By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA — The heavenly sounds of the Italian Opera was born around the 1600s and has continued to play a dominant role in the history of the genre until the present day. Like Italia and Opera, the Bekker/Naspers relationship is beyond the mere hint of assonance. Indeed, Luciano Pavarotti’s romance with the Opera stems, not, from a casual hobby, but from a prestigious heritage (his father was an amateur tenor), centuries old, birth by will.
So is Bekker’s close-to-three-decades relationship with Naspers more than a casual flirt with an idea, but the birthing of a legacy.
It all started in 1985, when Bekker spearheaded the founding of M-Net, an electronic pay-television media business, formed from the fusion of Nasionale Pers and a number of other South African media companies. He served as chief executive officer of the group from then for another 12 years, after which he began heading Naspers in 1997 — and that he has done till date.
Under Bekker’s watch, Naspers has grown from a mere newspaper company to an emerging-market multinational giant with principal operations in electronic media (including pay-television, internet and instant-messaging subscriber platforms and the provision of related technologies) and print media (including publishing, distribution and printing of magazines, newspapers and books, and provision of private education services).
At the moment, Naspers occupies 11th spot on the African Business Magazine’s list of Top 250 companies in Africa at a value of $13,816million, generating 72.7 per cent of its revenue from its primary South Africa base, while equally maintaining significant operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in Greece, Cyprus, Netherland, United States, Thailand, Brazil, Poland Ukraine, Russia, india, Turkey and China.
While Naspers has spread its reach to a total of 131 countries, Bekker himself has done his reputation no harm either, and was named only in April 2012 by Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s 20 most powerful people in business. So, what is the secret that has grown Naspers to a continental giant from its very humble beginnings?
Bekker says it is “making mistakes and failing quickly!” Strange as the statement seems, it has never been disputed since it was first uttered six months ago.
“We’ve made more mistakes than anyone else,” he says. “The benefit of a mistake is that you know what doesn’t work. What we typically try to do is get into something and ‘fail fast and cheaply.’ We have also failed expensively. We created the second biggest ISP in Beijing in 1998 and we lost the battle there. We eventually lost $80-million and had to fire people and close it down because of mistakes we made. That was an expensive failure. We’ve failed quite a lot but if you’re going to fail, get into the market quickly, fail quickly and learn from it. Since then we have learnt a few lessons.”
Back to Pavarotti…
The Italian operatic tenor failed in his quest to become a goalkeeper in his early days, just as his father never overcame nervousness despite his beautiful tenor voice. Faced with a dilemma of career choices, Pavarotti eventually settled for music. He only began serious music classes at 19, with reluctant permission from his father, but went on to become one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time, establishing himself as one of the finest tenors of the 20th century.
Now, reading Bekker’s model for success, is there anyone still afraid of failing? Not only does Bekker teach failure as a success model, he says the failing must be done “quickly!”. So go ahead, fail! Then, get back to it!