Ton Vosloo: From morse code to multimedia big league

Ton Vosloo (Photo: Edrea du Toit)
Ton Vosloo (Photo: Edrea du Toit)

Cape Town - Ton Vosloo, who recently stepped down as Naspers [JSE:NPN] non-executive chairperson, regards working in the media industry as a most fascinating job.

"I would not have wanted to choose anything else as a career. Journalism was in my blood from the start and the transition to the electronic media and digital age simply creates yet another driving force. Just like one changed from a typewriter to the Atex system and now performs on the digital platform," he said in a News24 Live studio interview.

His own career at Naspers stretched from being a junior reporter, whose first stories had to be transmitted by morse code, to CEO and later chairperson for 23 years.

Little did he know, when he joined Die Oosterlig (now Die Burger-Oos) in the Eastern Cape as a cub reporter in May 1956, that he would end up overseeing Naspers' growth into a multimedia giant.

"I feel proud that Naspers started in South Africa and Africa and that we are successfully competing globally today," says Vosloo.

"Naspers is playing in the big league now and I have full confidence in its future. The management team, led by Bob van Dijk, has just completed a superb year, so all is in good hands at Naspers and its associates."

READ: Vosloo steps down as Naspers chair

Good planning and hard work

He said the success of Naspers was due to good planning and very hard work. He also values the sense of companionship and camaraderie he experienced at the company.

"I think working in the media is the most fascinating job. I remember wanting to be a reporter since a young age - ever since I started writing stories at school," Vosloo remembers.

"These days it is so much easier. In the old days one had to use a 'ticky box' [public phone] to dial through stories. Today it is done electronically with things like iPads. So, it is a totally different ball game, but that is the wonder of the newsroom."

Naspers, which is 100 years old, started out as a print media company, until television came along and Vosloo decided to have the company venture into pay-television.

Koos Bekker, who is taking over as Naspers chair from Vosloo, came to see him at the time.

"Koos is a genius, a remarkable entrepreneur and he saw the future of the digital area coming. Together we broke the SABC's television monopoly," remembers Vosloo.

He actually regards the decision of choosing his successor as CEO at the time as his most important job.

"Koos knew about the digital age, he saw the gaps and placed Naspers in an entirely new category. Today the company is in 133 countries. It was fascinating for me to make deals with China and Russia, for instance," relates Vosloo.

READ: Bigger picture of Naspers, Tencent moves

Top highlights
 
Among the highlights of his career is the construction of the large printing press in Montague Gardens, Cape Town, in about 1992. It was an investment of R250m, quite a large sum of money at the time.

"During the years of sanctions against South Africa, when people filled empty swimming pools with canned food, this printing press was a sign of our trust in the future of South Africa."

The establishment and success of Beeld newspaper, amidst tough competition at the time, is another highlight for Vosloo and so is the stage when the family magazine Huisgenoot and the Sunday paper Rapport each sold 500 000 copies per week.

The founding and success of M-Net since 1984, which led to DSTV, Supersport, Kyknet and almost 10 million subscribers in South Africa, Namibia and the rest of Africa, is another of his top highlights.

Of course Naspers' expansion internationally to 133 countries after the arrival of digital technology, making the company currently about the third biggest e-commerce company in the world, is another highlight.

Last, but by no means least, is what he describes as the highlight of shaking off of the political burden of apartheid and the platform that the new era created for a company like Naspers to move outwards.

At the same time Vosloo admits that he does not regard himself as tech savvy - although he likes his mobile phone and e-mail.

To the question of whether the end is in sight for printed newspapers, he says: "No, the printed media has already adapted by presenting content on various platforms. It is a transition period and Naspers is strong enough to carry its printed newspapers."

In South Africa, newspapers like those of Naspers will still play a vital role, in his view, "in helping to keep society on track against matters like increasing mismanagement, corruption and lowering standards of management".

"Freedom of speech - in other words the media - is our biggest asset in the democracy," said Vosloo.

READ: Naspers bursts through R2 000-mark

Future plans

As for his future plans now that he has stepped down as non-executive chair, Vosloo says of course he would like to sit down and have a nice quiet break in the sunshine.

Furthermore, he enjoys his involvement in the charities close to his heart. These include the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary in McGregor and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

He also mentions plans to write his story of the transformation of Naspers through the apartheid era to the international company it is today.

WATCH: Ton Vosloo chats to News24Live:

* Fin24 is part of Media24, which is owned by Naspers.

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