Our repositioning philosophy


At Business Partners, we have always believed that entrepreneurship is the most aspirational human endeavour of all. This very belief led to the establishment of our business, more than 33 years ago, to facilitate entrepreneurship through a comprehensive service offering of business finance, mentorship and business premises to Entrepreneurs in the small and medium enterprise (SME) space. We affectionately refer to Entrepreneurs as the “square pegs in round holes”, those exceptional individuals who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

South Africa, and indeed much of Africa and the world, needs more Entrepreneurs – especially those who start-up, establish and grow SMEs. Research has proven that entrepreneurial SMEs are very effective at stimulating economic growth, generating wealth and creating jobs – all of which are required for us to successfully combat unemployment and poverty which afflicts much of the world.

To encourage more people to pursue entrepreneurship as a noble career, we must honour and celebrate Entrepreneurs as role-models – the true heroes of economic society who, often against all odds, generate wealth for themselves and their families and create jobs for many – and we must champion their cause.

In 2012, we undertook research which revealed that our brand image no longer reflected who we are or what we do – Enabling successful entrepreneurship. We needed to make some changes in order to succinctly and adequately communicate our brand essence and remain successful. These changes would need to come in the form of process improvements, enhancement of our service offering and the repositioning of our brand.

To this end, we are repositioning our company and launching an entrepreneurship marketing campaign with the specific intent of helping to foster and entrench a culture of entrepreneurship amongst all South Africans. We are using the repositioning exercise also present to the market a couple of SME Funds aimed at stimulating entrepreneurship.

The new Business Partners corporate identity has been deliberately designed to reaffirm our commitment to and support for entrepreneurs, the “square pegs in a sea of round holes”. It is a step in a process to reignite the flame of entrepreneurship – encouraging more people to become entrepreneurs, the most aspirational human endeavour of all.


Introducing the square peg

square-pegAt Business Partners, entrepreneurs are affectionately referred to as “square pegs in round holes”. We do so because we appreciate that they are special people, the exceptional few who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

Entrepreneurs almost always work against the grain, often challenging conformity, because they see the world through fresh eyes. Where others see problems and challenges, they see opportunities and turn them into solutions. They share an unwavering belief in their abilities and skills to solve problems, while fulfilling societal needs. Statistics show that only one in a handful of people possesses the qualities to be an entrepreneur. They are truly special. They are different.

We, at Business Partners, exist to fulfil the needs and requirements of entrepreneurs, exclusively in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. We are passionate about entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial development.

Square pegs are our business. We invest in them, stand beside them and champion their cause. Our talent lies in our ability to unearth entrepreneurs and help them transform their lives, as well as the lives of all those they touch through their entrepreneurial endeavours. Our strength lies in our ability to tailor-make our service offerings to suit each entrepreneur’s unique needs, thus becoming the best business partner they’ve ever had. Hard work and commitment to entrepreneurs underpins the spirit of Business Partners. By always facilitating finance opportunities and sharing knowledge, we are always building entrepreneurs.

Because, in the world of entrepreneurial finance and support, we too are the square pegs.

Our logo

Our logo reflects not only the crux of who we are, but also of who we aim to serve – the entrepreneur. Or as we like to call them, the square pegs. The exceptional few who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

At first glance, one of the stylised objects is different from the rest. It stands out and is one of a kind – the square peg in the sea of round holes. This represents the rarity of people who possess the qualities necessary to be an entrepreneur.

The ‘twist’ of the square peg further emphasises the distinctive, mould breaking character of the entrepreneur. This reflects not only the entrepreneurial qualities of the target market, but of Business Partners itself.

Our colour palette comprises hues of blue and orange. Blue, as the predominant colour, represents expertise and trust. It is perceived as reliable and sincere, while exuding confidence.

The square icon is a vibrant orange, and like the entrepreneur that it represents; it is bold and distinctive. Used sparingly, it further conveys that entrepreneurs are the exception. This colour is strongly associated with courage and gut instincts, key traits of any entrepreneur.

A style of logotype using a forward slash has been brought into the name, serving to create further iconography and intellectual property.

Modern and contemporary, our timeless and unique logo stands out in its arena. Just as an entrepreneur should.


credoIn striving to make entrepreneurship the most aspirational human endeavour of all, we have identified the Entrepreneurs Credo as being at the centre of our DNA.

Our credo is taken from Thomas Paine’s ‘The Common Man’, written in 1776. It is an ageless piece of writing that speaks to the life choices and beliefs of an entrepreneur.

An inspiring sentiment, we wish that every entrepreneur would read these words on a daily basis.

This is a passage that speaks to who we are and who we aspire to be. The words articulate what runs in our blood, what inspires us to do what we do.

Our brand mission is to enable successful entrepreneurship while our higher purpose is to foster a culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa, Africa and all markets where we have presence.

In striving to make entrepreneurship the most aspirational human endeavour of all, we have identified the Entrepreneurs Credo as being at the centre of our DNA.


Our story

Our story started in 1979 at a business conference in downtown Johannesburg. The late Dr. Anton Rupert – egged on by his son, Johann – proposed the idea for a joint venture between the public and private sectors to finance and support SMEs.

Within two years, the Small Business Development Corporation Ltd (SBDC) was established, with both the public and private sectors having equal shareholding. The main role of the SBDC was to provide investment capital and business support to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). These beneficiary businesses could be a start-up, in the process of expansion, or one without access to capital markets. In short, the SBDC backed potential.

The SBDC quickly gained a reputation for being first-class in its field, and by 1994, was referred to by The World Bank as “unmatched by any other financial institution in South Africa”. The dawn of South Africa’s democracy marked the commencement of a restructuring process for the SBDC. Extensive negotiations between its public and private sector shareholders resulted in the company narrowing its focus and market segment to SMEs only. The SBDC affirmed its position as an independent profit-making company with the vision of being the best value-adding provider of capital to SMEs in South Africa.

Name Change – With the conclusion of the restructuring process came the decision to reconsider our name. And so in 1998, the Small Business Development Corporation Limited became Business Partners Limited. This repositioning process cemented our move into the niche SME market. This resulted in the introduction of innovative financing and investment products for SMEs, and the restructuring of the property portfolio to ensure that business premises would be made available at market-related rentals.

Our new name ‘Business Partners’ reflects our relationship with our clients as well as our commitment, not only to investing in viable SMEs, but also to the contribution of much needed value-adding support services. It also expresses the partnership we form with the entrepreneurs we support.
To ensure our relevance and strengthen our SME niche market position, we regularly review our business processes. We also undertake initiatives to raise awareness around our brand, increase understanding of our product and service offering and increase the number of investment deals and average deal size per annum.

Our TV commercial

For our television commercial, in our quest make entrepreneurship the most aspirational human endeavour of all, we are using the Entrepreneurs Credo to unleash entrepreneurs to get the South African and African economies going and working for all. The credo is taken from Thomas Paine’s ‘The Common Man’, written in 1776. This ageless piece of writing that speaks to the life choices and beliefs of an entrepreneur. The credo has underpinned American economic well-being and galvanized that country to become the economic powerhouse with a strong entrepreneurship culture. We believe it can inspire Africans as well.

Watch the advert here

The entrepreneurs in the advert are:

  • Ferose Oaten
  • Herman Mashaba
  • Margaret Hirsch
  • Mariaan du Plessis
  • Tommy Makhatho
  • Vusi Thembekwayo


Mariaan du Plessis: Pharmacist and CEO – MNI Lifestyle

Mariaan received a pharmaceutical degree from the University of Potchefstroom and, after entering the job market, rapidly moved up the ranks within a large pharmacy retail group. Despite being the most junior managing member, she was rated the top performing pharmacist within the group after two years. Her pharmacy was also the fastest growing and most profitable outlet within the organisation. During this period she received a nomination from Boehringer Ingelheim as ‘Pharmacist of the Year’. Due to her strong entrepreneurial desire, she soon left formal employment to help found the Medical Nutritional Institute.

Mariaan’s approach to business strategy stems from her training in formal science. Focused on problem solving through critical thinking and experimentation, science dictates that one should refute rather than verify one’s theories. In 2013, Mariaan was nominated as a finalist in the category of Top Performing Entrepreneur (National Business Awards). She also received joint awards with her business partner as winner of the Innovator of the Year (Entrepreneur of the Year) and was a finalist in the categories of Fast growth SMME (National Business Awards) and Medium Business Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur of the Year).

Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI) – Due to a desire to focus more on disease prevention than cure, Dr. Conrad Smith and pharmacist, Mariaan du Plessis, established the Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI) in 2002. The MNI services currently include the research, development and marketing of new pharmaceutical products, initiating and managing healthcare, as well as offering training services to pharmacies and pharmacy clinics.

Over the years, the business owners noticed conventional medicine earning respect through its history of peer-reviewed scientific validation and natural or complementary medication, on the other hand, being negatively impacted by some poor-quality products with unsubstantiated marketing claims, a lack of efficacy and a largely unregulated industry. This resulted in the MNI developing a range of non-prescription medication from organic molecules that conformed to the specifications of local and international medicine regulatory boards. The business has since built its range substantially, with all products scientifically sound and able to withstand the scrutiny and scepticism of the mainstream pharmaceutical and medical world.

Due to a strong entrepreneurial drive, Mariaan has taken on the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the institute, while Conrad manages the role of product innovation and development. The innovative pair possesses a strong entrepreneurial flair and a good mind-set for business strategy and system development, which has resulted in the business expanding rapidly and setting its sights on select offshore markets. Both partners have also succeeded individually in the medical industry, and this success is evident in the various awards they have received in their medical and pharmaceutical professions to date.

Through on-going research, development and progress, the MNI has established itself as a leading innovator in the development of complementary and non-prescription medication in South Africa and certain offshore territories.


Margaret Hirsch: Co-founder and COO – Hirsch’s

The concept for the mega appliance chain store, Hirsch’s, was formed many years ago when entrepreneur, Margaret Hirsch and her husband, Allan, started a family business in a tiny showroom in Durban with just R900. Since these humble beginnings the business has grown significantly and currently operates 12 stores and five concept stores which are located nationally and employ 785 staff members.

When starting the appliance and electronics business in 1979, Margaret and Allan specialised in air conditioning and fridge repair, and later grew the offering and started selling new products to their loyal client base. The business, which is still family run, prides itself on personal and professional service, and believes that this specialised service is what differentiates them from their competitors. Their aim is to offer a premium service, which will result in a loyal clientele returning in the future.

In addition to their expansive service capabilities, Margaret, who is the very hands on Chief Operations Officer of the company, attributes the business’s success to the fact that their offering adds value in the form of salespeople who have extensive product knowledge and who can offer significant discounts on the products. The business’s service offering and success resulted in them recently winning the Samsung award for the most improved sales in Africa as well as the People’s Choice Appliance, Electronics and Air-conditioning Company over the past few years.

The business also offers clients additional services and benefits, such as a lay-buy purchasing system, which encourages clients to pay for products in cash, therefore not seeking additional debt in order to purchase appliances.

According to Margaret, Hirsch’s staff is the most important component of the business and a significant driver of its success. She describes herself as a hands-on manager, and works very closely with staff. The business has a firm mentorship and a succession programme in place, where new staff is mentored by older staff, which assists with the transfer of skills to all levels of the business. In order to continue to evolve Hirsch’s service offerings and national footprint, its staff are continually valued and trained to encourage promotion from within the business wherever possible.


Herman Mashaba: Executive Chairman – Lephatsi Investments and Founder of Black Like Me

Herman Mashaba’s academic dream was shattered in 1980 in his second year of a B. Admin. at the University of The North when the University was shut down due to political unrests. When the University was reopened after two months, he decided not to go back. Strong promises to send him out of the country for military training.

Late in 1980 he found himself a clerical job with Spar Pretoria where he worked for 7 months. Then he worked for 23 months for Motani Industries, which became his longest and last salaried job. During his spell at Motani, he managed to buy a car, and two months later resigned and started his business career.

Herman sold different products on a commission basis from the boot of his car for close to two years. Products portfolio ranged from insurance, fire detection systems, linen, crockery to dinner services. His break came late in 1983 when he was exposed and sold hair products on a commission basis for one of the companies in Johannesburg. It took him 19 months to make up his mind to start his own hair care manufacturing business.

In February 1985 the first bottle of Black Like Me products hit the South African market. He started the business with three other partners and his wife with a R30 000 loan, in a 200m SBDC units in Ga-Rankuwa, in the then homeland of Bophuthatswana.

He now runs his own investment company, Lephatsi Investments (Pty) Ltd with investments in various sectors of the South African economy; real estate financial services, insurance brokerage, bullet proof materials, security, fuel distribution, global cleaning services, facilities management and merchandising.

Herman has recently launched his autobiography, Black Like You, which is already attracting a lot of media and public interest. He served as the chairman of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa for 3 years, from 2009 to 2011. Until recently Herman has served as the Chairman of the Free Market Foundation, a position he took up mid-2011.


Tommy Makhatho, CEO and owner – Bibi Cash and Carry

Tommy is the CEO and owner of Bibi Cash and Carry, a retail wholesaler group situated in the rural area of QwaQwa in the Free State, is the perfect example a lifetime entrepreneur. Bibi Cash and Carry, which was started in 1984, currently has seven stores situated in the area, as well as 32 express stores, which Tommy has actively been involved in starting.

Tommy began his career as a waiter in Johannesburg before moving into the hair salon business. After only two years of working for a company he decided that being an employee was not suited to him. Since making this decision he hasn’t looked back, despite significant challenges and the competitive industry that he operates in.

Tommy’s first entrepreneurial journey began, when along with the help of his wife, he started a hair salon in QwaQwa. The line of salons grew successfully and resulted in him opening an additional six salons in four years. Unfortunately, the rapid growth made it challenging for Tommy to control the operational activities remotely and he therefore had to downscale significantly. He says that this venture however educated him, and the success of his next business, Bibi Cash and Carry is due to the experience he was exposed to.

Bibi Cash and Carry, which is South Africa’s largest entirely black owned retail operation, has created jobs for 680 employees in a rural area, and contributes significantly towards its surrounding community by various social responsibility projects. Tommy says that the business has a competitive advantage over the bigger retail chains in the area due to his team’s superior local knowledge, its flexibility as a smaller regional player, and its determination to operate close to the townships and communities where most of its consumers reside.

He also assists fellow entrepreneurs within the area by allowing smaller entrepreneurs to make use of the Bibi Cash and Carry brand name in exchange for support and access to their financials. The retailer also offers an in-house learnership programme to its staff, which transfers critical tools and skills to employees of all levels.


Ferose Oaten: Managing Director – AVTS Roadworthy Stations

Ferose Oaten is the Managing Director of AVTS Roadworthy Stations, employing 80 staff members at seven branches in the Cape Peninsula. AVTS is well established in the vehicle inspection industry and is the only group of test stations in the country to have achieved SABS ISO 9001:2008 certification.

She currently serves as the President of the Retail Motor Industry, and has previously served on the boards of the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency and the South African Roads Board, both appointments by the Minister of Transport. She is also the National Vice-President of the Businesswomen’s Association.


Vusi Thembekwayo: MD – Speaker, CEO and Private Equity Partner

Vusi is the MD of a boutique investment and advisory firm that assists medium, large and listed businesses to achieve step-change results through their people. His expertise is Sales, Strategy and Human Resources. He is a business speaker who empowers his audience with new knowledge, research findings and tools that they can immediately apply in the businesses or careers to achieve “step-change” results. He has won several international awards for his public speaking.

He ran a R400 million division in a R17 billion multi-national where he achieved the highest EBITDA within the group and today is the youngest JSE director of a listed company in South Africa with influence over R4.27bn in capital through board appointments. He serves on several boards.


Why are my presentations of interest or relevance?

When your business has hit a plateau and your people are suffering from “same-ness” – same market, same work, same strategy and same result – you need to radically shift their behaviours to improve results. I have worked in 17 countries in 4 continents assisting business leaders to radically shift their people performance. My researched content is unlike that of any other speakers and I give managers and leaders real tools for real and change.


What makes me different to other speakers in my field?

Conferences today are no-longer “convenient get-togethers”. They are strategic events where conversations must link to & determine strategic direction for the year. Speakers can no longer be entertainers & thought provocateurs but must also have the scars of business war to impart true wisdom. I am different because I bear these scars. I serve on several boards, I’ve battled real P&L pressures, and I lead people & am accountable to shareholders. I am a business speaker.


How would I describe my delivery style as a presenter?

I am professional speaker. I delivered my first professional talk in 2002. Over the past 12 years I have been gracing the global stage with my humour, charisma & thought-provoking content. I have the ability to deliver a serious message whilst keeping an audience enthused and inspired.


Why use me & when you should do so?

I am a business speaker. I am equally comfortable speaking to businesses and business leaders at the highest level as well as to ordinary workers at the factory floor. I also have the uncanny ability to relate with most South Africans because of my background, my upbringing and my education. I am conference closer!


Join the square peg movement

The square peg movement is a movement to unleash entrepreneurs to get the South African and African economies going and working for all. This is an above-the-line and public relations campaign aimed to inspire people to choose entrepreneurship. As part of the campaign we will be launching a series of specialised funds, each focusing on the upliftment of a particular local industry, starting with the launch of a R300 million Manufacturing Fund.

You can join the square peg movement by being an entrepreneur or providing products, services and support to enable entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, you do not have to start big. To keep in contact with us and for updates on the square peg movement join our mailing list, on the right of this screen.