No Saying No - Vusi Thembekwayo
Vusi Thembekwayo is an inspirational motivational speaker that we are proud to call a member of the Grolsch Swingtop Circle. Not only is he dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives, but he also lives by the mantra “No saying no”. Impressive, given how busy all our lives are in an age of fast-moving and evolving technology. So how does he do it all? We had a chat to find out…
At 17 you were ranked Africa’s number one public speaker and number 3 in the world, how was that?
It was great! I felt like I was on top of the world… then I realised I wasn’t, I was number 3.
What do you think it is about you that has made you achieve all you have at such a young age?
[Laughs]. I haven’t achieved much, but to answer your question, I have a willingness to learn; an innate ability to humble myself and understand that there is more to learn and discern from whom to learn this. I am patient with myself and constantly learning to forgive myself, especially in my weaknesses, because they do exist. I’m never afraid to explore my blind spots and move into unchartered territory with no map or guide – just myself to navigate that forest. This speaks largely to the trust I build with myself, knowing that I can follow through. I also have a “no saying no” policy. This is because I realise that circumstances will never be perfect, so I trust that the time is always right! Even though my perspective may be wrong at times, the time is still right, so I always honour the opportunity.
What did you want to be when you were young?
My aspirations changed over time. Look, I think that question is somewhat invalid because what you want to do always centres around what you know, and with my background, I didn’t know much. But again, to answer the question, first I wanted to be doctor. That dream lasted a day-and-a-half. After we dissected a frog in Standard 3, I thought, “Well there goes that doctor dream”! Then I wanted to be a lawyer, naturally, but that, too, quickly faded.
But in Standard 7, I watched Wall Street 1, where Michael Douglas was acting as Gordon Gecko. I thought to myself: “That’s it! Greed is indeed good!” That’s when I made the decision to be an investment banker, a desire of mine that persisted right through high school and led to my enrolling at Wits for a Bcom degree in Finance. But, as you know, I was kicked out of Wits for outstanding fees. At the time, I had already started public speaking on the side, so I pursued it.
What gave you the fire and desire to want to touch people’s lives and change them?
My very first time on stage gave me that fire. What most people don’t know is that when you’re on stage, you don’t discover it; it discovers you. My first time on stage felt familiar, cosy, like I was home. So that addictive feeling of familiarity to the entire experience – the first joke, the first important point and nods of approval, as well as Mama’s loud “mmmh!” in agreement to a powerful statement – is what sparked the fire! That’s how I knew that what I’m doing will change people’s lives continuously.
What were some of the greatest challenges in your journey?
Money. That is a continuous challenge, whether it’s money you have or money you want. In the beginning you need money to start. During the intermediate period, you need money to continue. Now, I need money to grow.
Another challenge is infrastructure, namely a place from which to work. When the security of being an employee is removed, one’s perspective changes completely in terms of what it means and costs to have an office space. One thing I’ve been lucky on is having access to clientele. It hasn’t been a challenge because as the market has grown, my standing in the market changed too, and I respositioned myself as a premium speaker. What has, however, been a challenge in this regard is having the resources to exploit that market.
You’ll be surprised by this, but believing in my dream was a challenge for me. I was head boy in my school, so there was great expectation to be someone super extraordinary. But after school, I found my prefects were doing better than I was. Regardless of your locus, that illusion of your regression relative to others affects you. But I’ve learnt that it’s important to rise above and continue with your endeavours.
Which other fellow South African entrepreneurs do you respect?
I have the greatest respect for Trevor Noah. He has achieved both prestige and significance just by pursuing his goal, regardless of the fact that he started quite lowly and was pushing for years! I curbed those regressive thoughts by reminding myself that the work I do matters.
As part of your giving back, you host events for young entrepreneurs for no charge. Please tell us more about these.
First I need to clarify, only one event was at no charge. The broader understanding that this question speaks to is the misconception that charity is free, and that is not right because it is not true. It’s important to understand that value-adding is costly. What I do is charge a minimal fee for some events, which makes them “loss-leaders”, because that fee does not cover even 50% of the costs to put the event together. The reason why I host these events is to create a space for people to hear my thinking and access like-minded thinkers’ thoughts. I think the circulation of knowledge is important.
Who motivates YOU?
Maybe the question I’m better equipped to answer is what motivates me. That I can list in a few bullet points:
- Making a difference
- Achieving my goals
- Leaving a legacy for my family
- Creating a first of its kind business that will outlive me
For more on Vusi and to make contact, visit http://vusi.co.za