You may have heard; Ian Fuhr has resigned from the Sorbet group, weeks after shutting down operations in the UK. In a statement on Sorbet’s website, Fuhr explains the challenges of trading in another country, but goes on to assure customers that Sorbet South Arica would not be affected, and it would be business as usual at all branches in the country.
Even though the UK branch did not survive, there is much we can learn from this start-up specialist in his book Get That Feeling. After all, Fuhr has 40 years of experience and five successful companies under his belt. And he introduced ethics into the workplace at the height of apartheid when it was unheard of to have a black manager.
In fact, Fuhr was so passionate about getting people to see beyond colour that he started a race relations consultancy, teaching South Africans to have “a culture of openness, trust and participation”. This had a positive knock-on effect on productivity.
In this book, Fuhr shares what putting people before profit, and service before reward taught him about entrepreneurship: “The key to successful business management is to focus on the people. If you only focus on the money, it will be an uphill battle. Furthermore, intimidation is not a great management tool. Earning respect is far more useful.”
Fuhr breathes servant leadership: “Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of work is to serve, not just to make money.” He says the most important person in your company is the person serving the customer in your business. As a leader, you should serve the people serving your customer.
But this is just not another book about business. It is funny and brutally honest. When he opened his first store, K-Mart in 1976, Fuhr knew nothing about business or managing staff. And like every other entrepreneur he made many mistakes, like copying the name and logo of K-Mart from the well-known US brand and subsequently being sued for it.
But there were so many successes as well. Fuhr he used all the experience he gained running a chain of chain of discount department stores, a record company, a race relations consultancy and a lion park to build the Sorbet brand, the first of its kind in South Africa. He wanted to “create a culture that would form the basis of everything that would ever happen at Sorbet.”
“I learnt to be humble, yet bold; I learnt when to listen and when to talk; I learnt to relate to every kind of person in the South African working environment.” If you look around your office how many servant leaders do you see? Fuhr is a rare breed. Established and aspiring entrepreneurs would do well to take a page out of his book.