The businessman chats to us about his upcoming new reality show, business interests and more.
Trying to pin businessman Kenny Kunene down is a hard but not impossible task. The self-proclaimed “king of sushi” is a very busy man and it takes days to finally speak to him. When we do finally get to chat, he tells me that he has spent hours in a meeting with politicians and although long, it was quite fruitful.
He has been lambasted for his attention-grabbing antics, praised for his display of wealth and slammed for his business decisions. Kunene’s personal and business life has graced many a tabloid and newspaper. Yet Kunene remains unfazed by all the attention, happily producing his reality shows and exploring unchartered business terrority. We chat to Kunene about his business dealings and career.
We hear you are finalising shooting the second season of So What. Tell us about how it went.
We just finished shooting the second season of So What. And have started shooting the pilot for my new reality show. My show is the most current in South Africa in terms of content. I believe in keeping it fresh, when things happen I want to be able to comment.
What is the title of the new show?
Well, we don’t really have a title yet, but it will be along the lines of Sushi Queen.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you were funding So What yourself. Does this mean you are funding production costs yourself?
I am not making any money from So What. I own the cameras, production team and cover the costs of travelling like when we went to Russia. I can’t go into the details of my contract with etv but the show was a platform for me to build relationships. Relationships are very important – it's through them that you can get a good deal, like buying a cheaper house or car etc.
How much did it cost you to fund So What from your own pocket?
I never really mention figures but I can tell you that So What is the most expensive reality show production South Africa has seen. The running costs for three months run into the millions. We are the first to bring you private jets, expensive cars, clothing and and trips. From a cost perspective, production for So What may be equal to that of local movies and feature films.
Have you found a network to broadcast Sushi Queen?
I’m looking at venturing out with the next series. I want the brand to go into Africa and Europe and international TV channels. The main target is overseas. I have identified someone in Nigeria who runs a network there and the plan is to speak to him about my show. Sky is not the limit anymore, space is.
Now we know that you have a healthy bank balance. What is your net worth?
I could be worth 500 million today and 1,5 billion tomorrow. I don’t believe in putting a value to such things. You know what they say: the moment you disclose such things, your wife could try to kill you for insurance purposes (laughs).
You spent years in prison. How did you find your feet and enter the world of business when you left prison? And what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I believe that hard work pays but luck also adds value. I must also say that it was through God’s mercy, it was truly a miracle what happened to me. One thing I told myself when I left prison was that I would never go back to crime. No matter what it took, I would not do crime again. So I worked as a teacher for 15 months earning R3 000 a month. Gayton (Kunene’s business partner) then left his company to join me, giving motivational talks at schools.
We took a big risk but we agreed that with commitment, we could do it. We then sold motivational books to more schools, tertiary institutions and companies. We sold many books and thought we could make a 100 million. Although we didn’t get that far, a billionaire bought 80 000 copies of our books and we made millions from that. We then bought four trucks and sold fish from the coast to inland areas. After selling that business we went into mining and had a business assisting mining companies to apply for contracts and licences.
You obviously took a big risk going into mining. Would you say it paid off?
Yes, I was born a marketer and although I have never studied the subject, I have been blessed to be mentored by Australians, Russians and and Americans. I have studied their way of conducting business. Gayton and I look for uncommon things to do. One of the best pieces of advice we received was from a man who told us that there is no millionaire who has not lost some money at some point. The challenge is to soldier on and not give up, but one must also know when it's time to quit.
Besides your reality show what other business projects are you working on?
We have signed an exclusive deal to bring a marquee structure which has never been used in Africa before. I love entertainment and events so the structure of this marquee will redefine exclusivity and entertainment in Africa. I am also a DJ now.
What business legacy do you intend to leave for your kids?
At the moment I believe in giving them lessons. They don’t have it easy. I’ve taught them that nothing comes easy. I don’t just give them money, they know they must earn it, explain how they have used it and be held accountable. I’ve told them that once they finish university then I will buy them a car, house and do a lot for them, only once they have proven themselves.
What business advice do you have for upcoming entrepreneurs?
Hapiness should be the most important element in all that you do, whether it's social, religious, business or relationship wise. One should also always think business. When I came out of prison I had R3 000 in my bank account. That money I saved up for through putting R20 or R100 in my account. Till today, people ask me why I have different savings accounts with different banks. For me saving will never end, from saving R3 000 today I can put as much as R1 million away and that is how I realise how successful I've become.