ‘Buffettisms’ contributed to his ability to transform Oceana into an industry-leader.

Kuttel’s father, popularly known as Padda Kuttel, left a career as a lawyer to pursue the fishing industry. He purchased a wooden boat and a fishing rod in the early 1960s and started Atlantic Fishing, which became one of South Africa’s most successful fishing industries in the 1980s.

When his family immigrated to the United States, Kuttel was ready to assist his father with an Alaskan fishing venture.

But his father insisted that he attend the University of San Diego to complete his Bachelor of Accountancy degree.

For several years, Kuttel worked in Alaska with the family business, until he took over operations with his brother.

Now well versed in all areas of the fishing industry, including fishing, steering trawlers and processing and packaging, Kuttel returned to South Africa in 1995 to become the managing director of the family-owned businesses Namsea and Namfish.

When the businesses were sold in 2002, he worked extensively with his brother in the United States and commuted between there and South Africa.

His wife, Kimberley, was not keen to move permanently to the United States, so he moved back to South Africa and took up the position of CEO at Irvin and Johnson (I&J) before he became CEO of Oceana in 2009.

Because of Kuttel’s intimate understanding of the fishing industry, he could easily invest time, energy and money into it—true to the ‘Buffettism’ of knowing your investment.

He joined Oceana six months after they had posted a headline increase of just under 60%. The challenge was to keep growing performance, top and bottom.

Kuttel’s ability to aggressively market and grow the Lucky Star brand, was key to the growth.

At the end of 2012, Oceana, with a 65% canned fish market share, mainly through Lucky Star, had its catch quota increased by 10,000 metric tons to 120,000 tons in South Africa. It imports fish from Morocco, Thailand, the United States and Japan.

Sourcing the raw material from these countries allowed Oceana to grow the market substantially. Already the biggest seller of canned fish in South Africa, the company had a 33% jump in full-year earnings at the end of 2012.

Its net income increased from $33.4 million to $44.5 million a year earlier.

Kuttel, again quoting Buffett, says that when you want to grow a product, you must ensure that the fundamentals of good business are in place. Yet, you have to look at the undervalued investments that have scope for improved performances, and unlock that value.

In June, Oceana announced the acquisition of Foodcorp’s fishing rights, which could give the group the resources it needs to increase its presence in Africa. The Foodcorp deal will enable Oceana to lift its total allowable catch (TAC) in pilchard from 14.3% to 25.6%.

This gain was critical for Lucky Star, with Kuttel noting Oceana recently needed to import as much as 65% of its pilchard stock for the canned fish business. Oceana also increased the TAC for anchovy from 16.8% to 24.7% and hake from 4% to 8.8%.

Kuttle was the recent recipient of the Fishing News International’s 2013 Person of the Year award. It was recognition of his business philosophy of investing in people and being pro-active in sea life management.

As chairman of the Responsible Fisheries Alliance, he has played a part in pioneering a successful program to reduce bird fatalities.

When Oceana closed a plant at Lamberts Bay, on South Africa’s west coast, they did not entrench workers, but looked to create economic opportunities for them. They established a French fry facility that could employ more people than the fish processing facility did.

In Lamberts Bay, Oceana doubled its spend on the skills development of black employees from $600,000 in 2010 to more than $1.3 million in 2011, while spend on suppliers, with a turnover below $3.5 million, increased from $17.5 million in 2010 to $42.4 million in 2011.

Kuttel says Oceana has created a very successful empowerment trust.

“All our black employees are beneficiaries of that trust and it could possibly be in excess of R700 million ($70 million) in terms of accrued capital value when that trust unwinds.”

A staunch advocate of investing in people, Kuttel believes this is one of the keys to Oceana’s success.

“I believe if I surround myself with clever people, I look clever,” he says.

Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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