Quick-fire Q&A with Karl Westvig

Karl Westvig, CEO of Retail Capital

Describe your leadership style.
Good question actually. My leadership style is probably a more laissez faire, “gentle hands-off” approach. I don’t think I’m autocratic. I tend to rather build a relationship than use command or control. I’d rather let people do things because they understand why they’re doing it than be doing it because they’re being told to do it. I want people to take responsibility for themselves and their output and if I feel that they’re not coping, I’ll get involved.

Top tip to beat procrastination?
I don’t have one because I am a procrastinator. I tend to procrastinate when I’m not sure about what I want the outcome of the process to be.

I try to process stuff in my head so that I won’t tackle something until I’m clear about what I want to achieve with it. For instance, if I go for a run in the forest, I start processing a whole lot of things that are bothering me subconsciously so that by the end of the run I often have solutions or at least an approach. Once you have the approach, then you could beat procrastination.

If I know I’m about to go into an important discussion or presentation, I can forget about it for weeks and then on the day I feel like I need to deal with it, it pops out into my conscious and I’ll deal with it so it’s like trusting yourself and your methodology.

Favorite getaway destination?
I love the mountains, so I would say a mountain retreat with trails for running and exploring. I love skiing when I get the chance – it is so peaceful and serene. I also enjoy being in places known for good food and wine, from Europe to South America.

Who or what inspires you?
People who take ownership of causes. Someone who has the means to make a difference and uses those means. Noble people who take on causes at their own expense.

For example, Bono. He created an international platform for himself through his music and then went on to try and solve a myriad of issues in Africa with his Red campaign. It was a noble effort as opposed to a PR effort. I’m inspired by people who have put their ego in their pocket to make a difference.

Your one wish for South Africa?
Mutual respect. It will solve all the miscommunications. Those who have means should be making an effort to build and support the less fortunate. We come from an unfair playing field with most South Africans and it is the duty of the beneficiaries to create opportunities for others.

If you can have any three people over for dinner who would they be. And what meal would you serve?
Bono, Mandela and Jeff Bezos.

Bono is an inspiration in the work he’s done to support Africa, to the point where he worked with a professor to understand the real issues facing the continent. I would love to understand what drove him to choose this cause.

Nelson Mandela is a once in a lifetime inspirational leader who managed to put his personal suffering aside to build a future for a whole nation, regardless of colour or status in society. It would be amazing to understand how he could be so selfless and self-assured.

Jeff Bezos has built the most valuable business in the world by solving societal needs and wants and he continues to push the organisation to innovate. The future of the world will to some extent be led by Amazon and their innovations. He could share incredible insights into the new world of work and play and society at large.

I would probably serve a vegetarian meal because of my commitment to sustainability.

Starters would be crispy pastry tomato tartlets with a balsamic glaze. For the main course, it would be a mushroom risotto paired with a local Pinot Noir from Paul Cluver. We’re heading into winter in Cape Town and risotto is always a great homely dish. Dessert would be chocolate fondant with a melted centre. Rich and delicious. We would then finish off with a Boplaas Port to showcase our locals.

What five pieces of advice would you give to aspiring young business starters?

  • There is never a perfect time or a perfect plan to start a business. People wait for these moments. It’s like having a child, you’re never ready for it. So when you decide you want to do something, you need an 80 percent plan because you’ll never have the perfect plan.
  • The second is the most powerful thing you have as an entrepreneur is your survival instinct. So my advice to them is once you decide what to do, put money into a bank account and start spending it. Because once you do, there’s no turning back and any problem you hit, you’ll find a solution as your survival instinct kicks in. And it’s amazing how much you can solve that you never thought you could solve.
  • The third piece of advice I give is that you cannot be an entrepreneur part-time. It’s 24/7 living in a dream or survival mode. All third parties also need to be 100% committed to the cause.
  • The fourth part is passion. You inspire other people to support you so if you’re solving problems, it’s your passion that brings people in. If you’re an inspiring entrepreneur with a decent plan, you will find the money you need.
  • And fifth is there’s no such thing as an overnight success. The biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is they think short-term. You need to be looking at a minimum of three to five years before you’ve got a sustainable business. You need to ensure you have enough capital to tide you over. Keep your cost structure down and spread it as long as you can.

  • What is the one thing most people don’t know about you?
    Sometimes I can be fun. I think in businesses and in life in general, you put your responsibility mask on. So you tend to do things that are required to ensure your family and business is taken care of. Entrepreneurs tend to have this mask of responsibility and take life very seriously. Everything is planned and organised because we don’t want to have or create uncertainty. Our fellow colleagues look to the leader for direction and inspiration and the weight of responsibility can weigh heavily, especially when you have challenging times. There are times when you need a bit of humour and perspective and to “let down your hair”.

    What would you do with an extra hour in your day.
    I think I’d probably be doing more reflection, whether it’s yoga, meditation or even just reading to help reflect on things. Perspective is sometimes the most important thing you can have – it also determines your attitude.