A world of opportunities

By Khudusela Pitje

01 June 2009

A new generation of black economic empowerment investors

IF YOU AS A South African feel sorry for yourself and bemoan a perceived lack of opportunities for entrepreneurs, then just take a minute to stand on Rivonia Road and look at the Sandton skyline and the promise it offers. That's the advice given by Khudusela Pitje, CEO of New GX Capital.

Formed in 2006, in conjunction with investment banking group Absa Capital, New GX Capital owns a 37,3% stake in start-up technology and telecommunications group Community Investment Ventures, which in turn holds 70% of Dark Fibre Africa, a company involved in laying fibre-optic cables. On top of that, New GX has also become the empowerment partner of the Bravo Group, a consumer bedding company that owns a number of established brands, including Slumberland, Sealy and Edblo.

In three years, New GX has managed to grow its assets to just under Rbn -an impressive achievement considering the lean structure of the firm, which has just two full-time staff members.

Sitting in the building that houses China Construction Bank's offices in Sandton, Pitje points to the proliferation of construction activity taking place and the foreign investment flowing in from multinational groups, which regard SA as an access point into the rest of Africa.

There's no-shortage of opportunities for South Africans with the right mindset. "What I personally like is the change in the black economic empowerment landscape," said Pitje, who adds the idea of token black shareholders is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. "There's a new generation of black economic empowerment investors coming through and businesses are seeing benefits of having shareholders who can add value."

When asked what had given him his biggest foot up in his entrepreneurial life, he cited his father. "My father was a true example of an entrepreneur. When he was young, he saved up enough money to buy a camera, which he used to take pictures of an accident. His pictures were entered into a competition which he won and he used that money to open up a cinema and from there he expanded into owning a bottle store," says Pitje, who spent much of his young life helping out in the various businesses.

That had provided him with a grounding in business he's carried through into the corporate boardroom and he says it gave him a significant head-start.

Even during his schooldays, Pitje realised there were opportunities for up-and-coming entrepreneurs willing to work. He and a few friends got together to open a hair salon - a venture that turned out to be a handy generator of revenue. But despite such opportunities Pitje was dreaming bigger.

"Having spent a lot of the time helping my dad out in various businesses I realised there was still a big gap between what my dad did and what I wanted to do," he says.

Lack of enthusiasm and ambition has never been a problem for this entrepreneur, which didn't always count in his favour.

"One of the things I was criticised for by placement agencies when I was still looking at jobs in the banking sector was that when somebody asked me where I wanted to be in five years time I'd tell them I wanted to be running my own business."

That didn't necessarily sit well with the human resources departments at a number of those firms, where the message was: be ambitious, just not too ambitious.

So where are we going to see New GX over the next few years? Is a listing imminent?

"New GX itself probably won't list, but I think the telecoms company could be ready for a listing in the next five years or so," says Pitje.