A true story of success to significance

An interview with Hendrik Marais

Q:  Have you always been altruistically focused and concerned about your community at large?
A:  I guess so.  Always is a long time, buol.t at Varsity I was already involved in politics and student organisations and I taught Sunday School.

Q:  Did your desire to give back grow stronger as you got older?
A:  Yes. Of course, when time or money is in extra short supply, one tends to think less of giving back and focus more on a surviving.  But I always wanted to make a difference.

Q:  Do you believe that everyone has the responsibility to look outside of themselves and to make a difference in whatever way they can?
A:  Absolutely!  We are living in a much better world to what our ancestors had because they left the world better than they found it.  We owe it to our children and their children to do the same.

Q:  Does the average South African do enough in your opinion?
A.  Probably not.  We do not seem to have a well-developed culture of looking out for the generations to come.

Q:  What needs to happen if the next generation is to succeed?
A:  We need to create value.  Value being the difference between input and output.  Sometimes value can be called profit and measured in money, but certainly not always.  If there is enough “value” to go around there will also be enough work for everyone.  Everyone will be creating value by producing more than his/her cost.  That means we have to educate, develop and empower the next generation with both the ambition and skills to create value in the different forms our society needs and wants it in.

We are currently experiencing the negative symptoms of a society wanting to consume more than it produces.  Crime, corruption and unemployment are examples of the symptoms that I believe will fade away if we get education and the culture of creating value right.

Q:  Tell us more about your interest in educational upliftment and some of the projects you headed up throughout the years.
A:  Thirty years ago, when helping my own children with their math homework in primary school, I realised we were teaching children to be consumers rather than entrepreneurs.  There was not a single example in their set books where the words business, profit, loss or cost was used.  The few problems involving money read something like, “you are buying a hamburger costing R17 and paying with a R20 note – how much change should you get?”

I wrote to and canvassed the curriculum writers to use the “hidden curriculum” to influence our culture by using examples that would put children on the other side of the till or desk – to start thinking like an entrepreneurs.

I also managed to get some daily newspapers to publish short stories on school children earning their own pocket money.  I sponsored the prize money given to the children whose stories were published.  At first the schools were against the idea of children doing anything beyond sport and school work.  We solved that problem by getting IBM to donate computers to the schools of the finalists every year.  This action eventually led to entrepreneur days at schools and new enthusiasm for business amongst children form a young age.

My faith in the power of entrepreneurship and creating value helped to create the unique Business School at UJ (then RAU) and establishing Technikon RSA, now part of Unisa in Roodepoort.  And of course, the BrainBoosters initiative that I am involved in at the moment.

Q:  Have your give back initiatives taken more of your focus in your later years?
A:  Only in the last few years with BrainBoosters.  From the age of 25 I focused on giving back as much as possible – but only to the extent that it didn’t detract from my business in a big way.  Even though it costs time, energy and money to give back, the personal growth and rewards for doing it more than makes up for the sacrifices.

Q:  Tell us about how giving of yourself has changed your life.
A.  Long ago I read an interview with president Reagan where he stated that anyone can really make a huge difference to the world – on condition he doesn’t want credit for it!  That was a profound and very valuable piece of wisdom for me.

By doing the right thing, without expecting thanks, praise or recognition, it takes away a lot of stress and makes the experience a whole lot more fulfilling.  You get to meet and work with lots of wonderful people sharing your enthusiasm.  Creating a successful business is very satisfying, but to create something that will benefit and grow other people is satisfying on a totally different level.

We all want to make a difference, to leave the world better than we found it.  Life, and the joy of being alive, and remaining enthusiastic about life, is certainly enhanced in your later years by not just living for yourself but for others too.  It has certainly done that for me.

Click here to read Hendrik’s profile.

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