I recently facilitated a meeting between two of my mentors, one whom I recently met, who happened to be the owner of the office park where our company has its offices, and one that has been my mentor for years now. Given the historic differences between black and white South Africans, both these men are white, the former of English Lebanese descent, the latter one an Afrikaner, and obviously I am black.
This post, however, is not about the differences between black and white South Africans, it’s rather about mentorship, and exposure. While sitting there listening to these two great property investors and developers of note discussing this multi-million dollar development, it dawned on me, and I began to wonder how my business career would have turned out had I not had the exposure that I’ve had over the years, interacting with different people, from different backgrounds, who have taught me what I know about business, things I could never learn from School and University.
I began to reminisce about one of our tenants who, when we started off in property in 2008, paid special attention to me, taught me various things about life, and business. This man became a father-figure to me, I was merely 18 years old when I met him, but he gave himself to teaching me about the basics of life; from communication, respect, how to write a CV, how to register a business. He took it upon himself, in those early days, to set up an email address for me, to register my business ventures (some which have failed, what a learning curve), and teach me how to be a gentleman, by example.
I then started to think about the founders and managers of the first, and only company I ever worked for – Student Village – whose founders placed no emphasis on educational qualifications, but rather looked at people’s will to succeed and cultivated that. I once bumped into the COO in the kitchen, I’ll never that day, it was the day after my graduation, he looked at me, and said; “Witness, I hear yesterday was your graduation?” I answered yes sir, and he replied, “Witness, it’s all good that you have graduated, but I want you to put aside that degree and forget about you ever obtaining it, we are going to teach you the real skills, those that will carry you for the rest of your working years. I want you to work as though you have no qualifications and learn like there is no tomorrow”. Teach me they did, from project management, communication, leadership training, marketing, sales, accounts management, and in a nutshell how to run a business. I don’t know if this was their intention, or if it was simply because I had a hunger for learning, but had it not been for those 14-15 months I spent at Student Village, I wouldn’t have been able to learn the key lessons that I did.
I then remembered my friend and mentor, a Chemical Engineer who runs a Water Treatment company, who takes his time to discuss multi-million-dollar contracts with me. Not that I have any share in those contracts, I’ve realised he has been doing this so that I can get accustomed to seeing these types of figures and not be alarmed by them. Although all my mentors who are multi-millionaires, and some who have done projects worth billions, share this information with me freely, this one also takes time to really investigate my spirituality, family dynamics, and personal development.
As a young black person, who grew up without a father, and who had never seen anyone run a successful business, I needed to be exposed to people who have done it before, who are still doing it, so that I can see this to be possible for me. It also made me realise that real wealth is not flashy or arrogant.
The whole point of me writing this to you today, is to say get yourself exposed! You need exposure. You can never dream of driving a Ferrari if you have never seen one or don’t even know what it is.
Life is interconnected, and you need someone to expose you to certain things that you weren’t exposed to growing up. Find mentors, and role models, hire a coach if you must, follow an inspirational person’s blog or social media account – exposure will help you dream about bigger and better. Do something, don’t just give up.
On my next blog, I’ll write about how to choose a mentor, how to find a coach, and how to position yourself as a candidate to be mentored.
I wish you success.
CEO, Quality Growth International