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Jannie Mouton: And then they fired me

Jannie Mouton: And then they fired me

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Jannie Mouton: And then they fired me

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Jan 11, 2011


Jannie Mouton is one of South Africa’s greatest success stories. Here is the inside story of how he started PSG from scratch after getting fired at age 48 and turned it into a triumphant success in 15 years. Today it has interests in companies with a market capitalisation of R61 billion. In this book Jannie Mouton talks openly about what went on behind the scenes – even the most controversial events, such as the Pioneer Foods cartel saga. With his typical honesty and humour, he freely shares his business and investment advice. Losing is not a word in Jannie Mouton’s vocabulary.
Jan 11, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Carie Maas is the author of the runaway bestseller of 2011, Jannie Mouton: and then they fired me. She has built up an impressive career in financial journalism, working at some of South Africa's most prestigious publications as a financial and travel writer. In 2012, she resigned to focus on writing full time, resulting in From Corner Café to JSE Giant and a recently published novel, Koljander. Carie divides her time between her home in Johannesburg and her parents in Mpumalanga.

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  • An entrepreneur is a guy who can think, even if he wasn’t a huge success academically after school. Going to university is one of the most enriching experiences in the business world, but there one does not learn how to be an entrepreneur.

  • At a board meeting or when the executive committee of PSG sits around a table, focus is the one principle I always try to keep in mind. That’s how you convert a dream into goals and business success.

  • Three questions kept me busy for a long time: How does one make a company grow, when are people happy and what’s the key to making a success of a company? The answer is ultimate empowerment.

  • Johann Rupert, big chief of Remgro, once told me in a different context that if you want to play cat and mouse, you have to ensure you’re the cat.

  • The role of the entrepreneur is the collection and use of knowledge, his ability and readiness to see and use profitable opportunities and to use scarce resources effectively.

Anteprima del libro

Jannie Mouton - Carié Maas


The day I was fired as SMK’s managing director, my life was put on a new course. I had to delve deep, think a lot, learn and also make mistakes to get where I am now.

With the wisdom of hindsight I can now say that day in 1995 was a blessing in disguise, really. It was a life-changing occurrence that led to the founding of PSG, thanks also to the help and support of loyal, talented colleagues about whom you will read more in this book.

Around the middle of 2010, the publisher Tafelberg approached me to write a business book about myself and the weal and woe of PSG. At first I was not in favour of the idea at all, because it felt arrogant and conceited.

The publisher kept insisting that I had something to say that others would want to read, and so I changed my mind over time. Perhaps someone could learn something from all the lessons – good and bad – I’ve learnt in life.

Six years ago I compiled a book, Gee vir my geleenthede (Give me opportunities). It was hard work which I did for the love of it. I never sold a single copy, but gave it to friends who were interested. The book, the interest and the feedback gave me a lot of pleasure. Thinking about that also encouraged me to agree to a book from which I would not benefit financially.

When the publisher asked to whom I would like to dedicate the book, my mind got going. To whom? Dana, my wife of 30 years who died on May 11, 2004 was the first person I thought of. My children, of whom I’m infinitely proud and who’ve only given me joy, were also constantly in my thoughts. On October 2, 2010 (my birthday) I married Deidré Uys. Yes, she’s my soul mate and pal now and we walk the road every day with a new song. Why not to her? But I have grandchildren as well, who are more than special to a grandfather, of course.

In the end I dedicate the book to all who have been loyal and good to me throughout my life, my parents, family, friends, shareholders of PSG, and colleagues who have stood by me and been good to me the past few years. Harsh as I can be, I’m a compassionate person and I don’t want to omit anyone.

Enjoy the read!

Jannie Mouton


January 31, 2011


The preamble to the founding of PSG

The concert with morning assembly – growing up

I neatly eased the sheet of white, lined paper in between the felt hammers and the strings and carefully closed the lid of the piano.

As head boy of the primary and high schools in Carnarvon it was one of my duties to unlock the door of the hall on a Monday morning. No one else was in sight yet, there was only the sound of the children on the playground that grew louder with every window I pulled open.

At assembly we children sat on the wooden floor. When the music teacher started playing the psalm or hymn or whatever it was, a z-i-i-i-ng noise sounded over our heads and over the teachers on stage. He played a few more notes, and again the jarring notes instead of the notes of the middle octave could be heard.

The teacher was quite a funny guy. When he flipped open the piano, fished out the sheet of paper and triumphantly waved it in the air, the whole school burst out laughing. Then of course the big question was: Who put the paper in the piano?

I went to confess to the headmaster and bent over – those years getting a hiding still involved some sort of honour, one was kind of a silent hero. But I never got a hiding for failing to do my schoolwork or playing truant. It was only for naughtiness with friends.

There were about 300 to 400 children in the whole school and the athletics track was in fact the equestrian course of the showgrounds.

The day we helped the physical training teacher to measure the track for the 220 yards (back then the distance was not in metres) he would not be persuaded by my insistence that the athletes shouldn’t all start on a straight line because then the guy in the outside track would have to run much farther than the guy in the inside track. I eventually proposed that we ask the maths teacher for advice.

In my matric year my dad brought me a pair of spikes from the Cape, but I was afraid the spikes would get blunt if I trained in them before the big meet in Williston. I decided to wear white socks with the black shoes, and to put a black comb, a big fashion item back then, in one sock.

Since the athletics course went downhill in the neighbouring town, we ran astronomical times there. But that’s not why I remember that day. On my way past the stands I kind of looked down to marvel at my shoes again. What I didn’t know, was that with spikes one couldn’t stop in one’s tracks at the finishing post, but had to run a little farther. And right there, although I came first, I fell like a log right in front of the stands.

Before our school finally got a bus, the rugby and netball teams were transported to Williston and other surrounding towns in sheep lorries. In Fraserburg the rugby field was laid out on a hill, and the two fullbacks couldn’t really see each other.

We children also had to replant the grass of our rugby field if the sun and drought had burnt all life from it.

Carnarvon was so remote that when our headmaster had a heart attack in our matric year, chances of getting a new bookkeeping teacher were slim. I had to substitute as teacher in those periods with a little help from my dad at night. At least no one failed that year.

Even today my friend and ex-colleague Pierre Brink and I still sing the old school song sometimes when we get together. Or rather, we sing it with Charl de Witt, because he can sing:

Though we come from the dry Karoo

With pride we can say

We battle and fight

With heart and zeal

And will remain victors

Famous for conduct and glory . . .

Parties or playing tennis on the surrounding farms and in town were frequent affairs and my father, Jan, was very social. When friends came over he pleaded with them – "we’ll sommer open a few bliks" – to stay for dinner, while my mother, Juliana, set great store by hot plates, a butter knife and the ears, spouts and spoons of her tea tray being in a straight line. On a Saturday we children would also go to see a movie at the Adelphi Cinema. To order a Coke float at a table might have been the crowning glory of the evening, as Pierre said.

Whatever my elder and younger sisters, Engela and Santi, started, I always won – whether it was draughts, chess, Monopoly, Ludo, Canasta, Rummy, arguments or small fights, tennis or golf. We had our differences, but the utmost revenge was apparently when I prayed one night: Thank you, dear Jesus, for a pretty sister and an ugly sister. Engela received distinctions and Santi went on dates with my friends.

We had a sense of duty from an early age, because my father, Jan, made us work in his shop, even for a large part of the holidays. Initially I thought it unfair, having to work while everyone else could gallivant on their wide-rimmed bicycles, but later I realised how valuable it was, compared with the nonsense of the so-called gap year that pupils and students insist upon nowadays.

I started in the storeroom in standard 6 (now grade 8), in standard 7 I worked in the men’s department of the general dealer, then it was the groceries section and in my last two school years I did my duty in the bookkeeping department.

It was not as if we grew up disadvantaged; on the contrary, my father wanted us to learn something. After all, he grew up almost an orphan with his sister and had to go work first to be able to pay for his BCom. In later years we would visit my aunt in Maitland, my father always had something for her, because she had a difficult time.

He could do sums extremely fast: he could literally let his fingers glide over pounds, shillings and pennies and then write down the amount. Before he bought the store he was a maths and accounting teacher. He was also the one who taught me about shares back then, because every afternoon after work he listened to the share prices on the radio. In his absence I had to do it.

He didn’t have excess praise for us, but neither did he haul my sisters and me over the coals for a bad mark.

We lived on a double stand with my maternal grandfather – us on the one part and he, after my grandmother’s death, on the other. We grew carrots, beetroot, lettuce, marrows and potatoes. The lucerne was for hand-fed lambs and the cow. We also had a henhouse and a windmill.

When my grandfather started becoming forgetful, we children had to take turns to sleep there at night. I often had a double shift because my little sister was too scared – we thought the house was rather spooky. And when my grandfather died, oupa Karel, a man whom we loved very much and cared for all those years, in fact carried out his threat and disappeared overnight to the Great River from where he said his people had come. Santi always maintained he baked better bread than my mom.

It might sound a touch boastful to talk about the shop and the school and those things, but remember, it was not hard to excel in sports and academics in a small town.

In such a town the church was the heart of the place on a Sunday and the store on weekdays. My father was chairman of the building commission for the new church, as well as the school board. That’s why he couldn’t bring himself to send us away to fancy schools like my mother who, in her day, had to transfer to other trains twice on strange stations on her way to an English boarding school in Grahamstown. My father wanted to be loyal to the town.

Accordingly, he put on his brown suit on a Sunday evening and attended the service in what was then known as the mission church – the coloured people were his clients as well. My friend Franklin Sonn, whose people were also from Carnarvon, says he still remembers that brown suit. My sisters and I always had to accompany him to the prize-giving ceremony of the coloured school.

As children, we didn’t see colour or class differences in our friends. Maybe the rugby or cricket ball belonged to the rich guy and that was it. In high school your friends of yore would stand outside the cinema and heckle you when you walked in, but even then you were almost too stupid to really understand the true dynamics of apartheid.

My mother gave sewing lessons and made wedding dresses and hats – back then one couldn’t just go and buy them. On many a Saturday morning she was in charge of collections and other similar actions on the corners of the town’s streets, for instance for the blind. She was dignified, neat and industrious, and a little superior to the average. People took note of her, because she had style.

While my father was the humorist, she had a fiery temper and was a little naïve. We often had to explain a joke to her, to everybody’s amusement.

Her people, the Van Wyks, lived in the district. My two uncles were farmers, therefore my sisters and I grew up with one foot on the farm and the other in town. In those years the wool price was good and the sheep farmers were in high esteem – my grandfather was a founding member of Vleissentraal and my uncle served on the Wool Board.

My uncle Dirk was my hero. I went all over with him – on the farm and to neighbouring towns where he had to act as rugby selector. He had a tremendous knowledge of the veld. He taught me to love it and to understand the art of counting sheep.

My mother was possibly the only person in Carnarvon who could speak English. We realised this because of the English essays I had to submit to Mr Hough on Mondays. I found them terrifying! Every weekend I postponed the writing until the Sunday evening. They came back full of red markings, though I was not quite bottom of the class. After all, one could learn the tenses by heart.

No, Jannie, enough is enough, my mother said one Sunday and rewrote my effort in her well-rounded private school English. The Monday after school Mr Hough called me in for a serious chat: Jannie, I can’t believe you have regressed that much in a single week . . . My mother and my teacher clearly did not speak the same English.

In later years my father also bought a garage and a farm.

I was privileged to have grown up in a town like that. The town was good to us. Yet my matric year was the last all of us spent in Carnarvon.

While I was at the naval gymnasium in Saldanha, my dad, having served as mayor for several years, saw politics beckoning. My mother was a Sap, he a Nat. He stood for nomination as National Party member of the national assembly in the Prieska constituency, but lost to the man who already served in the provincial council.

He had lost his appetite for the store and so he, my mother and sister who still lived at home moved to Pretoria.

In middle age I also moved to a new place, from Johannesburg to Stellenbosch, and that’s the story I want to tell.

Matie man – student life

Perhaps my decision in the beginning of 1996 to move to Stellenbosch of all places was due to the fact that I had enjoyed life in that town so much as a student.

I started studying for a BCom in 1966 and lived in the Simonsberg residence, but the best thing was the friends I made. Some are still with me on the road – many as colleagues.

I loved res life immensely and I went all out for it. I’m a social person, like my father. Later on in Johannesburg I started an association for former Simonsberg residents. It’s great to keep the tradition alive. Through golf days via the Matie alumni golf club, we’ve collected money for sports bursaries for guys like Hennie Bekker and Robbie Blair.

My son Piet serves on the executive of the Simonsberg association nowadays, but his brother, Jan, who takes after his mother, eventually chose peace and quiet for his studies in his final year over the noisy res.

Simonsberg may not be aware of it, but I once protected its dignity by means of two intentional false starts at the athletics meet for first-year students, thereby getting disqualified. I might have been the fastest guy in the res, but in Carnarvon I had read in the papers what kind of times the guys in the Cape ran, after all. I think Gert Muller and Andy van der Watt, both of whom later became Springbok wings, would have outrun me by at least eight yards, and I was not prepared to see that happen.

Because of our larking about, we later had to teach a cop a thing or two, but students nowadays will have a hard time understanding that. Being naughty those days would probably look innocent or even childish today.

Also try telling a youngster how you hitchhiked between your parents’ home in Pretoria and Stellenbosch to be able to keep the train fare your father had given you. I learnt hitchhiking while in the navy. It’s amazing how many rides one could get with a striped Matie blazer hooked over one’s shoulder and the thumb of the other hand stretched out to the road.

And the times I did take the train, I chose to hoof it from the station to the res. You could get a porter to deliver your luggage to Simonsberg, but it cost a full rand! So, as it happens, you had just too much luggage for a single walk. I carried the two suitcases for about a hundred metres and put them down, went back for the cake tin and laundry bag and carried them about a hundred metres beyond the suitcases before turning back for the first load.

When my children hear this story, they think I’m crazy. They also thought I was nuts when I tried reasoning that a child didn’t need a cellphone and what was this nonsense of watching television all the time. A home didn’t need a television set. After all, it was much more fun doing a Sudoku than watching Top Billing.

I passed my exams reasonably well, but regarded spending time with friends much more fun than earning a cum laude degree. As a keen rugby player I made it into Maties’ second team. I was not too bad either playing wing for the res team, but as the only fresher in the team the guys squarely cut me down to size at the braai at the end of the year. I had to do the cooking and they kept on pouring booze down my throat until I was brave enough to go and mock the theology student on the house committee in front of his door. Boy oh boy.

Another time when I might have had too much nerve was when, after a house dance in the town hall, I told a rough guy with a leather jacket and long hair who everybody knew as Zobo, to go and stir up noise with his motorbike elsewhere. He was always picking quarrels with students in Tollies, our hang-out, and would even take your drink or cigarette (a beer cost a full 11 cents). Fortunately my pal Burton Fourie, a lock, came to push the guy back down onto his bike when he approached me, or else I would have got a thrashing.

In our final year Rudolf Gouws, later chief economist of Rand Merchant Bank, and I were so-called demis (demonstrators) who had to help marking papers and the like. The two of us were the dunces in class.

My friend Niel Krige is still dumb-founded about that unsympathetic 74% I scribbled on his first-year paper, and when he said it had not been marked properly, I fired back: But why are you complaining? That’s enough. And don’t be a braggart! He still says he learnt from that, and of course in the end he graduated cum laude and later became managing director of Momentum before being appointed professor at the Stellenbosch University’s business school.

In the holidays I worked for extra money. Fortunately my father paid back my teacher’s bursary so I didn’t have to go teaching.

While doing my honours in economics I also took a few BCom (Acc) subjects because at that stage I wanted to become an accountant. I can talk and reason for hours about any subject, whether it’s the oil price or inflation or state expenditure, but in the end I found economics to be too much of a philosophical subject and not exact enough.

As in school, I never missed a class at varsity. Fortunately my roommate in my first year, Otto Jaekel, was one of the most disciplined people I know.

My pals also say I have a constitution of iron, because in my career of longer than 40 years I never took a single day’s sick leave, although I sometimes left for home at noon when I had the flu, and had a neck operation in old age. But late night partying is no excuse to stay at home.

Then there is the story of the black suit – before I would get to the black robe.

Prof Kobus van Zyl Smit, our accounting lecturer, asked me to invigilate on his behalf at an extramural class on a Saturday morning. The only problem was that the party the previous night had been in Malmesbury. A girl had invited me to a dance there. So the roof had been raised until the wee hours and there was no time to go and change out of my evening suit, complete with bow tie, before the invigilation.

I handed out the test papers, took a seat at the front of the classroom and it became quiet. Allegedly I dozed off and fell off the chair with quite a thud. It has to be true, because I had to dust myself off a little and get up, but I didn’t fall asleep again. The story also reached the prof’s ears, and my word, he was such a conservative man!

Yet he still asked me and my friend Kleintjie Bellingan to do our articles at Coopers Brothers (now PWC) because he had just become a partner there. For me it was a great honour, because the prof was a smart guy who could write CA and LLD behind his name. We also became bridge partners at the Bellville club. Later I could at least compensate in a way, as he was the first person I approached to become a director of PSG.

Coopers Brothers was an English firm and at first it was a hard grind. The first day I asked the man who handled the petty cash: May I please have the small cash records? I remember he gave me quite a look, because he couldn’t figure out that small cash actually referred to petty cash.

Before I would get to Johannesburg, Cape Town was my home for four years, as well as all the rural towns where we went to do audits.

Kleintjie and I were once even chosen for the Okiep town rugby team, but after the audit at the copper mine was done we had to return to Cape Town. But first he and I found a way to track down the two pretty girls in the movie theatre. One of our duties was to balance the ticket sales at the mine club’s movie theatre, and we made a plan. The movie was interrupted and the lights switched on so we could ascertain that the ticket sales tallied with the number of movie goers. In that way we could determine where the girls were sitting and could go and hold their hands in the dark, just in case they felt lonely. I think one can probably call our commitment creative accounting.

Kleintjie also remembers the Friday afternoon we had to wear white coats to go and count chickens at a broiler business in Kuils River as part of stocktaking. Apparently I shouted loudly at the thousands of chickens as if they were recruits: Chickens, attention! And number! And after their terrible cackling had subsided, I apparently told him: I think there are 35 000 troops. And thus our counting ended.

We played rugby in the Cape as well, also at the Bellville club, and that was where I got the nickname Plankie (small plank) because apparently I rammed into guys with my shoulder. And the name Mol (mole) I got after a Matie game in Worcester when the ball hit me on the head right in front of an open try line – my glasses and the low floodlights were not the best combination for catching from the air and diving.

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