Meet Charl Jacobs, the business leader working to create jobs, help people educate themselves – and fix SA

Written on 02/25/2021
Jarryd Neves

Charl Jacobs is committed to rebuilding SA. He has got involved in the political landscape, backing Mmusi Maimane and the One South Africa Movement.

Charl Jacobs, the founder of the Quan Holdings group – which has 12 companies and more than 6,000 employees – is committed to rebuilding South Africa. In this conversation with BizNews, he shares how he wants to change the world for the better and his guiding principles for growing his business and creating jobs. Jacobs shares the details of projects aimed at helping South Africans on limited budgets to educate themselves. In addition to his philanthropy, Jacobs has also got involved in shaking up the political landscape. He is backing Mmusi Maimane and the One South Africa Movement. – Jackie Cameron

Charl Jacobs on his background:

A lot of people ask me what are the good decisions I’ve made in my life. I can take myself back to when I was 12 and I really made one of my best decisions ever then. I was at a small Afrikaans school. I was the little hero there. I was captain of the athletics team, cricket team and the rugby team. It was a small school, so the bar was very low.

At the end of grade six, I was voted head boy of the junior school, for my grade seven year. Dale College, a traditional boys school – one of South Africa’s top schools at that stage – came to see my parents and said, ‘listen, we’ve seen Charl play rugby and we’d like to get him across’. That was a big decision and my parents asked me what I wanted to do. At that stage, I didn’t really think further than rugby.

On rugby and his leadership style:

From a young age,I had an affinity to rugby and I really did love rugby a lot. I became a student of the game way before my playing career ended. I was the guy that diligently watched rugby games, studied what tactics people were using. I can remember as a young boy, watching rugby and actually calling plays before it had happened while watching with my dad.

Then because of my acute understanding of rugby, I was fortunate enough to be put in responsible positions at quite a young age. I was first team rugby coach of Hamilton’s rugby club in Cape Town at the age of 27, with a budget of R3 million. We bought in players that had played Super Rugby, that had played Springboks. One of the things that I did pride myself on a lot was my acute understanding of the game. I could hide behind that for a while, not understanding how to manage people.

My mannerisms and the way I managed people then is certainly a lot different than the way I’d do it now. But I had this ability to understand the game and because I understood it, people followed and believed in me, because they were there to learn more about the game and not to learn more about how to be a better person. That is not always sustainable, though. You can’t just keep teaching people at some stage. They’ve got to follow you as well. I was very fortunate in that regard where I was outside of my comfort zone, very inexperienced in life and having to coach 34/35-year olds – that have had very successful careers, at a much higher level than what I played.

I learned quite a lot through that process. How to get the best out of people, motivate people to get outside of their comfort zone. Rugby is very much like business. There’s space for everyone in the field and there’s space for everyone in the playing fields of business as well. The diversity of shapes and sizes within in rugby – and personalities – really served me well when I started taking myself seriously in business, because you can’t treat everyone the same. Each person needs to be handled individually.

On his role within One South Africa:

My role within One South Africa is not going to be public, because I do believe that I might say some things that might get me into some hot water, as I am very passionate about government. I’m very passionate about politics. My role within One SA is two-fold. I’m one of the major sponsors of One SA, but I am also getting involved in another way.

From May, one of the companies that I own (Quan) is a communications, marketing and sales company. We are getting involved in the marketing and the communications of One SA, just to get the message out to people. Very little people actually know the significance of what has happened over the last 12 months within South Africa. That significance is that the electoral bill has changed. It is now allowing independent candidates to stand for political position. As an independent, you can now stand for president, which is massive.

On Mmusi Maimane:

I really am a great fan of Mmusi Maimane. We’ve actually become good friends over the course of the last year. I can tell you, if there is one person’s intentions that are pure – with regards to taking SA forward and making sure it becomes not just the economic powerhouse, but political power it should be – it’s Mmusi.

He explained to me one day that he doesn’t really like politics. The reason why he doesn’t like politics, is because politics is usually fuelled by an agenda. Secondly, with politics, you get parties. the problem that we’ve got in South Africa is everyone serves the party first and the people second. That kind of movement – that kind of behaviour – is certainly not sustainable.

Where do you draw the line to say, ‘well, this is best for the ANC and this is best for South Africa’. Because it’s not one and that’s the truth. I think this is where our politicians in South Africa have completely lost the plot. You know that 53% of registered voters in South Africa didn’t vote in the last election. 17.3 million people didn’t vote.

On his goals within the political landscape:

First and foremost, One SA is not a political party. People need to understand this. I am, unfortunately, not in a position to really elaborate about the mandate of One SA. That will be left to Mmusi and the guys who run One SA. But One SA’s biggest goal for the next couple of years, would be to educate the citizens of South Africa [about] what their constitutional rights are, with regards to the expectations of the government. What is the government’s constitutional right with regards to service delivery, education, hospitalisation? – just everything that they are completely failing with at the moment. I think there’ll be a large focus on educating people. Secondly, there will be a big drive to get community leaders to actually have the confidence to stand as independent candidates.

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