How once tiny Afrikaans publisher Naspers became an emerging market juggernaut

Also read the following related article:

- Why you must own Naspers, the hottest tech-firm in Africa (or is that China?)

Koos Bekker, longtime Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of South African media group Naspers Limited, announced in February that he would be stepping down. Bekker said he needed time to travel the world and plans to use his trips to research what new media technologies are being developed elsewhere and how to adapt these for Naspers.

Koos Bekker at the helm

With Bekker at the helm, over the last 17 years Naspers has grown from a newspaper publisher into an innovative leader in new technologies and broadcasting. Naspers grew from an Afrikaans-language publisher into a R617 billion multinational by investing in internet companies and fast-growing markets.

Professor Lizette Rabe, Media Historian and Professor of Journalism at Stellenbosch University, has been tasked with writing a book tracking the growth of Naspers. The book is set to be released on time for the company’s centenary in 2015 and, due to his role in expanding the company, Bekker will feature quite prominently.

Rabe says that, as a historian, a big part of her job is to study the past with the expectation of understanding how it has shaped the present and to create a picture of what the future will look like. Current Chairman of Naspers Ton Vosloo approached her to write the book which at present has the working title “Naspers 100 – Biografie van ’n maatskappy”.

Evolving every decade into something new

Rabe describes Naspers as a “living company” that has managed to evolve with “every decade into something new depending on what the impetus was in terms of technology and the political environment”. Founded at a time when Afrikaner nationalism was highly popular in South Africa, Rabe mentions that Naspers has managed to outlive it’s competitors because of it’s ability to evolve and embrace new technologies.

Rabe’s research reflects that Naspers is the only South African media company still running under the same name as when it was founded, and while it’s focus has shifted to e-commerce the fundamental reason for running the company is still to serve the public.

Under Bekker’s leadership the company has invested in various projects and ideas, some of which have been huge failures which Bekker himself admits to. He’s as humble about Naspers’ successes as he is vocal about the company’s failures.

Out of South Africa and into the world

Part of Rabe’s profiling of Naspers will be to shape where the company is headed in the future. The centre of the company has already moved out of South Africa. Although currently valued at R617 billion, Naspers Limited still has plans to expand their reach further into Africa.

Bekker will use the bright ideas and knowledge that he will gather in his travels to inspire other projects and innovations that Naspers can adopt when he returns to take over as the company’s Chairman in April, 2015.

Vigilant entrepreneurial courage

One of the reasons behind Naspers’ success is the fearless courage of Bekker and company executives to try new ideas with no thought to revenue, what Rabe calls “vigilant entrepreneurial courage”.

Bob Van Dijk, current head of e-commerce, has been appointed as the new CEO and his experience with new media and technologies is an asset to Naspers in this digital age.

Also read the following related article:

- Why you must own Naspers, the hottest tech-firm in Africa (or is that China?)

Listen to the Soundcloud clip for more detail.


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