Very few people have the privilege of making a career out of their hobby and even fewer people are able to turn their hobby into a multi-billion-rand empire that attracts acquisition attention from a big corporation like Telkom.
Mophatlane and his late twin brother Benjamin certainly didn’t think BCX, the ICT company the brothers founded almost 20 years ago this year at the age of 23, would grow into a massive operation that employs 7 000 people.
But what the Mophatlane brothers did know from the get-go was that they wanted to build a “truly South African company” that was centred on building skills, creating opportunities for young professionals and leaving a lasting legacy.
To do this, the brothers partnered with Microsoft to become a certified and specialist solution provider in the country. The partnership gave the brothers access to support and training, which Mophatlane says was critical to the business’ development and their ability to secure a three-year, R100 million contract with Telkom that he describes as a major turning point for the business.
“The contract gave us the staying power and gave us enough spotlight to showcase ourselves,” he said.
Within just two years, Business Connexion was able to repay the R4 million loan it received to start the business.
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And with the loan amount settled, the brothers were able to focus on building a business that was customer-centric. This, he says, is another cornerstone in building an asset of value.
“We won customers over because we were professional, punctual and always delivered on time. We spent time sweating the big stuff, but at the same time, we also didn’t ignore the small stuff,” Mophatlane said, adding that the power of word of mouth has the ability to either propel your business or sink it.
For the brothers, it led to bigger contracts and several merger and acquisition deals over the years.
“The real thing about mergers and acquisitions is the human chemistry, people who share the same values as you, which always is important. We’ve always looked at management teams with the same aspirations as us, who ran well governed businesses.”
In 2014, Telkom initiated a whopping R2,6 billion merger bid for BCX, which was approved by the Competition Tribunal the following year.
“We were able to sell to Telkom because we were quite disciplined in ensuring that governance remained straight. When people look at your business, they speak to your auditors, customers and suppliers about how well you run it and they look at the integrity of how you do it,” he said.
But before you get to this point, according to Mophatlane, you need to build a company culture that motivates your employees to perform at their best.
We were able to sell to Telkom because we were quite disciplined in ensuring that governance remained straight. When people look at your business, they speak to your auditors, customers and suppliers about how well you run it
To do this successfully, he said business-owners should be open, lead with integrity, acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility when things go wrong, develop employees and most importantly, reward them when they achieve good results.
Bearing in mind that the objective is to build a business that “lives beyond you”, Mophatlane advises that you constantly seek out knowledge and “surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you and do not be embarrassed to ask for help and be mentored”.
Other lessons he’s learnt along the journey is to resist the urge to allow criticism to drag you down. Once you’ve decided on a specific strategy, he advises that you stick to it and remain true to the cause.
And if you do ever get the opportunity to sell your business and the acquiring firm decides to keep you on to manage it, embrace the transition.
“The key is to remain relevant within the business. If you’re still relevant, then reporting lines don’t really matter,” he said.