Bekker's top 3 tech contributions to SA

Port Elizabeth - Outgoing CEO Koos Bekker is well-known for his unique remuneration structure with Naspers [JSE:NPN] in which his share options earned him a place on the list of SA billionaires.

His net worth is estimated at more than R10bn, depending on the Naspers share price, the strike price of the options and how much the taxman plans take to finance new infrastructure for the rest of us.

In September, Forbes placed him at number 24 in its list of the 50 richest people in Africa and estimated his net worth at $1.1bn, but since then Naspers’ share price increased sharply to boost the value of his shares, while the depreciation in the rand against the dollar reduced the ultimate figure. The annotation next to the Forbes entry that states the source of his wealth needs to be repeated:  “Self-made”.

The bulk of the fortune is a result of the deal with Naspers in which he opted for no salary or any other remuneration, only share options. Latest figures show that he holds 16.4m shares. On Friday, Naspers closed above R1 271 per share on the JSE, putting a gross value of more than R20bn on the shares.

In 2008, Bekker signed a contract with Naspers to receive 3.9m share options every year instead of a salary. The number of share options was determined on the basis of the share price at the time – around R150 per share. When the shares are allocated at the end of each financial year, Bekker is required to pay an amount to cover inflation since 2008.

This is well known and regularly reported. But Bekker’s ability to identify a new trend in the fast-changing world of technology and his courage to take advantage of such opportunities are not that well known.

He was one of the founding directors of M-Net, at a time when pay-television just started in the US. Bekker was studying for his MBA at Columbia University in New York when the so-called cable TV started to gain ground in the US.

Back in Johannesburg, he started M-Net in which Naspers acquired an interest of 26%. It grew to a huge television business operating in 48 countries, serving 7 million households.

A few years later Bekker realised the opportunities in the cellular market. In the days of the brick-sized Motorola in 1991 and once again backed by Naspers, he launched Mobile Telephone Technologies. Today, MTN [JSE:MTN] is the biggest mobile operator in Africa with 152m subscribers in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle-East.

The next new technology and trend in mass media and communication caught his attention a few years later. He joined Naspers in 1997 with the vision to enter the new and exciting world of the internet. At the time, the internet caught on slowly in SA with just a few computer nerds starting to spell their names with an @.
Due to the early start and a mix of enthusiastic go-getters and conservative board members, Naspers quickly picked up experience in the new market and developed sustainable revenue models for internet-based businesses. Naspers’ interests in internet service provider businesses and internet portals (of which News24 and Fin24 are the biggest in SA) offered the group a leading position. This experience was transposed into the international market and today Naspers is the dominant internet-based media group in several countries in the world.

The next chapter is about to begin. Bekker says the pace of technological change is still accelerating. “Innovation never stops.”

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