“Set goals and never give up.”
This is what Duncan Paul, a highly successful entrepreneur with eight thriving businesses, says are the most important keys to success as an entrepreneur, when he recently spoke of the lessons he’s learnt in business, at a seminar hosted by Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY 2013) in Pietermaritzburg.
Entrepreneurs are essential for our country, said Nimo Naidoo, Business Partners’ assistant general manager and the project manager of the EOY 2013 competition. “An estimated 45% to 50% of South Africa’s GDP [gross domestic product] is contributed by SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises]”. She said EOY 2013 aims to unlock entrepreneurial talent, and acknowledge entrepreneurs as heroes and role models in our economy.
Paul fits this description of an entrepreneur well. Not only has he achieved impressive business success in less than 20 years, but he has also found time to ski the last degree to the South Pole, has climbed Kilimanjaro three times, scaled in the Himalayas up to 6 200 metres, competed in many Duzi canoe marathons, and became — along with his partner — the first South African to finish the 750-kilometre Yukon Quest canoe race in the Canadian Rockies. He regularly leads safari expeditions to remote corners of Africa as part of his hunting safari company. He says that without the belief and support shown by Business Partners at the beginning of his “great adventure”, he would likely never have made it out the starting gate.
“I had a big vision, which scared the formal banking sector, and I couldn’t raise money anywhere,” he said. “Business Partners have always been in the right place at the right time for me.”
Paul acknowledges he was a “late starter”, who only became an entrepreneur at the age of 38. He first worked as a policeman in the Rhodesian Police Force (and was decorated for gallantry), then worked for the Natal Parks Board and the Natal Sharks Board, after which he went into farming and then game ranching in Zululand (picking up conservation awards along the way) and Bophuthatswana national parks.
While working to commercialise wildlife utilization within Bophuthatswana national parks, he saw how systems and disciplines in a business could pay off, and decided to make a go of it on his own by founding Hunters and Guides with eight other partners. He says that the involvement of Business Partners has brought the same benefits to his businesses today.
“I have learned from them,” he said. “Byron Jacobs [Business Partners’ regional general manager for KwaZulu-Natal] is a mentor to me and has guided and advised me through troubled times.”
Paul admitted that he went through some rough patches though: first with Hunters and Guides, when political issues in central Africa and problems with partners threatened his business, and then with his chain of Spur franchises, when he expanded too quickly and had again ran into partnership problems.
“I’ve earned my professorship in partnerships over the years,” he joked.
One of the crucial things he learnt with Business Partners is the importance of attention to detail.
“We hold monthly meetings that focus on every aspect of business. We go through everything: every expense and income, right down to the annual sick leave for each staff member – for each business.”
He lists this, and setting goals and not deviating from them, as the most important keys to success.
Paul says there are other hard-won lessons he’s learned over the years:
• Follow your passion. “Know what drives you,” he says.
• Be tenacious.
• Believe in yourself and your team.
• Surround yourself with quality staff and mentors.
• Select you partners “very, very carefully. They must share your morals, goals and passion,” he advises.
• Big is not always better.
• Stick to your core business and what you know. “Be careful of going off your beaten path,” he cautions.
• Build bridges and networks. “Don’t be a breaker,” Paul says.
• Live a life of integrity. “Do the right things in everything you do, and doors will open,” he promises.
• But he warns: “Never take anything for granted – things can change.”
At one stage, Duncan Paul was running six Spur franchises, and his Hunters and Guides safari company — a time he describes as characterized by “buffaloes and burgers”.
In 2002, it all began to unravel: first when political problems in the African countries he operated in threatened the Hunters and Guides business, and then when partnership problems in his Spur franchises threatened his very survival in the market.
Paul dealt with the problem decisively: he fired his general manager, sent all his Spur managers on back-to-basics training, and introduced incentives. Within three months, with the help of Business Partners, they had turned it around. Two years later, at the annual Spur Convention, “we swept the board in all award categories,” says Paul.
He subsequently sold four of the Spurs and today has Boulder Creek Spur in Pietermaritzburg’s Liberty Midlands Mall, Kansas Spur at the Pavilion in Westville, two John Dory franchises (at Liberty Midlands Mall and the Golden Horse Casino), Rockafellas restaurant and White Horse function room at the Golden Horse Casino, Dun Adventures safari company, a bed and breakfast establishment, and a property portfolio.
He currently employs over 400 people, and even during the current economic downturn has not made any staff redundant and still pays staff bonuses and increases. He has used the present economic situation to perfect his business model and enhance training for all levels of staff. “We are actually doing better,” he said. “We are operationally more efficient.”
Duncan Paul lives in Pietermaritzburg.