Ton Vosloo on choices, success and how M-Net was started with R50 000

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Ton Vosloo and Kaapstad Sakekamer chair Karin Pickard Louis. (Pic: Carin Smith)
Ton Vosloo and Kaapstad Sakekamer chair Karin Pickard Louis. (Pic: Carin Smith)

Cape Town - To build a successful business one needs a good business plan, a great business team and the support of the board of directors, former Naspers chair Ton Vosloo said on Wednesday.

He was the guest speaker at the annual general meeting of Kaapstad Sakekamer (Cape Town Business Chamber).

As for negotiating deals, he said one has to do your homework well before you enter into a transaction. In this regard he praised current Naspers chair Koos Bekker for the amount of preparation he and his team do before entering a deal.

"I never tried to squeeze the other party too hard. I always used to say 'let us also leave something for the other side on the table'," said Vosloo.

When assessing a company's balance sheets for a potential acquisition, one should look at the track record and most importantly, at the cash situation.

"There is a saying that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is reality," explained Vosloo, adding that, of course not everyone can be successful in the business world.

He related how, when Naspers started M-Net in the 1980s, many people said it would not work in South Africa. Yet, in Vosloo's opinion, starting M-Net was actually a tipping point for Naspers as it ushered in the move away from print media.

After he was introduced to the concept by Bekker, Vosloo managed to convince the Naspers board to give him R50 000 to start M-Net. He explained that M-Net was constructed in order to help all the daily newspapers in the country. At the start, M-Net focused mainly on movies, but Vosloo suggested opportunities in broadcasting sport should also be investigated.

"One had to have nerves of steel as the so-called hockey stick curve before becoming profitable was to be expected." Yet he said he is good at handling tension - "it is like water off a duck's back to me".

On the other hand, the sale of MTN by Naspers was a different story.

"We had to choose between pushing capital into MTN or into DStv. We did not have enough capital for both and we chose DStv," said Vosloo. "I like MultiChoice and think it is a wonderful company, but selling MTN was a bit of a mistake," said Vosloo.

He explained that at the time the important future role of mobile phones in media consumption was not yet clear. At the same time he is happy about the trend of printed books becoming more popular again, even beating sales of e-books.

"From the start Naspers believed in innovation. I always say 'show me a contented editor or businessperson and I will show you a bad editor or businessperson," said Vosloo. Naturally, he regards good service as one of the most important cornerstones.  

"We grabbed opportunities and due to its digital expansion, Naspers is currently light years further from where it originally started."

As for corporate social investment, Vosloo said it is important to invest in talent when giving money to a company.

* Fin24 is part of Media24, a subsidiary of Naspers.

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