Here’s what you can learn from the youngest financial director of a JSE-listed company
At the age of 27 Wikus Lategan joined Calgro M3, to become the youngest financial director of a JSE-listed company. At the time, in 2008, the company had a market capitalisation of R30m. Today that figure is just on R2,9bn. Calgro develops mixed-use/integrated residential property projects that range from fully subsidised housing and subsidised rental units to gap housing, affordable housing, sectional and full title developments.
How did you enter this business?
I joined Calgro M3 in mid-2008, after the company had listed in November 2007. At the time, all Calgro M3’s cash resources were invested in projects and it could not turn cash around quickly enough. I saw the opportunity to help grow the company and grabbed it.
What major obstacles did you face?
There were several. First there was the global and SA recession; second a lack of cash flow and cash resources; and third, the need for the market to accept a new integrated housing concept. Compounding all of this was low business confidence in general of the SA investor. There was a need to regain the trust of the market and stakeholders in the wake of the great financial crash.
How did you overcome them?
The best way to deal with a recession is to put your head down and work hard and this applies to all of the above challenges. We had to be innovative, hands on, adaptable and, act as a team. We were also not scared to make mistakes, and if we did make one, we would correct it quickly. When it came to lack of cash flow and cash resources, we learned the art of begging, and pleading, with both clients and financial institutions.
How have you succeeded against the odds to be where you are today?
Our success has come from several factors. We have had a great team with people who were willing to work day and night, with limited, or no remuneration, but for the sole passion of making a difference in the lives of the people we serve – those who reside in our dwellings.
What have you learned the hard way that you would now do differently?
Thinking small, and going into survival mode never works.
Work with people with the same values as you and never rely on contracts or agreements, but rather on the person, or team doing the deal.
Sometimes it’s good to eat humble pie. Even though you might know that you are correct, the conflict and time spent on it might just not warrant the effort. Sometimes it is better to just settle and move on.
Spend more time thinking and less on working.
What advice do you have for people looking to start their own business?
Learn from others, and never stop learning. Dream big, and do everything you do as if it’s your last day. Have a passion for what you do. Turn over every cent 20 times to make sure what you want to spend it on is the best use for that cent. Saving money is much easier than making it. Never be scared of gearing for the right reason, especially if you have done the previous step. Banks make a profit out of lending money; remind them of that regularly.
Who has been your most important mentor or person who guided you and what did you learn from them?
There are many people who had a big effect on my life, and on who and what I am today. My parents and my two grandfathers are among them, who raised me with a value system and who taught me the value of true, hard, honest work. Friends and colleagues (old and current) who have always kept me on the straight and narrow taught me to be true to myself. A special Jewish friend who taught me the value of true humbleness and the value of treating all people equally.
Are you mentoring anyone outside your business and, if so, what are you focusing on teaching them?
I currently don’t mentor someone specifically, although my wife and I are involved with much charity work. I always want to get the message across that it doesn’t matter what your current situation is, through the willingness to work harder than anyone else out there, you will make a difference, you will be seen, and you will be uplifted.
If you started today with what you now know what would you do differently?
I would have listened more to others, and have more respect for diversified thinking.
If you could replicate yourself, what else would you focus on achieving?
I am not sure I would do anything very differently from what I do today, just on a much bigger scale and try to make an even bigger difference in the lives of people, like giving them a world-class education.