Koos Bekker, CEO of Naspers and one of the richest men in South Africa, compares his love of doing business to eating prawns. The quirky billionaire’s nonchalant attitude, however, detracts from a career brimming with astute business acumen in which he has transformed the African media business sector.
Bekker – group CEO of Naspers for the best part of fifteen years – last month accepted yet another extension to his position following the sudden death of Antonie Roux, CEO of Naspers’ Internet Businesses.
Since taking over the helm at Naspers in 1997, Bekker has steered the company to become a multinational electronic and print media company covering 129 countries. He has led the firm in acquisitions of new and increasingly broad-ranging interests year upon year since his arrival. The company now boasts a market cap of R190 billion (US$21.7 billion) and has operations – notably involved in internet provision – spanning Eastern Europe, China, India, Latin America and Russia. It is also the African market leader in pay TV.
Prior to his thrice-extended stint at Naspers, Bekker played a pivotal role at M-Net, MTN, and the MIH Group. Leading the team that launched the original M-Net back in 1985 was the first step in what was to turn out to be a brilliant career which expanded the boundaries of media business in Africa. M-Net developed a network of pay TV operations which spread out across the African continent and today spans 48 countries.
With a successful business career in the tech sector spanning from 1985 to today, anyone would assume that the South African has always been passionate about business and the media, and determined to forge a life-long career in the sector.
This assumption would be wrong. In his own words: “I discovered that I liked media and business quite by accident – I studied law and most of my family saw business people as smouse. Rather surprisingly I found in myself a love of trying out new concepts and of building structures, as someone else may like the opera or like eating prawns.”
Despite a long list of professional successes, Bekker is renowned for being a private, down-to-earth person who is rarely seen courting the media spotlight. Nor does he appear to place much importance on the financial benefits to his achievements, which by all calculations are hefty. With a personal net worth estimated at R4.93 billion (US$562 million), Bekker has also amassed some R6 billion (US$684 million) in over 7.8 million Naspers shares.
Indeed, on receiving an award from South African Ernst & Young and Rand Merchant Bank for excellence in entrepreneurship, he opened his speech by telling those present: “I am greatly honoured that you should think me an entrepreneur worth giving a gong to.” As to his motivation, financial or not, he added: “I’ll do it [entrepreneurship] even if there’s no pay, just for the hell of it. Why? Don’t really know. If you want to discover how an entrepreneur’s brain works, ask someone else.”