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On his Past

How would you describe yourself?

Crazy, willing to take on exciting challenges, constantly looking for the next learning curve. Always trying to find something thatís going to marry intellectual challenges with cultural challenge and mix all of that up to create success.

Where do you get your ideas?

I read a lotÖI read current news in a wide variety of fields and I spend a lot of time just trying to imagine how the world is unfolding Ė trying to see what current trends are emerging, whatís going to last and whatís going to die early Ė and then try to find opportunity in that that are interesting and worthwhile.

What drives you?

A continuous desire to reinvent myself. I certainly could never have imagined doing some of the things that Iíve been able to do, a nd if Iím afraid of anything itís of stopping that process of reinvention. I donít want to get trapped in a box. I donít want to be defined as a b usinessperson or a technology person.

Talk about taking risks.

I want to be able to take on new challenges all the time and try my hand at them. To do that I have to accept that every now and then you dive into things for which youíre completely unqualified, which makes the process terrifying but excitingg. Success and failure are flip sides of the same coin and that coin is a willingness to be innovative and take risks. Iím thinking in risky terms Iím quite conservative about actually starting projects. I try to think through as many different options as possible before picking one that I think is going to be an adventure, but for which I think I understand the fundamental principals well enough to be able to navigate though all the risks.

My philosophy is that the wider you throw the net the better the chances are of your catching really good idea. I accept that failure is a necessary part of the process and when it happens and of course it does Ė I try not to get frustrated about it. I just say Ďhow fascinating and move oní..

What do you look for in people you hire?

Soul more than anything else. In what I do, unpredictability and uncertainty is an everyday factor and I think to survive in an unpredictable world people need to have a very strong sense of who they are and a willingness o be thrown into the deep end. The most difficult thing for me in recruiting and keeping people is providing an environment which is safe and reassuring at the same time as continuously pushing the edge.

I think the people who work for me think Iím completely insane. Iím relentless. Just when they think weíve finally cracked a problem and created a solid base, I want to go off and taake on something else thatís c completely new challenge. Thatís very very difficult for people to deal with and it takes a special kind of person to survive in an environment like that. So I really try to look at the character of people and see whether or not theyíre going to be able to adapt to continuous change and whether or not theyíre going to be able to adapt to continuous change and whether theyíll fit in with teams having to adapt to continuous change.

How do you motivate people?

The key really is to keep people inspired and to keep people moving forward and focused on reinventing themselves, just like Iím trying to reinvent myself. People are motivated by many different things but most importantly, I think weíre motivated by a sense of excitementÖexcitement about the world we live in excitement about the possibilities, a sense of discovery. So thatís what I try to focus on, continuing to keep people excited about the discoveries that weíre making and the things weíre learning.g.

Of course, whatís challenging is that to learn tough lessons you learn by making mistakes. To continue to get people to push the envelope, I have to try to get them to see through that and see the opportunities.

How did Thawte happen?

Thawte was an extraordinary experience. It started really while I was at universityÖbecoming incredibly excited about this rapid change towards a networked society and trying to find a strategy to build a global business from South Africa with no resources.

The nice thing really was that because we were dealing with a fundamental shift, there were almost an infinite number of options to choose from. But it was quite clear to me that I was working from an environment with hige constraints. South Africa and Africa were not seen as technology centres so I would have to work very hard to change that perception. There were other major constraints in terms of financing.

So Thawte really was my strategy to deal with the Internet age, trying to find a business opportunity that would work well from South Africa and grow very quickly.

Why did Thawte succeed?

There was a tremendous amount of luck involved. When I look back, there were so many things that happened which I had no control over at all, which could have gone off in completely different directions.

There was also an extraordinary team of individuals that we put togetherÖnone of whom had Internet experience, none of whom would consider themselves technology gurus, but all of whom were willing to be adventurous, were willing to go against the flow, were willing g to take on companies that in theory were much better equipped, but take it in with a real spirit and soul and ultimately to win.

Describe the day of the R1 million payouts.

That was an extraordinary day! We tried to keep everybody briefed through the whole negotiation process of selling the company. It was very important for me that people knew what was going on and try to reassure people that no matter what the outcome of those negotiations, everyone would be taken to the next level in terms of their careers and also taken care of financially.

But itís inevitable when youíre talking about selling a company Ė a company people has grown to love and that youíve built together Ė that youíre creating a lot of uncertainty. I could see that people were nervous. When we finally closed the deal and called everyone in to make the announcement, the tension in the air was palpable; you could cut it with a knife. And then we started going through the process of explaining to people what had happened and how it was going to impact them personally. When people heard they were all getting R1 million, there was a room full of stunned faces. It was extraordinary. Some people were emotionally devastated. It was extraordinary thing for them. Other people were obviously thrilled to bits and excited on the telephone to friends and family.

How did people deal with becoming instant millionares?

We were very conscious of the fact that changing peopleís financial situation so dramatically can be a destructive force. We wanted to help them see what their financial options would be, how best to harness their new financial wealthÖto try to work around what they call Sudden Wealth Syndrome, which is what Lottery winners experience.

Whatís really interesting is to look back and see how different people have handled this, the impact itís had on their lives. I think that again the team showed tremendous character and personal maturity in the way dealt with all that. Generally I think itís quite a happy story.

Is money a motivator?

Of course. People need to feel that they are being rewarded for their work and their talents. I try to get people focused on creating value, so in financial negotiations dealing with personal remuneration I try to get people to take a stake in what theyíre creating in the work that they do. And thatís always a difficult thing because again what youíre asking people to do is to take risks and take a stake in those risksÖto take a take in a future thatís unpredictable and uncertain.

But if you look at people whoíve managed to create wealth, theyíre always willing to link to the future and work incredibly hard towards creating wealth where others through there was no wealth to be created. So yes, money is very important. But more important from a motivational perspective is a sense of wellbeing, a sense of the joy of life. Working with a great team, thatís very important. Creating a healthy team spirit, creating a healthy, exciting work environment. So I think I put as much effort into those non-financial factors as into the financial factors.

What lessons have you learned about business?

The guiding principal for me is to do what youíre going to love. The very difficult thing Iím trying right now is that technically I could do anything. So how does one choose? What sort of criteria do you use to choose what youíre going to devote your time to?

You only have 24hours in a day and we should only devote a certain portion of that to our work, so the biggest decision you have to make is how are you going to spend your time? How are you going to spend your energy? And what do you hope to achieve with that investment of time because itís the ultimate wasting asset.

We all have the same amount of time and once weíve spent it itís gone. So thatís the most important decision and the guiding principle for me more and more is finding something thatís going to be rewarding, that is going to inspire you and inspire other people.

No one has ever died wishing theyíd spent an extra day in the office. Ultimately weíre here to enjoy our lives, to feel that we have reached our inner potential and money is really a very poor measure of someoneís exploration of their inner potential.

I think looking back; the last 10 years have really been very money focused. People have been focusing more and more of their energy on less and less and less. I think thatís a very unrewarding and unsatisfying way to approach life. Now Iím seeing all over the world quite a significant backlash against that and itís understandable. I certainly never approach life on that basis. To large extent Ií, as surprised by the financial consequences of what Iíve done as anybody else is.

What has been the greatest challenge of your life?

Right now Iím taking on one of the greatest challenges of my life by training to become a cosmonaut. Itís been an extraordinary experience over the past couple of months, first trying to get through all the medical certification require in a foreign country (Russia) with foreign doctors, working to different rules. That was very challenging.

And then of course the actual training was incredibly disciplined, very detailed, very technical. On top of that weíre flying in the dace of some fairly huge forces. Iím negotiating with a variety of state and organizations in Russia. Thatís been an incredible learning curve.

Itís a huge challenge but Iím motivated to do it because Iíve always wanted to fly in space. Iím going to hammer at the problem until either I get into space or I can atleast say that Iíve satisfied myself that I did everything possible to realize the dream.

What are you learning from your Space adventure?

Iíve always been an intellectual king of guy. Iíve always been a geek. I was a bookworm, I read a hell of a lot at school, I read a hell of a lot at varsity. You know, when the Net came I dived straight into that and I still read a hell of a lot. I tend to think about to much. I really should learn to think about things less. Whatís been really interesting for me about this space adventure has been how rewarding it is to challenge yourself physically. I never took sport particularly seriously. Of course now I have to. Some of the physical tests are pretty strenuous. Whatís been really interesting for me to see is that, if you put your mind to it, then mot only is the force of the will and mind good in business, academia and research, itís good in the physical challenges.

Iíve always had to deal with uncertainty, but I must say, living and working in Russia has introduced a whole new level. At no stage have I really known whatís going on. There are constantly rumors about other people who want to fly that are making separate deals with the people Iím trying to negotiate with. There are political forces at work at work tat could scotch any hope of flying. There have been setbacks.

Iíd say my three months in Russia have made me a stronger, more focussed and more easy- going guy. I know what Iím here to do, I know what Iím trying to achieve, I know that Iím working very hard for what I believe is an important project. But fate will take its course and ultimately we have to believe that life works out for the best, irrespective of whether or not we get what works out for the best, irrespective of whether or not we get what we hope to get.

What kind of leader are you?

Iím terrible when Iím in charge. I make an atrocious boss and Iíve finally learnt that myself. So I wonít take the job if anyone offers it to me. Iím an atrocious manager and one of the most important things for me to learn has been exactly that: ďSo youíre a bad manager, itís not the end of the world, just donít do it, get other people whoíre better at it to do itĒ.

Iím continuously pushing the envelope, which is very difficult for people to try to keep up. So what Iíve learned is that I need to create teams and I need to provide leadership for those teams that will create the maximum amount of stability for those teams to go off into the unknown.

What's your vision for the future?

Iím going to keep reinvent myself. Iím going to keep taking on new challenges that test me in different ways, that are going to force me to learn new skills and for which I may have no obvious qualifications. I certainly wonít limit myself to things Iíve done in the past. You know the temptation is to try to repeat your previous success and to do that again and again and again until you get struck in a rut. For me, thatís a tremendous temptation. But I find that unsatisfying. For whatever reason, Iím driven to take on new things and new challenges. The scary thing is that Ií m usually completely unqualified. For instance, I would love to make a movie but I have absolutely no artistic credentials and the result could be an unmitigated disaster. But some day Iím going to do it. And Iím not a mountaineerÖbut Everest is there and waiting.
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The Team
Mark Shuttleworth
Dale Cupido
Karen Sharwood
Lara Keytel
Danie Barry
Freddy Khan
Vaughan Oosthuizen
Ravi Naidoo
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Nicolette Cronje
Wayne Derman
Peter Ribton
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