Mark Levy | Joint CEO of Blue Label Telecoms
Mark graduated with a BCompt degree from UNISA in 1993. After some years as a commodities trader, he decided to pursue a goal of becoming an entrepreneur, which skill and strength he has applied over the past several years in spearheading Blue Label’s impressive organic and acquisitive growth and international expansion. Together with his brother Brett, Mark won the ABSA Jewish Business Achiever Non-Listed Company Award (2007). He was nominated as an Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur SA Finalist for 2007. In 2010 Mark was voted Top IT Personality of the year by ITWeb and was a finalist in the Top Young Entrepreneur category of the African Access National Business Awards. In 2011 he shared with Brett the Top Entrepreneur accolade in the African Access National Business Awards.
Mark is a director of various companies, including some local and global Group companies.
My Definition Of Success | Success to me is not just wealth creation in running a successful enterprise but being able to enjoy the process and simultaneously to lead a balanced life. Initially my understanding of success was purely financially orientated but this perception has widened to include the empowerment of less fortunate people and improving the lives of the majority of people in this country by establishing mechanisms for them to communicate and to be educated. A number of general traits characterise both my brother Brett and I, and it is probably no coincidence that we see these in many of the people surrounding us. These traits can be encapsulated in phrases like ‘nothing is impossible’ and a ‘can do attitude’.
I Am Driven By | There are a number of attributes that are my drivers:
Attitude: No one should fear failure, but we also should not accept failure as an option. If we do fail in something, we need to learn from it.
Will: One must have the will to get up and continue when one has fallen down. It is true that successful people control their own destiny.
Spirit: I don’t deal well with ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ responses. By contrast, I fully appreciate contrarian and even disruptive views and like being introduced to perspectives or angles which other people don’t see.
Vision: Entrepreneurs have to constantly explore innovation in order to be one step ahead of the game.
My Highlights | To appreciate fully one’s proud occasions in life, I think it fair that one has to have experienced some down moments over time. These hardships can go a long way to maturing and even seasoning one’s outlook. Brett and I can attest to this, as our father passed away when we were both under 9, our step father passed away after many happy years together and our sister died quite unexpectedly some years later. Hardships can take many other forms as well.
In my personal life there have been a number of proud moments, mostly involving my wife and children. One of the main highlights on the work front was the restructuring and subsequent listing of Blue Label Telecoms on the JSE in November 2007. Brett and I were not even 40 years old when we brought the Company to the market.
The Difference Between Good And Great | I am sure it’s in their attitude: entrepreneurs are calculated risk takers and that’s probably why I sometimes become frustrated with the conservativeness of accountants. They should see themselves as enablers to doing business, rather than introspective bean-counting nay-sayers. Other differentiators can be those who say ‘Yes to everything’ so as to appear to be a team player, forcing things to work when it’s ok to walk away from poor outcomes, and in many cases ‘less is more’ – so choosing quality over quantity invariably delivers a good result. Lastly procrastination is no one’s friend, as life is just too short!
A Key Talent | It’s about achieving a balance in life – a lot of my day is taken up in leading and guiding people, so delivering robust and clear leadership whilst optimizing my time is a great skill or talent. This has taken many years to hone. I feel concerned when people say they are too busy, as that indicates that they are not balancing their lives, let alone prioritizing their work’s requirements. This must be quite unfulfilling for them. Striving for a balance means also taking time out to reflect on life, and sometimes we do have to confront issues requiring difficult choices and decisions. It is essential to surround ourselves with a team that is trustworthy and loyal. It is also important to recognize the limitation of skills that might be inherent in the top leadership and to employ people with those specific skills. One can’t be good at everything.
The Characteristics Of Success | Brett and I are entrepreneurs at heart. As a consequence we continually strive to retain and instill an entrepreneurial culture across all the businesses in which we are involved. For us, this means we are quick to share our experiences in building up businesses, we lead from the front and recognize that as leaders we are also symbols of our culture, and we celebrate all achievements, whether personal or work related, with a work-hard, play-hard attitude.
Principles I Live By | Start out small, think big and do a managed and controlled scale-up over time. When we started out thirteen years ago in conceptualizing and a little while later commercializing our innovation of prepaid airtime, we didn’t wildly imagine that the business could grow into its current 4 categories of products and services, spread across South Africa, UK, India and Mexico.
Having started a small business, it takes a lot more incrementally to make a great business. I often refer to an example close to us at Blue Label. Start out with a product that generates say R6 million net profit per year. Additional products attract no further sunken costs and therefore earnings filter straight through to the bottom line. Increase this to ten products and then you soon have a R60 million per year enterprise. Life is like that as well. That extra mile that you put in is usually filled with additional opportunity and rewards.
The Meaning Of Life | Life is a continuum – the more you put in, the more you can get out. Therefore, I say that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly (i.e. professionally).
I Am Inspired By | I like what I hear and read from Warren Buffet – and his achievements at Berkshire Hathaway are almost legendary! Other impressive people for their vision and achievements in technology, are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
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