Stephen Saad | The Legacy Project


Stephen Saad – CEO of Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. – is one of South Africa’s richest men, having reached millionaire status at the tender age of 29. Stephen Saad recently joined the small group of South African billionaires in 2014.

Saad broke into the pharma industry in 1993, aged only 29 years old. Selling his shares in Covan Zurich to mammoth Adcock Ingram, he made 20 million South African rand ($2.4 million) with his first foray into the world of business – and pharmaceuticals. Recognising his niche immediately, Saad has not strayed too far from the sector, and is now CEO of the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturer in Africa: Aspen which he co-founded alongside friend and colleague Gus Attridge – pooling resources to set up the company with only 50 million rand ($6 million) start-up capital. The duo had no idea of the success their business would see, initially setting up shop in a small house in Durban.

Stephen Saad Definition Of Success | I would say that the most important indicator of success is ensuring that you get the balance right. While money and the pursuance of personal wealth may be an important consideration in life, one should not lose sight of those things money cannot buy while pursuing material wealth, e.g. money may buy you medicine, but it cannot buy you health. It can buy a heater, but it cannot buy you a sunrise.  For me, success is a feeling of contentment both at home, at work and in business.

Aspen is performance driven and, while there is a real focus on financial performance, the Group balances its success by giving back to society.  As an example, we are very proud of the fact that each Aspen business around the world provides time-off and support to employees to engage in social upliftment projects of their choice as part of the Group’s support for Nelson Mandela International Day.

In South Africa, Aspen was one of the founding members and drivers of the Public Health Enhancement Fund, a three-year partnership between the public and private health sector in South Africa, which is expected to inject millions of funds to assist government in addressing a number of public healthcare priorities identified by the Department of Health.

Living a balanced life is important in creating your own legacy – life would be hollow if all you were after was making money without giving something back. Have you ever seen a safe follow a coffin?


I Am Driven By | I wake up every morning with the realisation that there are only 24 hours in the day, no more or less, no injury time. I get on my bike and cycle, watch the sunrise and go back home to take my kids to school. I tell them they’ve missed the most fantastic morning (they think I’m mad). I remain grateful for the 24 hours I have to live in a day and I try to live them as positively and productively as I can.


My Highlights | From a personal perspective, I would say that my family – my wife and four daughters – is what I am most proud of.  Having them in my life is and remains my single biggest highlight.

Obviously, I am also very proud of the fact that Aspen has achieved much from its humble beginnings as a small business, managed out of a three-bedroomed house next to the Greyville race course in Durban.   The Group now has 26 manufacturing facilities at 18 sites on six continents and approximately 10 000 employees.  It distributes products to more than 150 countries and has operations in more than 50 of these, with recent additions in the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Carricam and Asia Pacific.  We are also increasing our footprint in the established markets of Western Europe and, very recently, Japan.

Aspen has, for the last 14 years, consistently doubled its profit and earnings every three years and I believe there is still much more to come in this regard.  It has maintained its position as the leading supplier of generic and branded medicines in South Africa and Australia and has been ranked among the top five generic pharmaceutical producers globally.

I am also very proud that Aspen was recently ranked as the 10th most innovative company by Forbes in its “The Top 25 Most Innovative Companies in the World 2014” list.  This bears testimony to Aspen’s employees who always find a way or “make a plan” where others fear to tread.

Putting South Africa on the map from a pharmaceutical manufacturing perspective is also a great source of pride for me. Who would ever have thought that you could build a world class global pharmaceutical manufacturing business from here? Witnessing how people at entry level positions, with little or no experience, grow to industry specialists and leaders in their field on a global stage has been fantastic. Now multinationals come to South Africa to learn best manufacturing and operating practice.


The Difference Between Good And Great | Focus and discipline. All people tend to have a plan and a vision but the hard part is execution. That is where absolute focus and discipline is paramount.

The advice I regularly give to my kids is this:  you can have as much natural talent in the world, but someone with less talent but more determination, discipline and focus will always outdo you in the end.


A Key Talent | I would definitely say that perseverance has been the single most important contributor to what we have achieved –you are not defined by how many times you get knocked down, but by how many times you got up after being knocked down. Also critical has been a thorough understanding of the detail.

Ancillary to this is the understanding that to be and remain competitive you cannot become complacent with your success. While you can be happy, you cannot remain content with the status quo. Once you have become complacent, even after succeeding where others would have failed, you are short selling yourself – you have to be restless and look to the next challenge or goal.  The motto I always use is “To rest is to rust”. You have to have that edge all the time.  People have asked me: why don’t you sit down and celebrate your successes?   I am not one to celebrate the past. That was last year, I’ve moved on. Never ask yourself what past achievements can be celebrated, but rather what’s next. The time for memoirs is never now.


Principles I Live By |

Honesty and Integrity–your word is your bond.
Perseverance and continuous improvement – “to rest is to rust”.
Focus – if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
Know the detail – spend time understanding the drivers and cost factors of your business.
Passion – do something you love and love what you do.
Balance – a balanced life is a fulfilling life.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | Personally, my parents and my family have been the most profound sources of inspiration for me.

In the SA context someone like Professor Jonathan Jansen (the vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State) is a proper leader and a great inspiration to me. He not only says it as it is but also offers solutions. I believe education is the cornerstone to unleashing this country’s potential and he is the right calibre man to achieve this.

I also find inspiration from my time spent in nature and when exercising.


Advice On Building Wealth | It is extremely important to have both a clear vision and a plan. It can change at any point but it must be both simple and understandable to all . Make sure you really understand the details of your business – the critical detail, then list five or six priorities and ensure that you and your team focus on those priorities.

Keeping your overheads as low as possible – don’t lease the fancy office, car etc upfront, those trimmings will always be there for you when your business achieves true success.

Surround yourself with people who are more competent than you in the areas they specialise in.  Do not be threatened by competence.

Finally I believe that one of the critical factors for ensuring success it to trust those you have appointed to lead your businesses – I am very instinctive as I look for leaders not managers. Leadership by definition means you are leading. I see if they will go first and if their leadership style means others will follow.

The structures in Aspen are flat and there is no place for bureaucracy. There is trust, absolute trust. Aspen business leaders do not have to earn trust, they already have it by virtue of their appointment to the position. Once that is understood, people repay your trust through their actions.


Dealing With Doubt | I am generally a very positive person and do not have too many fears. I think the important thing to do is to always face up to challenges as they arise to avoid them growing into problems that could cause anxiety for yourself or those around you. From a business point of view I really only fear losing good people.  From a personal perspective I would say that I fear any illness afflicting my family.

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