At only 35, Louis Pulzone the CEO of the LFP Group has watched his company grow in a matter of years that would take most CEO’s decades. The LFP group employs more than 200 people, has over 700 clients on their books and, most importantly, has provided essential skills training to more than 9000 learners.
The LFP group sees itself as being ‘Agents of Transformation’ as it looks to change attitudes about the need for BEE compliancy in the South African Corporate world. ExpertHub sat down with Louis to find out more about the increasingly impactful BEE industry and about how the journey LFP embarked on resulted in their current status as an industry leader.
What was your vision for LFP and how has that changed?
In the start-up phases it was mainly about providing a much-needed credibility to an industry that was a result of the sudden need in the early 2000’s for businesses to be compliant with government-mandated BEE. The lack of regulations in the early-stages and the requirement for every business to be compliant meant that a lot of fly-by-night BEE providers set up shop.
Obviously, the company had set financial goals, but I wanted to make a significant difference where I believed it was needed most.
As the company grew, I identified an increasing number of opportunities to develop more innovative service offerings and more innovative turnkey solutions.
This positioned LFP as a credible, compliance driven and structured entity that could add value to more than just one or two areas of businesses.
How did you land your first client?
Short answer- cold calling.
In those days I had to make around 300 cold calls a day and walk from company to company to try and sell something that most people did not know about or believe in.
Persistence was key. Once, I got the opportunity to meet with a client at their home at around 7pm one night. It was do or die, but the client accepted my proposal. They are still our client 7 years later and I will always be humbled by the way they took a chance on me that day.
What sort of sacrifices did you make when you started out?
The biggest sacrifice I made was the decision to leave a comfortable national manager position at a JSE listed company to go out on my own. It took more than six months to sign my first client, so I had to give up my house, car and basically everything else. Those six months were incredibly tough, and I often questioned my decision and wondered if the dream of starting my own company would fail.
I do believe however, that struggling at first is a difficult but valuable lesson to learn. I’d tell all young entrepreneurs that if you’ve never failed, you’ll never have the drive to succeed even when no one believes in your dream but yourself.
You can always see the people who’ve had things come to them very easily, they allow themselves to get comfortable and then when failure happens, they don’t know how to get up and fight for their dream again.
What makes a good leader?
I believe that a good leader knows how to serve his or her company, people and clients. You have to be very open to criticism so that you can better yourself, and you can never stop learning from others.
A good leader sets an example for others in and outside of their workspace. The change from “how can you help me” to “ how can I help you” is a very positive step in leadership. I also believe that the journey to becoming a true leader is one without an end. It’s important that you always raise your standards so that others also want to do so.
In tough economic times, how does LFP stay afloat and do you have any advice for other businesses?
It might not be an ideal economic period and perhaps not the best time for start-ups, but this time should be seen as full of opportunities for those who are willing to take them.
I believe that anybody can make it, regardless of the economy, you just need to be fully committed and prepared to work hard and sacrifice.
Understand what you are getting yourself into, understand your industry, understand your service or product and add more value than anybody else.
Spend time reading, listening and with as many people in business as you can. Learn to serve your people, company and clients and know that being a business owner or CEO does not mean that you will automatically be respected. In today’s competitive economy you need to add significant value to others to build sustainability.
If you became an entrepreneur for the money you will never make it or be sustainable, so you need to do it for the right reasons. In business, money may come and go but passion remains and is forged by the motivation you found aside from money to start a business in the first place.
In terms of LFP, I believe our understanding of all the aspects and building innovative service offerings is what sets us apart and what keeps us growing significantly. It is our passion for changing the world in order to build something beyond money that has seen us through difficult times and our integrity keeps us in business.
What’s your advice to someone starting up a business?
Understand the industry you are getting into, understand that Rome was not build in a day.
Be ready to work ten times as hard as you ever have and continuously raise your own standards.
Learn as much as you can from other people and read as many books about your industry and business as you can. Be a servant to your people and not a manager, lead by example and spend your money wisely.
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt?
I have learnt so many lessons to date, but if I had to pick the greatest it would be that business and entrepreneurship will test your values and integrity. Stick to your values and never sacrifice on your integrity.
What keeps you motivated?
I think that once you pass the financial success goals stage in your life and start understanding the importance of making a significant difference it becomes easier to stay motivated especially in tough times.
Business becomes fun when it is not only about money, and when crisis’s and strategy implementation is something you start to look forward to.