From Locker Room to Boardroom – Converting rugby talent into business success

By Ross van Reenen (Zebra Press, R190)

This is a book for every lover of rugby and especially of those great Springboks who, after retiring from rugby, made it to the top in the business world. There you find fascinating insights to 30 of these greats, including Danie Craven, Louis Luyt, Jan Bull Pickard, Francois Pienaar, Kobus Wiese and Pretoria’s hero, Naas Botha.

In the foreword, Morné du Plessis writes that for the professional sports person there is an additional certainty of life, to add to the cliché of there being death and taxes: the day they will stop participating at the highest level of their sport.

The fact that someone retires from a profession is in itself not uncommon, but what makes sport so different from most other careers is that retirement comes at a fairly early stage in a working life, and more often than not it is neither expected nor planned.

So what happens to them? Van Reenen tells us what happened to those mentioned in this great book and provides information that anyone attempting business can gain from the examples provided.

The first chapter covers the successful career of Pickard, who gained his first rugby experience while at Paarl Gymnasium and later at Stellenbosch University. He became one of South Africa’s finest rugby players, then president of the Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU).

When it was decided to build a new rugby stadium at Newlands, the secretary and manager of the WPRU, Dawie Schoonraad, was told by Pickard: “Go ahead – build it.”

“But Mr President, they’ve just turned it down.”

“If they won’t pay, I’ll pay. Do it,” Pickard replied.

This is Pickard’s real rugby legacy – Newlands. When he became president of the WPRU in 1981, the union was in about R200 000 debt.

During his 10 years as pres- ident, he spent an astronomical R30 million – yet the union was debt-free when he retired. This is testament to his financial and business acumen. As an individual, his contribution to the success of the WPRU was profound. The rest of the chapter deals with Pickard’s fabulous business enterprises and his business methods. Through a brilliant diversification strategy and excellent alignment, he built one of the biggest empires in South African business.

We then come to another ex-Paarl Gymnasium rugby hero, namely Wiese, who is tough, intimidating – and a great businessman. The author dramatically recalls what happened on Saturday, June 24, 1995, at Ellis Park, Joburg, during the Rugby World Cup. Pienaar was the Springbok captain.

While the All Blacks were in full swing before the match with their haka, one huge Springbok stood out from everybody else. He menacingly advanced towards the All Blacks.

The whole team followed him, shortly behind, until he was only a metre from the haka. The man? Kobus Wiese.

He was a giant on the field: uncompromising and unshakeable.

Off the field he was a gentleman; a soft-spoken wealthy businessman who was always ready to help.

In 1996 Wiese and his brothers Cornel and Ben conceived the business concept of Wiesenhof Coffees in a small coffee shop. Later it expanded to the Wiesenhof Coffee Group (Pty) Ltd. It now has plans to expand internationally.

The chapter titled Naas Botha – The Maestro, quotes Craven, who said: “Naas is a genius – a match winner. I have often said it and I’ll say it again: I cannot believe that a team with Naas in its ranks could ever lose a match.”

While Botha holds a long list of Springbok records, the most impressive is that he was voted South Africa’s Player of the Year four times – more than any other player in history. He is also one of only a handful of South Africans to have been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

Born on February 27, 1958, as Hendrik Egnatius Botha, in Breyten in the then Transvaal, he was educated at Hendrik Verwoerd High School in Pretoria and at the University of Pretoria .

Since retiring, Pretoria’s rugby hero has been, among other things, a regular commentator for SuperSport on television.

His other passion is the South African Sport and Arts Hall of Fame, which sets out to honour those who are the best.

Naas and his wife, Karen, a famous South African athlete, live in Pretoria and have three daughters, Kyla, Gaeby and Lee-gre.

His hobbies are golf, golf and more golf.

In the chapter on Craven, Van Reenen states that Craven had been honoured in several ways over the years. During the 1995 Rugby World Cup, a statue to honour him was unveiled at Coetzenburg in Stellenbosch, while a match between a Craven XV (captained by Botha and a World XV, captained by Australian legend Nick Farr-Jones) was played at the Craven Stadium in Coetzenburg.

The author has been a business and management consultant for more than 25 years.

He played in 62 Currie Cup matches for Free State, and was a member of the winning Currie Cup team in 1975 and one of the only three Free State rugby players to hold double Springbok colours.

He is group managing director for the Thethani group of companies.

This is a book no rugby enthusiast can miss. – Cyrus Smith