Vusi Thembekwayo is a South African entrepreneur, global keynote motivational speaker and venture capitalist. Vusi is a professional speaker and businessman. Born March 21st, 1985, he is not only rated as Africa’s No 1 public speaker, but also one of the world’s greatest speakers.
Vusi is known as “The Rockstar of Public Speaking” and has spoken in 4 of the 7 continents and speaks to over 350 000 people each year.
In 2013, he was invited to speak at the World Bank and he is the only African speaker that has spoken by invitation at the World Bank. He was described by Nelson Mandela, as
“a true reflection of the freedom for which we fought.”
Vusi Thembekwayo is well known for all he has achieved in the business world.
Vusi’s spirit of excellence and being outstanding has been present for a long time. In primary school he was promoted ahead of his peers because he had the ability to retain information. However, Vusi faced setbacks.
It started when he went to Benoni High School and was pushed back two years (grades) because he didn’t know how to speak Afrikaans. He tried to fight this but ended up accepting it. On this subject, Vusi says,
my father and I had the most amazing relationship… I would say a relationship where I could relate to him at a peer level… The only reason I accepted it was because my father asked me, ‘what is the rush?’
On growing up and the relationship he had with his parents, Vusi says in an interview,
“I was raised by two amazing parents, amazing, amazing parents and my dad loved my mother. To this day my model of two people in love is my mom and dad, they were crazy, they were so in love that as kids we got embarrassed, like if you were at a community hall and everybody else was there you were embarrassed, you were like okay, stop touching please.
They loved each other and then my dad died when I was 13, my father and I were attacked and he was shot at nine times and he died.
That changed everything in our family; dad was essentially the primary breadwinner. Mom was working but it was one of those kinds of families where mom worked but dad worked.
So mom was working and mom had to carry the family through dad’s passing and that was difficult. I have a lot of respect for my mother because I still remember very vividly the change she had to go through, the lifestyle change she had to go through, the friends’ change she had to go through, the communal change she had to go through and you know, if you come from a township it’s a very communal space.
Everybody knows everybody’s business and it was really tough on her but she’s a very strong woman and she raised five of us,
essentially as a single parent and she was an amazing, amazing mother. So I suppose those kinds of experiences have shaped how I see business today.
I must just tell you that when I was a little boy, I think I was around six or seven, my dad tried his hand in business and he failed, and he’d put our house up as collateral for the debt and the bank wanted to take the house.
Now you need to understand the complexion of the township, the banks at the time weren’t particularly comfortable sending white repossession agents into black townships to collect assets. So the guys came to collect the house, they just never took it because the community wouldn’t let them. We had to move out of the house, went and stayed with my grandfather and my sister and I had to travel about 23 kilometers to school and 23 kilometers back. So we’d wake up every morning at five o’clock and in the area where we stayed with my grandfather, we didn’t have electricity and then you’d go to school,
you’d catch a taxi and then we’d catch the train and then we’d catch the taxi. I’m sure this is the quintessential story that most of us understand and this went on for a solid year.
So when I started in business and I started making financial mistakes, I remember that experience very vividly, and I remember that I wouldn’t want my kids to go through it, and it’s made me quite prudent in terms of how I approach business and my relationship with money because I think most of us just have a poor relationship with money, we have a poor money psychology. So we think we need more than we need and we do things we don’t need and we make silly mistakes.
Vusi was also forced to drop out of university at the end of his first year of pursuing his BCommunications degree because of financial constraints.
He walked the full length of two malls in the East Rand, handing out his CV door-to-door, store to store, but after six weeks he still couldn’t secure employment. This wasn’t enough to stop Vusi.
He used his international networks (gained through public speaking he had developed from High School) and his cell phone, and began recruiting learners in South Africa for jobs in the UK and Australia.
This initiative birthed his first company – GPSA (Global Professionals South Africa) – a global recruitment agency that he ran from his township bedroom. He was ranked 1st in Africa for public speaking and 3rd in the world by the time he was 20 years old.
Vusi then sold a portion of his business to a Johannesburg-based digital agency in an effort to digitise his company. Too early for the digital revolution and having poorly chosen partners, Vusi was soon out of business and money, another setback. But Vusi did not give up.
At the age of 22, Vusi received a life-changing opportunity – he was offered a position at a corporate finance company. Here, he refined his skills in corporate finance and became one of the go-to leverage finance guys in the team. He combined his skills in finance with public speaking and after one speaking engagement, he walked away from the event with a job offer. Vusi went on to become an executive at Metro Cash and Carry – one of the largest consumer goods businesses in Africa – where he started, grew and managed a multimillion-dollar portfolio of $40 million (R460 million).
At 25, he ran a R400mn division in a R17bn multi-national. Today, he is one of the youngest directors of a listed company and is the CEO of a boutique investment and advisory firm that forces medium, large and listed businesses into much needed, often painful, always lucrative new directions. He also serves on several boards. The edge of chaos is the world in which he lives.
He doesn’t just talk business – he lives it. He does more than inspire revolution, he initiates it. He has been the catalyst for change in businesses across the globe through expertise in strategy, leadership and sales.
Internationally, the 32-year old has earned his stripes over a 16-year speaking career that has seen him move from public speaking to being one of the most sought after global keynote business speakers.
He has built an impressive profile globally and speaks to 350 000 people. New York, London, Paris, Lagos, Jersey, Guernsey, Rio de Janeiro, Dar es Salaam, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Colombo, Nairobi, Kampala, San Francisco and another 21 global cities have all experienced Vusi.
Vusi’s talents don’t just encompass business. A keen petrol head too, Vusi loves racing cars in his spare time and challenges himself to accomplish one ‘terrifying’ thing every year. He’s even raced cars against F1 champion, Mika Hakkinen.
Vusi is naturally curious and naturally inquisitive as an individual, and he doesn’t like to accept the status quo. The idea for him that something has existed a particular way and then, therefore, it should continue to exist that way, sounds quite archaic.
So he likes breaking rules. He likes challenging convention. He was raised that way and this is very clear in Vusi’s life as he had spent his years, changing the existing status quo and inspiring a generation of Africans to set new standards.
© 2017, Ona Akinde. All rights reserved.