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Brand Pretorius - In the Driving Seat: Lessons in Leadership

Brand Pretorius - In the Driving Seat: Lessons in Leadership

Автором Brand Pretorius

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Brand Pretorius - In the Driving Seat: Lessons in Leadership

Автором Brand Pretorius

349 pages
9 hours
Feb 5, 2013


Brand Pretorius knows what it means to be a leader: he was at the head of Toyota South Africa during its heyday, and took over as chief executive at the McCarthy Group. He knows that leadership means making hard and unpopular decisions with an eye on the long term.

He writes about his four decades in business and the lessons he learnt. He illustrates his lessons on leadership with tales from his highly regarded career in motoring, like how it feels to be in a Formula 1 racing car with one of the world's best drivers.

This book gives a rare insight into what it means to do business in South Africa, and how a South African business leader can navigate all of our country's complexities.

Filled with the wisdom of hard experience, with lessons which, though aimed in the first instance at business people, can be applied in any sphere of life.

An inspirational and gripping book.
Feb 5, 2013

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Brand Pretorius - In the Driving Seat - Brand Pretorius

In the Driving Seat


Brand Pretorius


Dedicated to all the special people

at Toyota and McCarthy I had the honour to lead,

and the privilege to serve

The life force for humankind is perhaps, nothing more or less than the passionate energy to connect, express and communicate. Enrolment is that life force at work, lighting sparks from person to person, scattering light in all directions. Sometimes the sparks ignite a blaze; sometimes they pass quietly, magically, almost imperceptibly, from one to another to another.

Benjamin and Rosamund Zander

The Art of Possibility


Many books have been written on Leadership, and many more will no doubt be written in the future. Only a few will have a profound impact on those who read them, and I truly believe this will be one of them. For lessons on leadership to resonate with the reader, they need to be given by those who have not only traversed the treacherous journey themselves, but have also done it with success, integrity and humility.

Brand Pretorius is one such leader. The chapter on servant leadership is a testament to the style of leadership for which he has become famous. With a distinguished career in top leadership positions, first at Toyota and then at the McCarthy Group, there is none more qualified to talk about being In the Driving Seat.

In this book, he shares with us his successes as CEO, as well as his trials and tribulations in steering two leading motor manufacturing and retailing companies in South Africa.

The lessons he learnt are invaluable.

Using his practical experience of leadership in the fast lane, so to speak, Pretorius weaves a tale of leadership in all its facets – personal, professional and social. His insights on what it takes to be a good leader will be a beacon for the next generation of corporate and public sector leaders.

I have had the privilege of working closely with Brand Pretorius during my tenure as a non-executive director of McCarthy Ltd. His contribution to business and society has been recognised in many ways, most notably through the awarding of an honorary professorship in Business Management by his alma mater, the University of the Free State. I am thus deeply honoured to be associated with a book detailing his experiences on leadership, and to now present it to you. The book will prove itself a fascinating read.

Hixonia Nyasulu

Non-Executive Chairman, Sasol Limited


I believe it was part of my destiny that I attended the annual Sake 24 Economist of the Year banquet late in 2010. It was at that function that I was approached by Lauren Thys from NB Publishers with the request to write a book about my life in business. A follow-up meeting took place in February 2011 with the commissioning editor, Gerhard Mulder, who convinced me to commit to the assignment. From the outset I was adamant that, for various reasons, I did not want to write an autobiography. However, I was prepared to share with a wider audience what I have learnt about business and leadership over my career spanning 38 years.

The opinions and suggestions contained in this book are presented in all humility. Because of the various twists and turns my career took, and in particular the ups and downs I experienced, I know full well that I do not have all the answers. However, I also feel that I have some valuable learnings and lessons to share since I learnt so much during my business journey, as well as from my mentors. Their perspectives, wisdom, insight and advice added enormous value to my life from both a personal and career point of view. Hopefully my many learnings will also be of benefit to you.

As you join me on my journey you will find that I recount the road travelled in two separate sections.

To provide context for the bulk of the content, namely my leadership approach and the lessons I learnt, the first section contains a brief overview of my childhood years and my experiences at both Toyota South Africa and the McCarthy Group. As my business career was mainly conducted in the public sphere, my family and I have decided to guard our privacy and keep our personal life out of the limelight. Even though personal references feature throughout, it is not the aim of this book to be autobiographical. The first section only aims to provide the canvas against which the lessons and insights about business and leadership should be interpreted. For this some autobiographical elements are necessary, but the main part of this book simply uses these anecdotes, tales and the chronological exposition of my career as a backdrop.

I have tried my best to share some of the highs and lows in an open and sincere manner. During my childhood years in the small Free State town of Bultfontein, I never imagined that I would one day have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the top brass in the motor industry. Nor did I expect that I would be exposed to the range of experiences I encountered, from the excitement of attaining market share and customer satisfaction leadership at Toyota, to the challenge of trying to turn around a technically insolvent McCarthy. Whilst dealing with the recapitalisation of the group, I also had to face an aggressive interrogation during the Section 417 enquiry which followed the unfortunate liquidation of Retail Apparal Group in 2002. In 2004 my life changed again when Bidvest acquired McCarthy, after the company had successfully been restored to financial health. More valuable learning experiences occurred as a member of the Proudly Bidvest team. All in all I was incredibly blessed to have been exposed to such a broad spectrum of different people, challenges and opportunities, both here and abroad.

The heart of this book is contained in the second section in the various chapters dealing with leadership. Despite the fact that so much has already been written on the subject (according to Google, almost 15m books), a constant demand remains for more insights and practical advice. My input on the fascinating subject of leadership is not meant to contribute to the academic theory, but is intended to add some value to the debate on what constitutes effective leadership. Because of the nature of my experience, my input has a distinctly local flavour. There is no doubt that leaders in South Africa face some unique challenges, not only because of our history, but also because of the current realities and likely future environment.

This section will take you on a journey first through the environment in which leaders need to function and thrive. It deals with some guidelines for effective leadership. I also expand on my own philosophy and explain why principled servant leadership became the goal I pursued during my business career. I furthermore cover two areas where I applied my leadership approach and illustrate the lessons learnt in both customer service and marketing. Marketing efficiency and service excellence, which are both keys to sustainable business success, are subjects I feel very passionate about. Although some of the case studies date back to my days at Toyota, I am of the view that the principles we applied are timeless.

Considering our unique South African environment and the dire need for exceptional leaders, Chapter 11 probes business leadership and its role in our country. In this chapter I deal with actions business leaders can take to help build a better future for all South Africans. I feel very strongly about the acceptance of co-responsibility, as well as the broader role business needs to play in society. Our young democracy is at a fragile stage of development, and we cannot afford to be passive.

In the last chapter I share my views about the changing face of leadership and the challenges ahead. I provide some closing thoughts on leadership, success and significance.

I am humbled by the responsibility of sharing my views and advice with you. It is an attempt to give back. I trust that you will enjoy this journey with me through the fascinating landscape of business and leadership. It is my hope and prayer that you will find something of value along the way.

Brand Pretorius

23 June 2012



Growing up: From Bultfontein

to Business

"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens

and lets the future in."

Graham Greene, Author of The Power and the Glory

One of my mother’s hens stopped laying eggs – inexplicably. She became fatter and heavier every day. People said there was a blockage. Great was our excitement when my mother reluctantly gave the hen to us three young Pretorius brothers to sell for pocket money. But the excitement was short-lived – my two brothers, Hennie and Koos aged eleven and nine, were too shy to sell the abnormally heavy hen. Being the little one in the family at that stage and only five years old, I was probably too young to be embarrassed. Without any hesitation I put the hen in a basket and walked the two blocks to the butchery. Undaunted, I convinced the butcher to buy the hen for two shillings. Extremely pleased with my deal I returned home with the coins tinkling in my pocket.

The feeling of satisfaction that I experienced that day may have planted the seed for my future interest in doing business. Perhaps it was there in the dusty streets of Bultfontein that the marketing bug first bit me – but I would only realise it much later in life.


Bultfontein, Free State

Although I was born in the eastern Free State village of Steynsrus, my first childhood memory is a clear picture of our stone house next to the Bultfontein High School. My father, after whom I am named, was appointed there as headmaster in 1952. At the time, Bultfontein was a typical rural Free State town, about 100 km north-west of Bloemfontein, and surrounded by similar towns such as Hoopstad, Hertzogville, Dealesville and Brandfort. The local community was only a few hundred strong and the maize farmers in the surrounding areas played a prominent role. The few businesses in town were largely owned by Afrikaner Jews like the Gritzman and Berolowitz families. If memory does not fail me, we only had one tarred road, which was the main street. That was where Central Garage, the General Motors dealership, was located. I often peered through the showroom window, admiring the shining new Chevrolets and dreaming about owning one someday.

Cars were my childhood passion. I was greatly influenced by my eldest brother Hennie. From a young age, he was the enthusiastic (and unauthorised) driver of my father’s De Soto and later, our two-tone, grey-and-blue 1956 Chevrolet. I can recall the exhilaration when, after waiting anxiously for months, we took delivery of the new car. With bated breath I sat on the front steps, never taking my eyes off the road. Slowly, after what felt like hours, a car emerged in the distance. I ran to the gate. At last, the car I had been dreaming of had arrived! I was eight years old.

My plans for the future were already clear at that age – I wanted to become a car designer one day. Despite lacking any artistic talent, I spent hours designing my dream cars. By the time I was 11 I had compiled a scrapbook of my favourite cars. I could not wait for Saturday afternoons to help Hennie wash my dad’s Chev, and it was pure bliss the day we painted all the engine components in different colours! Considering how strict my father was, it is a miracle that he did not interfere and allowed us to continue.

Around this time we left Bultfontein’s dusty roads behind and relocated to Bloemfontein where my father was appointed headmaster of Wilgehof Primary School. Enormous excitement prevailed when my mother got her first car, a 1959 Renault Dauphine. For me it was the beginning of a new phase in my life as a fanatical Renault enthusiast. These distinctive French cars fascinated me from day one with their unique styling and gutsy performance. Many afternoons after school I would pedal all the way to the Renault dealer, Drakenstein Motors. Oom Jan van Niekerk understood my passion and allowed me to sit in the latest models, fantasising. For me there was nothing more alluring than the distinctive smell of new leather. Unbeknown to me then, my enthusiasm for Renault would eventually open the door to my career in the motor industry.

Around the same time that my love affair with Renault began, my interest in motor sport also started to develop. My friend Albert Weideman and I built race tracks in our backyard and raced our Dinky Toy cars in a great spirit of competition. At night I dreamed of the great racing drivers of that time – of Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill.

When I was 15 my father was promoted to inspector of schools and we moved to Bethlehem. Two exciting things happened. My new friends Theo Harris and James Keulder shared my passion for cars. We spent many hours dreaming about how we would one day become famous racing drivers. Then it dawned on us that a go-kart would be the ideal way to start our racing careers. We painstakingly designed our own dream go-kart, spent all our pocket money on a second-hand lawnmower engine and started to weld the frame together in Theo’s dad’s garage. We spent many weeks trying to work out the gearbox and drive train configuration, but in the end our engineering skills were found wanting. Ultimately a lack of funds prevented us completing this ambitious project.

The second exciting event was inheriting my brother Koos’s old grey Ovilam 50 cc motorcycle. Although it was not by any stretch of the imagination a state-of-the-art machine, it heralded the start of my life-long love for motorcycles. At that stage the gearbox only had one gear that worked – third gear. I could only push-start it on steep descents – but that produced enough adrenalin to hook me for life. Racing down Eureka Street with the wind in my hair produced a tremendous thrill. For his 16th birthday, Theo received a brand-new dark-blue Honda 50 Sport, with its exhaust at an angle. It had a 4-stroke engine that revved freely to 8 000 rpm – the ultimate! The moment I laid eyes on it, I visualised myself on a red one.

I spent my last two years of school in Kroonstad when my father was transferred there. It was two wonderful years at Kroonstad High, or the Blue School, as it was commonly known at that time. Hennie was now a teacher in Welkom, and thanks to his generosity, I was the owner of a second-hand 50 cc Kreidler Florette, with all three gears in working order! Trips to school became very competitive events and usually resulted in races between me and my friends Pierre Joubert, on his Garelli, and Johannes Pretorius, on his Puch. I can still recall every kink in the road lined with massive willow trees next to the False River, with a few hazardous traffic circles. Of course we came off occasionally, but thankfully the damage was mostly limited to bruised egos. Despite my best efforts, Pierre usually got the better of us.

Hennie also introduced me to the Kyalami race track. How can I ever forget the exhilaration of attending my first nine-hour endurance race – the deafening sound of high revving engines, the overpowering smell of racing fuel, the cheering crowd, the entire adventure. The fearless racing drivers thrusting their cars around the bends instantly became my heroes. The intense rivalry between the Renaults, Alfa Romeos and Fords was all-absorbing. My adrenaline was pumping. I will also never forget that afterwards, on the Sunday morning, we had to pick up dozens of soft-drink bottles to trade for petrol money at cafes on our way back to Kroonstad. Hennie’s white 1961 Renault Dauphine, which he inherited from my mother, looked stunning with its wide wheels and sports exhaust. We felt like kings of the road. The fact that it only had a tiny 850 cc engine never bothered us.

During my matric year in 1965 I seriously started contemplating my future career. Because of my passion for cars, I was determined to join the motor industry. My teachers’, parents’ and my own frame of reference were all equally limited. The only direction we could identify was for me to study mechanical engineering. As the tuition was unaffordable, I applied for a bursary at Iscor. Due to my good academic record it was awarded and because I was not conscripted for military service, I could start my studies at the University of Pretoria in 1966. A condition to the bursary was that I had to study there and that I would have to work for Iscor for at least three years, a small sacrifice to achieve my ultimate goal.

It is with gratitude in my heart that I think back on my childhood years. I grew up in a home where my father had all the authority and the principles were strictly Calvinist. Christian norms and values were imprinted on us. There was no confusion between right and wrong. My father applied discipline consistently and as children we always knew where we stood with him. He was a well-read, intelligent man, who reached great heights in his field because of his integrity, competence and dedication. His passion was education. He was serious about his vocation and his sense of duty was an inspiration. He also had a softer side to him. Occasionally, especially during our numerous caravan holidays, he had us in stitches with his subtle sense of humour. In these unguarded moments we could sense and appreciate the quality of his humanity.

The principles taught to me by my dad had an undisputed and significant impact on me, such as the acceptance of responsibility and that you follow through on this responsibility to the very end. He ensured that we had designated responsibilities like watering the garden or cleaning the chicken pen.

When we still lived in Bultfontein we had a cow that grazed in the municipal camp just outside town during the day. In the late afternoon we had to fetch the cow so that it could spend the night in the cowshed and also so that it could be milked. And so, one wintry afternoon when I was about 10, it was my responsibility to go and fetch the cow. Unfortunately, on that day, all the cows grazing in the camp looked identical to me. To my dismay I had to return home empty-handed, without Blommetjie in tow. Despite the fact that it was cold and windy and already starting to get dark, my father sent me back – responsibility had to be taken seriously and completed successfully. Perseverance walks hand in hand with responsibility. This lesson became part of my being and served me well in later life.

The second lesson that my father taught me was the reality of cause and effect. Everything you do has consequences. Good behaviour was rewarded and bad behaviour punished. With regard to the last, my father did not believe in compromise or exceptions. If we acted outside the framework of our family’s principles and values, inevitable consequences followed – we were punished. Once we were caught red-handed while we were picking peaches from the head of the hostel’s garden. Pleas for extenuating circumstances were unsuccessful and my father’s cane imprinted the consequences on our backsides. I learned that I had to think before I acted, that taking chances never paid off as the truth would always come out in the end.

My father was an Afrikaner nationalist to his very core and, or so I suspect, also a member of the Broederbond. Being an Afrikaner was a very serious matter and he conducted himself with pride in this regard. His father fought in the Anglo-Boer War and later served a sentence in Ceylon. His mother, Ouma Nellie, along with her 12 brothers and sisters, were held captive in a British concentration camp – she was the only one who survived. I can still remember the heartache and pain in her eyes when these memories haunted her.

A question that I sometimes ask myself is whether my Afrikaner heritage, honed by my father’s lessons and example, played an important role in my career. In my opinion it did, and in a positive way. During the first couple of years of my involvement in the motor industry and marketing world I wanted to show that an Afrikaner could also achieve success in an environment which was mostly dominated by English speakers. Later on in life I wanted to show through my example that I could make a positive difference in the lives of all South Africans – and that I was co-responsible for the mistakes of the past. But more importantly, that I also accept responsibility for creating a better future.

Like my father I will always honour my Afrikaner heritage, but in my case it is secondary to being a proud South African.

My mother, however, was the biggest influence in my life. She applied her Christian values every day with conviction through charity work and her compassion towards all people. She was willing to sacrifice everything for her family and community. The memory of her joy and gratitude towards her Creator and fellow man will stay with me forever. Most of all I will cherish her unconditional love. The inspiration of her example will remain the richest blessing in my life.

Although I did not realise it at the time, my mother was the first real example I had of servant leadership, the philosophy that I would later come to embrace. She was an exceptional example of a servant leader in her community and family. My father was 10 years her senior – in fact, he was her teacher at one stage. At the end of her matric year they got married and a year later my brother Hennie was born. Thus she never had a career, but dedicated her life to serving others. I never once saw her display any positional power, not even in the upbringing of her four sons. Even though my father had the undisputed position of authority in our house, my mother had more influence – he was the head but she was the heart. Without a doubt she deserved our respect, trust, love and admiration. My utter determination to deserve her love, and to live in a way that would make her proud of me, was the driving force in my life. She called me her sonskynkind (sunshine child) and I wanted to stay that for her, no matter what.

Finally my upbringing was also influenced and enriched by my three brothers Hennie, Koos and Attie. In between the normal fighting from time to time, we were great friends who were forever busy doing one thing or another. My father believed being idle was unacceptable and kept us occupied, and as the headmaster’s children we felt the pressure to set the best example at all times. We also had to participate in everything possible – even piano lessons were mandatory. Doing our best in order to realise our God-given potential was the mantra our parents encouraged us to live by. All three of my brothers excelled in their own right and have always been a source of great encouragement

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