BACKSTORY: Klaus Plenge, MD of Tetra Pak Southern Africa
This week we speak to Klaus Plenge, MD of food packaging and processing company Tetra Pak Southern Africa
What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?
Everything starts by understanding the other party’s needs. If they want a deal, they will deal.
What was your first job?
I started working in my home country Peru straight after school and throughout university in our family business — a mining laboratory.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
I really don’t remember the amount, and being a family business it was more about the experience and my dad teaching me life lessons such as saving, than it was about the pay. I used it to start saving towards a surfboard.
What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?
Everybody finds their path in life. It will be the direction which you instinctively know is the right path at the right time and in which you feel comfortable.
If you could fix one thing in South Africa, what would it be?
Getting people to understand that there’s nobody who can “fix” things, but for each person to believe in themselves and add value to everything they do in life. South Africans need to be a little less humble. There are many positive factors relating to South Africa that people seem blind to.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I have a passion for surfing and the ocean. Also, I am a fanatic about planes. In my youth I applied three times to join the air force to become a fighter pilot.
What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?
From a young age I was fascinated by the adrenaline rush of the stock exchange and considered becoming a stockbroker. I’m not sure how well that would have gone because at that time I focused excessively on one stock, an oil exploration company which no longer exists. Unfortunately, I lost my entire investment when they found no oil.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?
My best investment is one for which I have to thank my parents: my education. It is a long-term investment and comes with some short-term pain but offers a return second to none.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently and why did you like it?
There are two books I’m reading. One is The Legacy by James Kerr. It explores the New Zealand All Blacks, their success in rugby and provides 15 lessons in leadership that can be applied to business and life in general. I’m also reading Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson, which provides a new interpretation of history.
What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
My sister was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. Sadly, she died in 2022. There are no guarantees, things can change from one day to the next — so enjoy life and make the most of every day.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?
I have been in South Africa only six months and would not presume to instruct our leaders.
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