Freddie Bruintjies, COO of BusinessPartners, has watched over, nurtured and celebrated the growth of manybusinesses. He has also seen his fair share of failures. In his various rolesin the investment company where he’s worked for 12 years, one of the mostvaluable lessons Bruintjies has learned is that the business world is driven bypeople.“From a finance point of view, everythingstarts with the right operator,” he says. “If the person is right, even if theeconomic environment is unfavourable, the business will at least survive, ifnot thrive.”
He recalls with satisfaction the manybusinesses he has watched evolve into successful enterprises, but speaks mostfondly of his time with Business Partners Umsobomvu Franchise Fund. The fundhelped young black entrepreneurs enter the business world by way offranchising. Bruintjies discusses the challenges he faced on the project: “It is at times difficult to match theexpectations of entrepreneurs with the opportunities available. I had to learnto instil a sense of realism without dampening people’s dreams. But it wasenormously rewarding to deal with people who want to grab opportunities andmake a success of themselves. Today I still get e-mails from some of thosepeople letting me know how well their businesses are doing.”When asked what attributes he looks for inentrepreneurs, Bruintjies is quick to answer. ”There’s no checklist, but you dolook for common generic traits.”
Among these he lists someone who is able toidentify an opportunity and has the tenacity to pursue it. “The person needs tohave clear goals, but also a very clear sense of realism. There must be apassion for what they are doing.”He places the greatest store of value inintegrity, something that’s difficult to assess without spending time with aperson, which is what Bruintjies makes it his business to do. “Another very importanttrait is the ability to know what your weaknesses are and either do somethingto fix them, or surround yourself with people who can do the things you aren’tgood at,” he adds.Not all start-up businesses succeed, butBruintjies believes failure is often avoidable. ”Sometimes it is due tocircumstances out of your control,” he says, giving the example of a weakeningexchange rate for exporters. “But even there, you need to know when to cut yourlosses and not run up more debt. The most common mistake is thinking that it’san easy ride to riches.”Too often, entrepreneurs leave theresponsibility of running the business in the hands of managers. “There arevery few businesses you can run without physically being there,” he points out.“You need to put in the blood, sweat and tears to make it work.“At the end of the day, entrepreneurs, likefinanciers, need to realise that business is all about people. It all comesback to people. Have a people-centred culture in your business, and you’re offto a good start,” he concludes. It’s good advice from someone who knows hisoats.