Christo Wiese


Christo Wiese is Chairman and largest shareholder of Steinhoff International Holdings – to whom he sold Pepkor, non-executive chairman of Invicta Holdings Limited and the controlling shareholder of Shoprite Holdings Limited, Africa’s largest retailer. His business accolades and achievements are just way too many to mention and he is without doubt one of the most shining examples to all of us in South Africa of ‘turning life into LEGACY’.

My Highlights | Would be my family and having children. This has given me unlimited pleasure.

I’m Most Proud | Of seeing ordinary people achieve extraordinary things, including oneself. You start off thinking that you and other people are only capable of achieving a certain level and then you find you get there, you say what the heck, let’s try and move a little bit further.

Our Business Has Created Opportunities | Employing 160,000 people across the whole group. I am most proud of being able to give people the opportunity to grow, and for being in the kind of business that is aimed at improving people’s lives. People who are in more privileged circumstances don’t always realise how important it is for a person, particularly a poor person to at least be decently dressed. There is an element of dignity that is very important. Pep Stores, have made it possible over fifty years for the poorest people to dress, first of all their children, but secondly themselves, decently and dignified.

Leadership Is Key | In the case of Pep, it was articulated in five concepts and words; Faith, Positive thinking, Hard work, Enthusiasm and Compassion. Those are our guiding principles and how we operate.

There Is A Hero In All Of Us | What you need is a leader to make people realise that they don’t have to be less than ordinary, that they can be more than ordinary.

Business Is Opportunistic | ‘Vision’ is a very grand word. Business is not about vision in my view, but is rather and essentially opportunistic.

Sacrifice vs Opportunity | You’re determined that you want to succeed in the way the world defines the success and you realise that there is a trade-off. You can decide to play golf three days a week or you can decide to work your butt off. The decision is yours. And I’m not saying that the guy who decides to play golf gets less out of life, but it’s how you see life and what you want to do with your life.

What I Have Done Differently | Is that I put in the hours. Without energy there can’t be anything. I teach my children there are three elements to make sure that you’re a success; Number one is energy. If you’re lazy, forget it.

Second is how you work with people. And the third element which is woven into the second one is communication with people. Most people are reasonable and if you communicate properly you can try to persuade without bullying.

The Responsibility Of Leadership | Sometimes in a leadership position you have to say, “That’s the cross I bear. I have to make the decision”. When it’s half-a-dozen of the one and six of the other, somebody’s got to make the call. You’ve got to be happy to make it and live with the consequences.

On Achieving Balance | It’s just prioritising and asking, “Is it really worth doing this and giving up that?” There is always the trade-off. I’ve often told people, if one is super-ambitious in business then you must go where the really big games are being played in New York, or London, or wherever. Would I ever do that? No, because my priority is the one life I have. I want to live in Cape Town, South Africa, in Africa. It’s my choice and my trade off.

Balance The Accolades And The Criticism | Once you start being perceived as being successful, people will praise you and compliment you. The other side is unexpected, where you’ll find you’ve got enemies that you never knew about. Suddenly you have enemies, attacks, and innuendoes. I’ve learned to treat both of these with the same suspicion and contempt.

Don’t believe everything nice that people tell you about yourself. At the same time don’t be brought down by the slings and the arrows.

I Am Driven | To make a difference, whether small in people’s lives or in a community’s life, or to make a big difference in the country.

Hindsight | One of South Africa’s big industrialists is alleged to have said that if he had known how difficult it was going to be when he started out, he would never have done it. He would never have started with all the setbacks and all the disappointments. Yet towards the end of his life when he looked back, he marvelled at how easy it appears to have been. That’s the truth. When you’ve been through it all with all the ups and the downs and look back on the journey, you realise that it wasn’t that difficult.

Ever Experienced Doubt | Quite frankly, I must say no. I’ve been in tight spots in business with some pretty hairy moments but I’ve never experienced fear.

I’ve never been able to understand what the benefit is of not having a positive outlook. How do you gain by it? How does that improve your world or other people’s lives?

On the other hand how greatly can you benefit by saying, “What a wonderful world! I’ve got to go out there and do my thing.”

All Big Businesses Have One Thing In Common | They started as small businesses, simple. There is no magic formula except for the 5 key principles; Faith, Positive thinking, Hard work, Enthusiasm and Compassion. And remember that it’s the same for everybody.

Critical Skills To Develop | Interpersonal skills, because at the end of the day you can do very little by yourself. You need people.

Capitalism Plays An Important Role | I have a simple belief that the capitalist system with all its shortcomings (and there are many because every system involves people and people have shortcomings), still offers the best way to create a better life for the largest number of people. I believe that without business, it would be a very sad world.

By doing business, creating jobs, creating prosperity that can be shared, and the question is that the world is always grappling with, how do you share it. But through that, it makes its contribution. And we’ve seen so many examples, the clichéd comparing of West Berlin to East Berlin, was different planets but same people, same language, same cultural values. Yet you cross a checkpoint and you’re on another planet. In the old days I was there before the wall came down and saw it with my own eyes.

The Meaning Of Life | It is a huge gift. Life is wonderful and I really enjoy it. I suppose that’s also from the positive thinking, that one just finds it wonderful! You need to feel reasonably confident that on balance you’ve done more good than bad. That’s all.

On Faith | I sometimes marvel at how people go through life thinking that this is all there is to it. There are very intelligent people who hold that view. I’m just happy I’m not one of them.

Interview Questions

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