Naspers boss Koos Bekker steps down

2014-02-23 14:00

Koos Bekker strongly believes in the power of youth.

So it’s unsurprising the 61-year-old Naspers CEO is walking away from his role in the company he transformed into a global player – and leaving it in the hands of someone 20 years his junior – without sounding too worried.

Bekker will be succeeded on April 1 by Bob van Dijk?(41), who is currently Naspers’ most senior e-commerce chief. Bekker will leave for a year, allowing his successor to find his feet without interference, and then return as chairman to replace Ton Vosloo.

He’ll leave Naspers in the hands of a young man to go off on a yearlong journey to unusual places, seeking out and speaking to young people with bright ideas.

“Almost everything useful in the internet has been developed by people under 30,” said Bekker.

“Now I hope to travel to places like Seoul and San ­Francisco, where the future is being manufactured, and see if there are new technologies we should be trying out. Plus experience a few oddball spots. When Ton steps down, I’ll rejoin the board, hopefully with fresh ideas,” Bekker said in a statement released yesterday, adding later it was not Seoul or San Francisco specifically that he was after.

The last time he took time out – a year’s sabbatical – he lectured in Mongolia and also observed Amish communities that completely avoided technology.

He is intrigued by technological development in Korea, the world’s leader in gaming and mobile usage; and China, a country that has proved fruitful for

Naspers through its investment in Tencent and now accounts for a significant proportion of Naspers’ value. This was the fourth investment in China. The first three failed.

Tencent worked, according to Bekker, because of the quality of management and the mind-set.

When he assesses new companies, this is exactly what he looks for. Asked what he would advise young people with entrepreneurial aspirations, he says: “Try, and try early,” because only the young can afford to have everything wiped out and get up and start again.

Secondly, according to him, they need to be useful to society. They need to think whether someone has a problem they can solve, he says.

Facebook, for example, solves the problem of having friends but not getting to speak to them often enough. Similarly, as technology develops, people may have a problem of not wanting to be out there all the time, so devices to protect privacy or apps that allow people to see things for limited amounts of time became good business ideas.

Bekker does not ask these entrepreneurs how they are going to make money. Instead, he asks if they have a good team, if they solve problems and if they’re useful.

At Naspers, managers are young and Bekker believes the company has come some way in terms of transformation, something he attributes to Vosloo, who was involved in buying titles like City Press and Drum, rather than himself.

Bekker has had a hand in creating companies like M-Net and MTN, and transformed Naspers from a run-of-the-mill media house to a global leader in telecommunications – the largest outside of the US and China.

At M-Net’s formation in 1985, Naspers was worth about R24 million. When Bekker became Naspers CEO in 1997, it was worth R5.6 billion. It is now worth R500?billion.

But Bekker’s humility is evident in the note he sent to staff yesterday morning: “We screwed up frequently, but we had a great deal of fun and I couldn’t imagine another job that would have fitted my limited talents better that would have given me more pleasure.”

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