Having the right people around you in any business venture, helps in no small measure to secure a firm foundation for success, believes alumnus Pierre Viljoen. This has proven all too true in each one of his three enterprises…and to this day he cherishes the camaraderie and friendship of his former business partners, school and university friends. Read more about his studies, career and successes below.
Q: Are you still actively involved in the business/marketing world and if so, what does this entail?
A: I still have many wide-ranging interests: I’m a director of several companies, have an interest in a vineyard in Franschhoek, and I still run an office in Pretoria. My formula is to keep myself actively busy, so hopefully my body and brain lasts longer.
Q: How did your career evolve, with special mention of specific highlights and milestones?
A: Straight after I graduated from the University of Pretoria (1956), I started the advertising agency, Adverto Advertising & Marketing – on April Fool’s Day in 1957. I was the only full-time employee, but five investor friends were involved in a non-executive capacity. In hindsight, it was a rather risky step to take at the age of 21, with no experience to boot. However, it was great fun! Then, in collaboration with the founder of the healthcare publisher, MIMS in the UK, Alfred Morgan, I started MIMS in South Africa (1960), while together we also published MIMS in a number of other countries. In 1979, I sold Adverto to the advertising group D’Arcy, McManus and Masius, and MIMS in 1989 to IMS Ltd, both listed companies in the USA. My third business venture, again along with partners, consisted of a property investment company as well as farming, the latter comprising the cultivation of trees near the Swaziland border and three wine farms: one in Paarl and two in Franschhoek (Haute Cabrière and Clermont). With the exception of keeping a smaller interest in Haute Cabrière, I’ve since sold all my other property interests.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: I’ve always enjoyed the creative side of business, hence my interest in advertising, publishing and investment, all of which require a considerable amount of creative thinking to consistently generate new and exciting ideas and projects. On top of that, I always enjoyed new challenges, for example, forestry and the hospitality business.
My five years at UP, where I had excellent lecturers, laid a firm foundation for all my business ventures. Interestingly, those years Tukkies did not have a dedicated marketing and communications department, but only “bedryfsekonomie” (Business Economics), which included some aspects of marketing and communications. I was privileged and honoured to have played a role in establishing a dedicated marketing and communications department at the University of Pretoria – the first at a South African university.
Indeed, like my father, who served the Economics Department at UP for many years as lecturer and professor, I only have the fondest memories of my alma mater.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Think out of the box! Most importantly: plan ahead! Put differently, building a reputation and not relying on one. This simply means you need to be and stay ahead of the pack. At the same time, you must also enjoy your studies and time at university.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business?
A: The right people. In all my business ventures, I had partners with whom I got on very well. Sure, we had the occasional disagreement, but generally we had a strong bond and a common vision.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?
A: I read a lot, particularly autobiographies…of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc…and I have just finished Phil Knight’s autobiography of the establishment and growth of Nike.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: While my scholastic performance was rather mediocre, I was always very enthusiastic about sport and my work. When I set out to do something, I go all out to make the most of it. I enjoy visiting places, good food, wine and good company.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: Dr Anton Rupert was one of my father’s students, but over time they also became close friends. He was one of the most interesting – and inspiring – people I’ve ever met. These days, Elon Musk, his vision and his achievements are talk of the town and I would love to sit down and talk to him.
Q: Going forward, what do you still want to achieve?
A: During my career, I was very privileged to become good friends with many of my former colleagues. I also still have close contact with many old school and university friends. So, I’m perfectly happy just to occasionally catch up with them, share their stories and have a good time.