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Rowan's story on... knowing thyself

“What does it take to start a business?  There needs to be some financial pressure, where you know you NEED to do this financially.  You also have to have the passion and drive to do something that you love, an energy to pursue something that you actually WANT to do. This takes both courage and conviction.”  

On his return from the army, Rowan entered the working world as a chef but soon realised that this was not where he would find his fulfilment in life.  He went on to follow in his father's footsteps and pursued a career in accounting, initially in the auditing profession and later holding a respected position in a major financial institution.  In time he came to the realisation that this traditional corporate world that he found himself in was the last thing he wanted to be doing.  He moved on and took up the role of CFO at a venture capital JSE listed Company which through unexpected events would inadvertently lure Rowan into a whole new direction unleashing his creative aptitude for entrepreneurship.  The firm went through a delisting from the stock exchange which caused an unbundling of assets and Rowan found himself as CFO for two spin off companies. This time, he had a new realisation: there was value in delivering such a service in this unique way, he was onto something special.  Today Rowan provides CFO services and solutions to mid-size and larger corporations in South Africa and the Rest of Africa. The business he co-founded in South Africa is part of the largest CFO practice in the world, with over 800 CFOs situated across 5 continents in 20 countries and 100 locations.

“You need to push the boundaries, knock on some doors, meet people and ignore the naysayers who tell you it cannot be done. A low ego and lots of humility will go a long way.”

Of course, as the story goes, this success did not happen overnight.  It began with Rowan identifying the value two clients held in his outsourced CFO services; he knew they were not the only ones who would see his service as the lifeline of their business.  His next step was to dedicate the coming years to growing this customer base.  All too often this is a step Founders procrastinate on and rather focus on perfecting the product/service idea.  Rowan believes the art of sales and marketing are two of the most crucial elements of business.  He advises us to not forget the deep value of personal interactions, human-to-human connection, and face-to-face meetings as a means to break down business barriers in this virtual world we are now living in, because people are the currency for business.

From early on, Rowan held his personal life in the highest regard.  As he was building his business, he also made the leap to relocate from the business hub that is Johannesburg, to the soul enriching tranquil Natal midlands. A risk some may say, and yes the business did take a knock, but with the dip came Rowan’s drive to find a better alternative to fuel growth.  His curiosity and relentless grit to pivot to success lay in a partnership with an international firm with whom he later merged his business and hyper growth ensued.  Rowan shows us an alternative creative strategy to business growth and this serves as a reminder that we always have options if we only cast a wider net into what could be.  

“Every entrepreneur has a dream and the distance between reaching the vision and where you are now, lies in your determination to get there.”  

Rowan explains that as an entrepreneur, we undoubtedly have a lot of work to do on ourselves.  We ARE the brand, AND the business, and having to be everything to everyone means you get harmed when you fail to ‘show up’ in the best way. Making mistakes and getting rejected are realities Founders need to get used to.  We simply HAVE to develop the aptitude to pick ourselves up and keep moving.  There will always be areas where we are weak, be it sales or public speaking and the list goes on, but when we push through, we realise there is a whole side to ourselves we never knew existed.  A wonderful thing happens when we work on ourselves: we bring the right energy back into the business and to the people that we work with.  The first step is in acknowledging where we are weak and following through by asking for help - this is where humility comes in, to avoid making silly mistakes along the way that could really cost you and your dream.  Rowan advises us not to wait till we make a detrimental mistake before we start being real with ourselves and realising that to be better, we WILL need others.

“We have work and our lives and our entrepreneurial ventures and there is family and we need to keep all of this in harmony otherwise we are left wondering why we are doing what we are doing anyway.  When you get to the point where you are overworking and stressed, that is when you look at your life and have the opportunity to bring balance back.  I feel I have gotten to a good place in that regard. It may take years, but you can get there.” 

Rowan showcases how we CAN live the dream, that our entrepreneurial pursuit is possible without compromising family and the personal environment that we choose to call home. He reminds us that if life is about the journey, not the destination, then make sure you are enjoying what you are doing each day.

“In South Africa we do not always have opportunity especially in the corporate environment but you can create opportunity by starting something new.  Create a bigger pie!”

Rowan finds inspiration in the impact he is able to facilitate for the businesses he works with as well as for the CFO’s he connects them with who are thriving as entrepreneurs in their own right.  In a country where it's easy to feel that opportunity lies elsewhere, his business brings opportunity right back home.  Thank you Rowan for passing on the batton of inspiration to our fellow South African Founders in the making.

“Solving niche challenges Founders face”.

Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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