How A South African Farm Boy Built A Famous Multi-Billion Dollar Conglomerate
Every entrepreneur is on a unique journey to serve a unique set of customers with solutions to their problems. And for this to be effective, they need to appeal to the customer’s emotions, deliver great value, and iterate innovatively to stay competitive in the market.
An example of such an entrepreneur is Koos Bekker, the Chairman of Naspers, who has not just proven himself to be a great innovator in the business landscape but has consistently built successful organisations like MultiChoice (DSTV & GOTV), MTN, and a host of other renowned organisations.
This is the success story of Koos Bekker, and here’s how he did it:
Early Life And Education Of Koos Bekker
Jacobus Petrus “Koos” Bekker was born on December 14th, 1952, in Potchefstroom, North West Province, South Africa. He got his early education from Hoër Volkskool Heidelberg and had his first degree from Stellenbosch University in Law and Literature. Which was subsequently followed by a second degree at Wits University in Law.
After a few years in advertising, he got an MBA degree at Columbia Business School, graduating in 1984
Koos Bekker is married to Karen Roos Bekker.
Koos Bekker grew up on a farm and attributes part of his success in business to his training as a farm boy. He says that his upbringing prepared him for his business life because the job he does is very close to farming.
In farming, he said, “you have an element of interference, you plant the seed, then you have an element of nature, it rains, you get yield. Similarly, in business, you do certain things and the environment throws certain issues at you and you try to solve them”
Journey To Entrepreneurship
After a few years in advertising, Koos Bekker studied for an MBA degree at the Columbia Business School, graduating in 1984.
During his stay in Columbia, he was intrigued by the cable network, which operated in the US at the time. This network was practically nonexistent in his homeland of South Africa and began to picture the possibility of launching a cable network in his home country.
So he worked on this problem as a project paper and as a result of the project, he and some of his young colleagues founded one of the first pay-television services outside the US.
Evolution Of Naspers
He founded Mnet in 1984 and then properly launched it in 1986. The station aired its shows between 5 pm and 7 pm daily as at the time it was launched and progressed from there.
In 1993, 9 years after its launch, Mnet was split into two parts, one of which was ‘Multichoice’, a cable TV company that offered satellite TV services across Sub-Saharan Africa. It owns DSTV, Showmax, and GOTV.
In the year 1994, Nasionale Pers, which was a Dutch newspaper company created in South Africa, in 1915, was listed in Johannesburg stock exchange.
This took the company public and made it attractive to potential investors. By the year 1997, Koos Bekker was appointed CEO and the name was changed to its current name, ‘Naspers’, in 1998, which marked the rebirth of the company.
While Koos Bekker was the CEO of Naspers, the Naspers market capitalization rose from about $1.2 billion to $45 billion. He was CEO for fifteen years, however, throughout the fifteen years, he received no remuneration in the form of salaries or bonuses. He was paid via stocks.
Although he was paid in this mode, he does not recommend it for everyone.
“I don’t recommend it to everyone because it is high risk” Koos Bekker said in an interview.
The Start Of MTN
In time, the company got involved in the telecommunications sector.
After research in 1991, an executive of Naspers returned from the United States and told Koos Bekker “You know there’s something you can put in the boot of your car and you can make cell phone calls to your secretary, this is wonderful stuff!” and that was how MTN was born.
MTN was launched in 1994 after the company had carried out research on the technology behind cellular communications. Koos Bekker said all their prior feasibility studies the company carried out didn’t provide enough information for the inflow of the market and they apparently underestimated the expected number of subscribers.
300,000 subscribers were anticipated as an initial estimate. However, the total number of subscribers greatly surpassed it and ran into millions.
The Start Of MWeb & Other Investments
In 1997, Koos Bekker was appointed CEO and moved for the founding of ‘MWeb’, which became South Africa’s second-largest internet provider with over 320,000 customers.
Four years later in the year 2001, Koos Bekker made another profitable business move for the company and invested in Tencent, the world’s largest video game company, a technology company and social media company, based in Shenzhen, China.
In 2008, Naspers went ahead and acquired Allegro, a big online retail store founded in Poznan, Poland and entered the ‘Business to Customer’ business segment. Then they went ahead and purchased OLX in 2010. A Netherlands based online marketplace that sells and buys goods and services ranging from electronic items to cars, to fashion, furniture, etc.
Under Koos Bekker’s leadership, Naspers has investments in pay television, mobile telephony and various internet services. Geographically the group spans Europe, Africa, Latin America, China, India, Russia and various other countries.
Tencent provides consumer services, focusing on instant messaging, online games (such as League of Legends), video, and entertainment portals which continue to grow.”
Tencent now generates the fourth largest revenue stream of internet companies worldwide.
As of 30 June 2016, MTN recorded 232.6 million subscribers, making it the eighth largest mobile network operator in the world and the largest in Africa.
Awards And Recognition
- World Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame | World Entrepreneur Awards
- Best Entrepreneur (South Africa) | Ernst & Young/Rand Merchant Bank
- Lifetime Achievement Award | Business Times
- He has been a member of the board of the University of Stellenbosch since the year 2000 up till now
To Sum It Up
Having vision, knowing how to execute it, and consistently doing it over and over again is key to building great companies.
Koos Bekker is a great example of this model and is a symbol of inspiration of billions of people around the world to know that their dreams are valid only if they acquire the right knowledge, surround themselves with great minds, put in the work, and consistently persevere no matter what.