FNB CEO on Twitter, entrepreneurship, iPad: The Memeburn interview

Michael Jordaan is the 42-year old CEO of First National Bank and a confirmed technophile. The company recently hit international headlines when it teamed up with Paypal to bring the service into the country. Memeburn.com caught up with the successful banker to get his views on starting a company, doing business in Africa, and why he tweets.

Memeburn: What in your view does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
Michael Jordaan: To be passionate about an idea/concept and to take the risk associated with making it fly. It certainly is not about money, although that can be a side-effect of good entrepreneurship in the longer term.

MB: Can you still be an entrepreneur within a large corporate?
MJ: We speak of “intra”preneurship and an owner-manager culture. To attract the best people nowadays one simply has to have an empowering culture, one where staff can take risks and make mistakes in order to learn from them. Naturally there are boundaries such as overall strategy and a risk management overlay. But without innovation and entrepreneurship even the largest companies today will not be able to defend themselves against entrepreneurs in the long run. The economist Joseph Schumpeter called this “creative destruction” and an essential part of economic progress.

MB: Speaking of employment, some people are more suited to a “corporate” setting rather than an “entrepreneurial” setting and vice versa – do you agree with this distinction?
MJ: Once you are “in”, formal employment can become cushy as evidenced by a host of recent salary increases that are way above inflation. This poses huge risks in a society such as ours where a large portion of the labour force is either unemployed or forced into survivor entrepreneurship. Many people in a corporate do not realise how tough it can be out there.

MB: Why are there not more start-ups coming out of this country?
MJ: Education or the lack of it. Entrepreneurship relies on knowledge, passion and hard work. These three are obviously inter-related. Education provides a wonderful platform for ideas and passion to form. It also rewards hard work. If we had a better educational system, one that better rewarded top performance, then I believe that we would also have more entrepreneurs.

MB: Is there enough support for entrepreneurs in South Africa?
MJ: No, of course not. It is very tough to become one and we also do not have enough role models. Kids want to be soccer stars, DJs, music idols. At school we learn about Pythagoras, but not about cash flow and budgets. And the regulatory burden for even a small business is high.

MB: How should entrepreneurs proceed when trying to do business in Africa?
MJ: Talk to other entrepreneurs who are successful already. If we enter a new country we spend time talking to central banks, ministers and officials, of course. But the best advice comes from business people who are already operating in the country. People are remarkably willing to share their knowledge if you just ask nicely.

MB: What made FNB bring PayPal out here?
MJ: To open up the market for SA Internet entrepreneurs. To keep talent in South Africa. To further build our innovative edge in banking. To get more people banking with FNB.

MB: What has the response been like?
MJ: We have exceeded all our targets for the business case. At the same time we are impatient, as the potential to sell to 84 million active consumers globally is not being fully grasped yet.

MB: How does FNB embrace the constant flow of new technology/social media into its business?
MJ: We love innovation and encourage all our 30 000 staff to innovate. In fact the best innovator can win R1-million. This means that we have to rely less on a formal strategy for something like social media (or anything else) and more on just employing the right people and empowering them to get on with it. There was no formal strategy to get PayPal for instance. One of our youngsters just decided we should do it and worked hard to make it happen.

MB: Do you own an iPad?
MJ: Of course – I’m a techno junkie. Drives our IT support area mad.

MB: Blackberry or iPhone?
MJ: iPhone

MB: Why do you Tweet?
MJ: To make notes for myself on things that I find interesting from time-to-time. I find it amazing that other people choose to follow me when there are so many more interesting tweeters out there.

MB: What is the most important thing you would tell someone starting a new business in 2010?
MJ: Start with some savings, not with borrowed money. It’s tough enough to start a new business. You don’t want to make it even tougher by having to service debt from the start.



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