A year ago, Joe Lubin seemed like one of the most prescient people on the planet. Cryptocurrencies like ether were in the midst of a hockey-stick ascent, and Lubin, a co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain and one of its most articulate pitchmen, was scheduled to speak at events from Davos to SXSW. At his firm’s “Ethereal Summits,” it was standing room only, with crowds hanging onto his every utterance, no matter how bizarre.
At one event in San Francisco in October 2017, he scolded attendees for hitting their television sets and for being rude to Siri, Apple’s digital assistant. “We designed Ethereum to enable machines and bots to be first-class citizens,” Lubin said with straight-faced sincerity as he espoused visions of decentralization, self-sovereignty and a democratized global society. “So be nice to the machines of this generation, lest some future artificial general intelligence who feels that you have been disrespectful to her ancestors decides to turn your carbon into something more useful to the future machine economy.”
Lubin’s quip drew laughter, but in the autumn of 2017 the idea that blockchain—the distributed database technology underlying virtually all cryptocurrencies—would usher in a new world order didn’t seem far-fetched at all.
The price of a single ether token, a digital representation of money that’s similar to bitcoin, had just pierced $300, up from about $10 at the beginning of 2017.
It was on its way to a peak of $1,389 within the next three months. Forbes would soon name Lubin the second-richest person in crypto, worth as much as $5 billion, based largely on reports that he owned between 5% and 10% of all the ether in circulation, which by the beginning of 2018 had a market value exceeding $100 billion.
“The potential of this technology is just enormous,” Lubin, 54, tells Forbes in a recent interview. “It’s many orders of magnitude more valuable than [where the tokens] are sitting right now, because it’s going to permeate all aspects of society. We’re going to build everything on this technology.”
Back in late 2014, a few months after ether launched via crowdsale at 30 cents per token, Lubin created ConsenSys, a holding company he grandiosely describes as a global “organism” to build the applications and infrastructure for a decentralized world. In actuality, it is the first crypto conglomerate, comprising a network of for-profit companies supporting bitcoin’s biggest blockchain rival, Ethereum. More than 50 businesses were quickly spawned out of its Brooklyn headquarters, ranging from a poker site and a supply-chain company to a prediction market, a healthcare-records firm and a cybersecurity consultancy.
But there were no fundraising rounds or debt offerings. In Lubin’s version of the decentralized future, he is the architect, CEO and central banker, funding all of ConsenSys’ “spokes” from his personal cryptocurrency stash.
Lubin has yet to veer significantly from this master plan, despite serious cracks in its foundation. For one thing, the Ethereum blockchain faces strong headwinds. Thanks to its perceived technical superiority—largely because it allows apps to be “embedded” in the blockchain—Ethereum became the launching pad for hundreds of initial coin offerings (ICOs), many of which in aggregate resulted in billions in losses for their supporters.
The crypto landscape is littered with the carcasses of ill-fated Ethereum-based ICOs, and now the SEC and other regulators are targeting some of them for enforcement action. In November, the SEC settled actions against two Ethereum-based startups, Airfox and Paragon, which had effectively sold $27 million in unregistered securities when they issued their ICOs in 2017.
Both tokens are now basically worthless.
Meanwhile, rival app-supporting blockchains like EOS, which processes nearly ten times as many transactions a day, and Dfinity, which recently raised $102 million from investors such as VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, are challenging Ethereum. But almost all blockchain technologies remain glacially slow. Ethereum can process only about 20 transactions per second. By contrast, Visa can handle 24,000.
Yet Lubin’s organism keeps growing. ConsenSys has 1,200 employees, and some 200 job openings are posted on consensys.net. Though ConsenSys declined to comment, Forbes estimates that almost all of its businesses are in the red, some with little hope of profitability. Lubin’s global organism appears to be burning cash at a rate of more than $100 million a year.
When worried staffers have questioned Lubin about ConsenSys’ sustainability, Lubin has always had a pat reply: “Joe would say, ‘This is definitely not something you need to worry about. We can go on at this pace for a very, very long time,’ ” recalls Carolyn Reckhow, a former director of global operations who left ConsenSys in May.
With the price of ether in free fall, down from $1,389 to barely more than $100 today, Lubin’s fortune may have dwindled to less than $1 billion, calling into question how long he can continue to fund his dream. It all depends on how much ether he sold—and when.
Like Ethereum’s other cofounders, Vitalik Buterin and Anthony Di Iorio, Lubin grew up in Canada. A self-described computer nerd whose father was a dentist and whose mother was a realtor, he attended Princeton in the mid-1980s, where he played squash and was roommates with future billionaire hedge fund star Mike Novogratz, who, like Lubin, would ultimately pivot toward blockchain and crypto. After graduating in 1987 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, Lubin started in tech at Princeton’s robotics lab, but he eventually made his way to finance, building software for Goldman Sachs and later running a successful quant hedge fund.
Lubin’s office was not far from Ground Zero during the September 11 attacks, and the harrowing experience threw him into an existential crisis. Over the ensuing decade he became deeply depressed about the state of the world.
“It was folly to trust all those structures that we implicitly felt had our best interests at heart. … I felt we were living in a global society and economy that was figuratively, literally and morally bankrupt,” he said at ConsenSys’ Ethereal Summit in May 2017.
I was confident that our economy and society were in a slow, cascading collapse.
Lubin foresaw two equally catastrophic outcomes: Central bankers would eventually debase currencies to pay off mounting debts, stifling growth for decades, or some unexpected “nonlinear” event would create great hardships and send the world into the worst economic depression it had ever seen. So distraught was Lubin that he traveled to Peru and Ecuador looking for land he could escape to.
Then in early 2011, Lubin read the bitcoin white paper and had an epiphany: “Decentralization was a game-changer.”
Reading all he could on bitcoin, Lubin was eventually introduced by Di Iorio to Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s then 19-year-old creator and boy genius of crypto. Having read Buterin’s November 2013 Ethereum white paper, Lubin got in on the ground floor of the Ethereum project and attended the group’s foundational meeting in Miami in January 2014.
He continued as part of the core group through Ethereum’s $18 million initial coin offering in July 2014 and was rumored to be one of the biggest buyers during the token’s initial crowdfunding, at prices estimated to be well below a dollar. Ultimately, Ethereum’s founding team bickered and parted ways. Buterin continued to focus on the technology, while Lubin hatched his plan to create a business ecosystem around Ethereum.
For ConsenSys’ headquarters, Lubin chose the hipster-heavy Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. From the outside, 49 Bogart Street looks dingy: The door is covered with the kinds of stickers you’d see in a bar bathroom and is surrounded by graffiti. The interior isn’t all that different. ConsenSys occupies multiple lofts alongside residential apartments.
When it came to organizational structure, Lubin wasn’t having any of the typical corporate hierarchy. His ConsenSys would be a so-called holocracy—no managers or reporting structures. Decision-making would be decentralized, and employees could choose their own titles. Few had permanent desks.
“Every day, it was so lax that I’d walk in and didn’t know if I had a seat. Literally, it was like Game of Thrones,” says Jeff Scott Ward, who joined ConsenSys in June 2015 and left the company in early 2018. There was one toilet for 30 people on the floor, Ward says. The company didn’t hire a human resources person for almost a year and a half. ConsenSys’ first projects, or spokes, included accounting software for cryptocurrency transactions and a blockchain-based digital-rights platform for musicians. Most of the ideas for spokes came from ConsenSys employees, and once a project was approved, Lubin would give the startup between $250,000 and $500,000 to get it off the ground.
The goal was for the spokes to become self-sustaining businesses, and in an effort to foster this, they would occasionally be spun out into their own legal entities. Lubin’s broader goal is to turn his Ethereum ecosystem into a what he calls a mesh, whose strength is derived from the spokes’ inter-connectivity.
Only a handful of the spokes ConsenSys has launched have gained traction. Balanc3, the accounting software project, says it has more than 25 business customers (though it won’t specify any), each paying at least $25,000 a year. Another, Kaleido, helps companies implement blockchain technology. It has 1,900 users and says it just began charging for its services. Amazon Web Services recently announced that its ubiquitous hosting platform is compatible with Kaleido’s blockchain offerings. ConsenSys has built technical tools for Ethereum that programmers have downloaded millions of times, but the company doesn’t charge for them.
Lubin has been less rigorous than traditional venture capitalists in approving projects. “Joe is the kind of person who tends to want to keep his options open and say ‘Yes, why not?,’ ” says Reckhow, who’s now head of client services and operations at Casa, a crypto-wallet company. “He’s lucky to be in a position where that works well, but he’s not as good at prioritizing. He’d rather say yes to everything.”
Being the Daddy Warbucks of the Ethereum blockchain is fine when digital money is trading at stratospheric levels, but as cryptocurrency enters another bear market, Lubin, who admits to periodically selling crypto to fund operations, may need to start pulling some plugs.
In 2017, Mark Beylin, a student at the University of Waterloo in Canada, came to Lubin with the idea for Bounties Network, a marketplace for freelance jobs that’s similar to the popular website Upwork but uses Ethereum’s smart-contract technology, which helps with billing. After one year in operation, Bounties Network has seven people working on it and just $400,000 in total “bounties,” or offers for jobs, which range from $171 for an 800-word blog post on the future of work to $67.30 in exchange for translating a white paper into Portuguese. Bounties Network has generated revenues of less than $50,000 so far.
In October 2016, Jared Pereira, an 18-year-old high school graduate living in Dubai, pitched Lubin on Fathom, which aims to somehow disrupt the higher-education business by crowdsourcing academic evaluations and grading. Lubin gave the go-ahead, but two years later the project has six people working on it and no launchable prototype. Its website is nothing more than a few pages stating high-minded ideals: “If individuals were free to build their experiences tailored to their unique aims, and were able to communicate those experiences reliably to any entity in the world, there would be an order of magnitude shift in the efficacy of social organization at every scale.”
Other projects that have been staked by Lubin seem even flakier. Cellarius, a spoke that Lubin often promotes by wearing an eponymous T-shirt, is a “transmedia cyberpunk franchise” aimed at collaborative storytelling on the blockchain. What exactly is collaborative storytelling, and why will the blockchain make it better or more profitable? Its website’s explanation is far from clear.
Lubin insists ConsenSys is getting more selective in picking projects. But old habits die hard. In October it bought a nine-year-old asteroid-mining company called Planetary Resources. “We see it as a group of amazingly capable people who are interested in exploring how blockchain could ramify on space operations,” Lubin says abstrusely. Civil, a spoke that aims to put journalism on the blockchain and is supposed to somehow increase the level of trust in news, recently had to cancel its ICO because it failed to raise
ConsenSys also offers consulting services, essentially assisting companies in becoming blockchain-literate. To date, this is the best business ConsenSys has. In the short run, these services will succeed—until companies wake up and realize that blockchain isn’t necessarily better for most things and is sometimes worse than other technologies. ConsenSys consultants helped create
In the past year, ConsenSys’ consulting arm has grown from 30 employees to more than 250 and, according to Lubin, is bringing in “tens of millions of dollars” in the form of cash and equity stakes. As for ConsenSys’ spokes, which are mostly applications and developer tools, Forbes estimates the whole lot of them won’t generate more than $10 million in revenues in 2018.
So far, ConsenSys’ biggest non-consulting successes are its tools for Ethereum programmers. Its MetaMask product, which lets users log in to Ethereum from a Web browser, has more than one million downloads (all of them gratis). Truffle, which helps developers manage and test parts of their code for building Ethereum applications, has also cleared one million free downloads. It can be difficult to charge real money for these tools because of the communal, quasi-anarchist nature of the blockchain developer community. ConsenSys claims it will soon start charging for Infura, another tool that facilitates access to Ethereum.
“ConsenSys has done more for the Ethereum ecosystem in its first five years of development than any other firm,” says Meltem Demirors, chief strategy officer at CoinShares, a crypto-asset-management company.
None of this seems to phase Lubin, who is clearly not launching projects to make profits. “The intention isn’t to create companies and send them out and make money,” he says. “The intention is to create an ecosystem. It really is very family-like.” However, Lubin also acknowledges that changes are in order and recently sent a memo to his staff about becoming leaner and more focused. “In ConsenSys 2.0,” Lubin says, “we’ll pay more attention” to the market-based hurdles that traditional startups have to clear. And he’s not ruling out layoffs—even in its consulting business.
The biggest problems at ConsenSys may have less to do with plunging crypto prices and Lubin’s dwindling fortune than with his conglomerate’s weird operating structure.
ConsenSys would like to believe that it’s reinventing the future of work and business. As you enter ConsenSys’ hacker-chic Brooklyn digs, there are lots of antiestablishment touches, including a large banner on the wall that reads, “Welcome to the decentralized future.”
In fact, CEO Lubin tries not to tell people what to do. “He wants to be like the anti-CEO or the anti-founder,” says Jeff Scott Ward, a former employee who thinks this is partly because Lubin is a nice guy who wants to be democratic.
But there are some not-so-nice consequences of having Mr. Nice Guy in charge. At ConsenSys, there’s less incentive to meet deadlines and make fast progress. “In a lot of ways, there still isn’t pressure to generate revenue or hit targets that normally Silicon Valley VCs and businesses would be looking for,” says Griffin Anderson, who leads the Balanc3 spoke. One Glassdoor commenter describes ConsenSys as a place with “unlimited funding and no pressure to actually deliver anything.”
The lack of traditional structure has also spawned ugly politics. “It feels a little like Survivor,” says Lucas Cullen, a former employee. ConsenSys staffers who are close to Lubin get faster access to resources, says a former employee, and accountability varies widely from team to team.
ConsenSys does have Resource Allocation Committees, which are charged with deciding whether spokes will continue to receive additional engineers or funding. But the committees are in a constant state of flux. “There’s always one person from finance, but they’re generally made up of people who have an interest in your area,” says Thomas Hill, a cofounder of Truset, a ConsenSys spoke that’s building a crowdsourced business data platform. “Anyone can sign up for an RAC.”
According to Ward, who spent three years at ConsenSys, “There were too many cooks in the kitchen. It was like, Whose ego is the strongest? It was exhausting,” he says. UPort, a tool aimed at letting users log in to Ethereum applications, had three project managers, who couldn’t align on a single vision. Today there are just 15 applications using UPort, and the project is splitting in two.
Many describe ConsenSys’ culture as chaotic, and the company seems to have trouble keeping track of its projects. ConsenSys’ homepage says it has “50+ spoke companies,” but during the reporting of this story, the number ranged from “more than 30” to, most recently, 42. It’s a “fluid number,” says a company spokesperson.
Lubin acknowledges some of these difficulties. “[Accountability] has been an issue at ConsenSys,” he says. “We’ve been working to put in place various mechanisms to make it clearer who’s responsible for what and to ensure crisp accountability.”
But he also cites real benefits to his mesh architecture. Projects are collaborative, and silos are easily breached. Employees report that there is little stigma attached to questioning others’ assumptions. And some insiders report feeling empowered by the autonomy—especially the opportunity to move laterally among projects.
According to Hill, the Truset cofounder, “ConsenSys will end up in the Harvard Business Review as a case study, either as a lesson on how you change corporate organizational structure or as a disaster.”
If there is a paradox in Lubin’s quest to reinvent business for the coming age of decentralization, it’s that ConsenSys is actually much more centralized than Lubin would like to admit.
When ConsenSys spokes have spun out and become separate businesses, for example, Lubin has retained ownership of 50% or more. Thus, like John Pierpont Morgan and Andrew Carnegie during America’s Gilded Age and tech magnates Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg of the internet age, Lubin is setting himself up to become one of the controlling titans of the blockchain era.“This is where the whole mesh-and-decentralization thing falls apart,” Ward says. “It was never clear who had what stake.” In the case of Grid+, one of the projects ConsenSys spun out through an ICO, Forbesestimates that Lubin walked away with no less than 20% of its tokens, in addition to half of its equity.
“I don’t think they even have the slightest idea what decentralization is,” says Demirors of CoinShares.
And the issue of sharing ConsenSys’ equity among its 1,200 employees has become a running joke. Former employees report that for a long time Lubin was evasive and the plan was always “six weeks away,” if you asked him. In fact, the first set of 100 employees or so received their equity in early 2017, and nearly two years later, ConsenSys says, it’s still working on a plan to give its larger workforce a stake in the company.
Lubin doesn’t think ConsenSys’ structure presents contradictions. “If you can build a system that serves many people and they’re all delighted with the system, then the originating structure doesn’t necessarily have to be equally owned by lots of people,” he says, in a response that could have just as easily been uttered by Zuckerberg on the eve of Facebook’s lopsided public offering.
In 2017 ConsenSys was able to use ICOs as an easy and lucrative way to spin companies out and reward internal staff. But now that the SEC is cracking down on ICOs, that window is much smaller. “As we look to make more external investments, there are specific deals where we need to map to a traditional VC model,” says Ron Garrett, head of ConsenSys Labs, the division responsible for deciding which projects become spokes. “In those deals, we’ll take less equity.” He adds that other startup incubators like Betaworks are known to take -majority stakes in the companies they incubate. So much for democratization and decentralization.
For now, Joe Lubin’s grand experiment in the future of business is racing against a clock:
Will blockchain applications achieve mainstream success before Lubin’s largesse is exhausted?
Even the most successful applications on Ethereum have tiny user bases. The most widely used application is a decentralized exchange for trading crypto called IDEX, which is unaffiliated with ConsenSys. After more than a year in operation, it has a pitiful 1,000 daily users. “We knew that it was going to be a lot of work and take a long time before you enable massive evolution on a planetary scale,” Lubin says.
If Lubin is still a billionaire, he may be able to sustain ConsenSys for several years—even at its $100 million-plus annual burn rate. “As it stands, ConsenSys is stable and healthy,” he insists.
At what point will Lubin throw in the towel? “I have no exit plan, and I’ve never had an exit strategy for anything I’ve done,” he says from ConsenSys’ San Francisco offices, where he just hosted a “demo day” for 16 startups eager to join his bankroll. “I’m all in.”
- Reach Jeff Kauflin at [email protected] and Sarah Hansen at [email protected] Cover image by Filip Peraić.
- This story appears in the December 31, 2018 issue of Forbes.
Highest-Paid Country Acts 2019: Lil Nas X Debuts; Luke Bryan Tops List
The Country Music Awards are billed as Nashville’s biggest night, but this year’s event buried the genre’s most significant breakthrough of the past 12 months, offering up just one nomination for 20-year-old musician Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the singles charts.
That run helped Lil Nas X notch a different honor, debuting on the Forbes list of top-earning country acts this year with an estimated pretax income of $14 million. The Atlanta native claims the No. 18 spot thanks to the fiendishly catchy country-rap track he released through indie music service Amuse in December 2018. The song clocked 1.8 billion spins by summer despite being booted from the Billboard country charts. The snub—and a bevy of remixes—helped “Old Town Road” broaden the genre’s audience more than any track in recent memory.
“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” says Amuse cofounder Diego Farias. “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”
Lil Nas X isn’t the only high earner to come up short at the awards ceremony: Luke Bryan claims the top spot on our list for the second consecutive year with $42.5 million but didn’t receive a single nomination. That’s mostly because the Georgia native, who favors baseball caps over cowboy hats, hasn’t put out a new studio album since 2017. Instead, he spent his time grossing more than $1 million per tour stop and serving as a judge on American Idol.
The genre-bending Zac Brown Band ranks second, pulling in $38.5 million on the strength of 50 live performances and a new album, The Owl, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Other crossover acts on the list include Canadian songstress Shania Twain (No. 7 with $29 million) and hip-hop-tinged duo Florida Georgia Line (No. 8 with $26 million).
“Country’s more of a lifestyle,” the group’s cofounder Brian Kelley told Forbes in 2015. “The music’s always going to evolve.”
“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself. Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”
Plenty of the CMAs’ stars did make our list, including performers Eric Church (No. 6, $30 million) and Miranda Lambert (No. 20, $13 million), as well as two of the hosts—Dolly Parton (No. 15, $17 million) and Carrie Underwood (No. 14, $16 million). A third host, Reba McEntire, narrowly missed the cut.
Overall, the top ten acts in country earned $311.5 million, up 2% from last year’s $304.5 million. Our list of the genre’s top earners measures estimated pretax earnings from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Figures are generated with the help of numbers from Nielsen Music, PollstarPro and interviews with industry insiders.
Although our rankings typically reflect country’s woeful lack of diversity at the top, this year’s list offers at least a glimmer of hope that things are changing. There are 6 women in the top 20—the least lopsided ratio in the seven years Forbes has published the list—and Lil Nas X is both the first openly gay act and the first person of color to make it.
Though he declined to comment for this story through a representative, Lil Nas X is clearly taking his role as a trailblazer seriously, regardless of how much CMA hardware he takes home. As he told the BBC earlier this year: “I feel like [I’m] opening doors for more people.”
20. Miranda Lambert, $13 million (tie)
20. Lady Antebellum, $13 million (tie)
19. Rascal Flatts, $13.5 million
18. Lil Nas X, $14 million
17. Faith Hill, $15 million
16. Carrie Underwood, $16 million
15. Dolly Parton, $17 million
14. George Strait, $17.5 million
13. Tim McGraw, $18 million
12. Dierks Bentley, $20 million
11. Toby Keith, $21 million
10. Jason Aldean, $23.5 million
9. Garth Brooks, $24 million
8. Florida Georgia Line, $26 million
7. Shania Twain, $29 million
6. Eric Church, $30 million
5. Kenny Chesney, $31 million
4. Blake Shelton, $32 million
3. Keith Urban, $35 million
2. Zac Brown Band, $38.5 million
1. Luke Bryan, $42.5 million
– Zack O’Malley Greenburg
Analysis: The Values That Make A CEO
As part of FORBES AFRICA’s ongoing eighth anniversary celebrations, we present a CEO Rhetorical Analysis by Harvard University Extension School student, Anahita Negarandeh, on FORBES AFRICA’s founder and publisher, Rakesh Wahi. The CEO Rhetorical Analysis researches and analyzes the rhetoric — the effective messaging or speech — of a CEO and global business leader. The values chosen to explore in the CEO’s rhetoric are a key part of this article.
This rhetorical analysis examines the messaging of Rakesh Wahi, Founder of CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA. By consulting with approximately 10 executives from Wahi’s global team, this rhetoric examines four of his leadership values such as courage and determination, collaboration, passion for education, and equality.
Courage and determination
Wahi is a well-respected global businessman based in Dubai and South Africa who has been involved with approximately 20 corporate development projects. He continues to grow his establishments in more than 25 offices around the world. As a leader in media, IT, telecoms, and education, Wahi has built companies in 22 countries, employing over 1,000 employees. Prior to moving to the UAE, Wahi served in the Indian Armed Forces for approximately nine years and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India in 1985 for distinguished services to the country in peacetime. During his army service, at age 23, he was part of India’s second base establishment in Antarctica where a near-death experience changed his life.
“But I realized at that age that life is not something you take for granted, therefore, whatever you want in this world, you have to set out to achieve it. At the end of the day, you are either there or not there; if you are not there, and if there are unfulfilled dreams, they will always be unfulfilled.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: 5 Minutes With Rakesh Wahi
Wahi’s executive team members, who have known him for approximately 20-30 years, believe this statement. Based on four personal interviews conducted for the purpose of this analysis with Wahi’s global leadership team, Wahi “lives this statement in his everyday life” (Martin). Many acknowledged that he is continuously determined to fulfil his dreams. Lars Jeppesen, Wahi’s Co-Founder of Tech One Global, states that “Wahi dreams and then puts all efforts to pursue the dreams… he is still building universities, creating new businesses, and pursues his dreams” (Jeppesen). Wahi is known to thrive on challenges and never gives up on achieving his goals even when faced with obstacles and challenges.
A leader’s personal life experiences and adversities play a major role in one’s values and ethics. In Wahi’s case, facing death at a young age motivated him to pursue his dreams to become realities. This is an admirable value for entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation. As a role model, Wahi teaches them to never give up despite challenges.
Collaboration & Importance of People
Wahi has learned valuable business lessons from his experience in the army, most importantly, the core lesson taught in the military about the importance of people and looking after them. His 2016 autobiography, Be a Lion, dedicated a section to The Importance of People. Books have had a great impact on Wahi, specifically the philosophy of reason from Ayn Rand while he was fighting for his life from the military life-threatening incident. As an advocate in the influence of others, he reiterates in his book, “That it is difficult to achieve anything without the involvement, commitment, loyalty, and assistance of others. When you come across a person with whom you can see a future, you must grasp the opportunity and mutually make the most of it.” (Wahi Ch. 1, location 173, par. 4)
Wahi executes his philosophy in numerous examples throughout his career, especially one with Daniel Adkins who is now CEO of Wahi’s Transnational Academic Group Middle East. When asked to describe a situation reflecting Wahi’s collaboration with and valuing people, this quality has directly been experienced, Adkins states, “I am probably the best possible example of this philosophy.” (Adkins). He describes his hiring experience entering the organization in late 2009 and rise from the most entry level position at one of Wahi’s Dubai-based universities, Murdoch University, to now CEO for the Middle East operations.
“Throughout this entire process, Wahi has provided both direct mentorship and mentorship by example and has made sure that I did the same for my entire team, which has produced fantastic organisational results including no turnover with regret for six years.” (Adkins)
READ MORE: The Most Defining Aspects Of Our Lives
As stated in Lancaster University Ghana’s Senior Management biography, Wahi’s “core focus is on long term corporate and leadership development through building strong management teams”. Adkins reiterates this statement in an interview: “Wahi absolutely lives this philosophy and demands it from his entire management team… the people are the business and there is nothing more important” (Adkins).
Wahi is known to have a special gift and skill to find loyal people and never hesitates to show appreciation to people’s loyalty. Wahi learned this quality from his role model parents, a father who was a military, corporate, and family hero and a mother who was not only Mother Teresa’s friend, but a genuine giver in life. In other words, Wahi is a “go back to your roots leader” (Al Abadilah). Wahi was brought up in a giving family and now gives back as a leader. Because of the people-oriented philosophies followed in his organizations, employee turnaround rates are phenomenally low. Everyone is treated like family and the principles presented in Ken Blanchard’s book, Gung-Ho!, are lived by management.
Wahi’s philosophy about collaboration and importance of people is truly refreshing in a CEO and business leader. In today’s individualistic world, leaders like Wahi who dedicate a major part of their leadership role to importance of people is a rare finding. Such values must be celebrated and promoted in all aspects of business worldwide.
Passion for education
As a sought-after speaker at educational institutions on leadership and entrepreneurship, Wahi received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science from the International University of Management by the Minister of Education of Namibia. He was also appointed as an IATF2018 Goodwill Ambassador by The Trade Finance for Africa. He personally learned and continuously teaches patience to other entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi,about his book Be a Lion, Wahi shares he is “extremely passionate about education”. His vision is to set up educational centers of excellence across Africa incorporating new innovative industries such as online and hybrid aspects of education with traditional classroom environment. He has mentored many people in his leadership journey, but believes mentorship benefits both parties as he states in an interview with CNBC Africa: “Within a group, you always learn from each other. Mentorship is not a one-way journey, you learn every day from your peers, subordinates, seniors… If you are a student, you will remain a student all your life. You must be like a sponge, no matter your age.” (Wahi)
According to Adkins and Martin, executive partners at Wahi’s educational business sectors, Wahi lives his statement daily. Not only does he mentor his staff, he also learns from those on his team whether they are junior level or senior. Wahi has created a business culture amongst all sectors in a way that everyone learns from one another.
“There is no rank in the discussion. It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration and we have made company-altering decisions based on input received from junior team members when those ideas turned out to be the best… It is absolutely the culture.” (Adkins)
Jeppesen, now Co-Founder of a tech enterprise with Wahi, states in an interview, “Wahi has been my mentor since we met 17 years back… Later, when we co-founded Tech One Global, he was leading our board and mentored me personally as the CEO.” (Jeppesen).
The culture of learning and mentorship from one another has saved the business in an example of a termination deal of one of Dubai’s university partnerships with a junior member of the team’s approach. This is proof that critical decisions are made, as a group despite rank levels. An important aspect of Wahi’s work is helping the leadership team rise to the next level.
Wahi’s decision to launch FORBES WOMAN AFRICA was to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs’ stories and the overwhelming waitlist of these stories in FORBES AFRICA.
“The main reason was that as a startup magazine, FORBES AFRICA was overwhelmed with a waiting list of stories from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by virtue of women having a late head start in the business world, the stories were largely dominated by men who had done great things to transform Africa.” (Wahi)
In a short period of time, the magazine has risen to be the material of choice for inspirational women stories, with fantastic content being produced. Equality is discussed in an article by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Celebrating Five Years with The Founder and Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.
“We have discussed the trials and tribulations of women in the workplace and become a champion for equality. The word ‘equality’ is a living value for us at the ABN Group and I am so proud that we have been able to personify our values through affirmative action.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: Equality As A Living Value
According to a partner of over 35 years, Rajiv Podar, “Wahi has always respected and admired hard-working women and a firm believer of equality at workplace and home… Most of his senior colleagues are women too” (Podar). In an example from a former female executive at one of Wahi’s first ventures 20 years ago in Dubai, Maha Al Abadilah discusses the value of equality she experienced as a woman working with Wahi. “I have never experienced anything that distinguished a man and a woman, nothing but full respect and treating us with our pure qualifications and titles.” (Al Abadilah.14:19).
Wahi repeatedly demonstrates his firm belief in his statements amongst his team members. When a decision is to be made for an important matter, all team members discuss as equals. “It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration.” (Adkins). Evidently, not only the value of equality is present within his ABN Group amongst women in the workplace, but also amongst all employees. Gender and rank are clearly not considered in any team discussions and decisions.
Wahi’s leadership approach and personality embodies unique values such as a life-changing incident, the collaboration and importance of people, a passion for education, and equality. As he was personally approached for research purposes of this analysis, he promptly welcomed connections with over 10 executives and partners of his global team who were all eager to help. Research results and personal interviews with warm responses from his team members and partners portray all qualities examined in this analysis positively. Wahi lives his statements and is a true people-oriented leader.
Adkins, Daniel. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Africa, Forbes Woman. “Celebrating Five Years With The Founder & Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.” Forbes Africa, 27 Sept. 2018, www.forbesafrica.com/woman/2018/09/27/celebrating-five-years-with-the-founder-publisher-rakesh-wahi/.
Al Abadilah, Maha. “Phone Interview, Rakesh Wahi Analysis” Voice recorder. 18 Dec. 2018.
Bandyopadhyay, Somshankar. “Military Lessons in Entrepreneurship.” GulfNews, 15 Mar. 2017, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/military-lessons-in-entrepreneurship-1.1994221.
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CNBC Africa. “Rakesh Wahi Reflects on CNBC Africa’s Decade of Broadcasting.” CNBC Africa, CNBC Africa, 1 June 2017, www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2017/06/01/rakesh-wahi-reflects-on-cnbc-africas-decade-of-broadcasting/.
CNBC Africa. “The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi.” CNBC Africa, 4 Nov. 2016, www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2016/11/04/be-a-lion/.
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Lancaster University Ghana. “Rakesh Wahi Chairman.” Lancaster University Ghana, www.lancaster.edu.gh/our-faculty-details.php?id=45. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.
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Naicker, Roberta. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Podar, Rajiv. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Vettath, Malavika. “Global Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi: ‘I’ve Been a Very Bad Personal Investor’.” The National, The National, 25 May 2018, www.thenational.ae/business/money/global-entrepreneur-rakesh-wahi-i-ve-been-a-very-bad-personal-investor-1.733606.
Wahi, Rakesh. Be A Lion. Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle eBook file.
Wahi, Rakesh. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning
Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan
By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.
South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.
The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.
Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.
Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.
Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.
My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.
I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.
Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.
We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.
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