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Steve Mallaby, CEO of adumo Payouts. Picture: Supplied
Steve Mallaby, CEO of adumo Payouts. Picture: Supplied

What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?

Every deal has its limits and you should know upfront when you are prepared to walk away. Too often people get caught up in chasing a deal and lose sight of when to call it quits, as they get emotionally invested.

What was your first job?

After completing my compulsory national service, I joined one of the big four banks as an admin clerk. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I wouldn’t last very long in a big bureaucratic corporate environment that didn’t embrace using initiative.

How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?

I think it was about R1,000. After being told by my mother I had to pay rent, I bought some work clothes. Then as a 20-year-old I think I spent most of it on frequenting the nightclubs in the Joburg CBD.

What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?

Opportunity does not knock loudly. Opportunities may come your way in life, but they do not always present themselves as great opportunities at the outset. Having the ability to recognise them for what they are and also being prepared to take a risk is a great lesson.

If you could fix only one thing in South Africa, what would it be?

I would strongly promote active citizenry. We live in a country that has many challenges, but at the same time we have many incredibly talented and resourceful people. I would start with education and would pair a business leader with every public school principal to form a partnership to tackle the challenges in schools. It is a great way to bring private and public together in a practical way to solve real problems.

What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?

It was probably putting money into a network marketing business, which is basically a pyramid scheme. I was caught up in the hype. Fortunately, I was quite young, and learnt there is no quick buck to be made. It is amazing how we can so quickly forget that “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”.

What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?

In terms of real return, it has to be bitcoin, but it was 100% pure luck. I did it once, took my proceeds and invested them elsewhere, albeit it at a much lower rate.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently and why did you like it?

Rassie’s book is one of my recent reads. Though it is an easy, light read, two things stood out for me. First, he played the long strategic game, which guided all his decisions despite the short-term pressures and critics. And, second, he did not believe in appointing the best or most gifted individual player, but rather selected the player who would contribute more to the overall team success. This is such a valuable lesson to use in building a team in business.

What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?

In the 2000s, at the height of the global financial crisis, I had gone into business with three colleagues and we had to liquidate the business. I was too caught up in the ego of having “my” own business and a big prospect list, without truly appreciating that opportunities don’t pay bills. It was a harsh lesson in the value of focusing on cash flow, and ignoring the vanity metrics.

What phrase or bit of jargon irks you most?

“I sent them an e-mail.” With all the technology tools available for communication, we seem to have lost the ability to effectively communicate. Far too many people avoid actually having a discussion, whether it is with a client, colleague or supplier, and they defer to sending an e-mail, which can often be misconstrued.

What is something you would go back and tell your younger self that would impress them?

I did not have too much interest in school and didn’t believe I was academically strong. Much later, in my early 40s, I did an MBA through Gibs and made it onto the Dean’s List, with my research dissertation also being used as the basis for a journal article that was published. As a youngster, I would never have believed I was capable of achieving that.

If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?

I would be intentional about tackling corruption and holding people to account. The approach of diplomacy is not an effective solution, and where people have been found guilty, I would take steps to set an example. Actions speak louder than words. 

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