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Just because you retire from one career doesn’t mean you can’t start a brand new one.
Bryan Habana was a professional rugby union star. He was a part of the South Africa team that won the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and after scoring an impressive 67 tries throughout his profession, he was ranked in second place among the all-time test try scorers.
But after a long and successful career, he decided it was time to retire and start a new dream.
Taking all the teachings from his wise coaches and the brand he had built for himself over the years, Bryan studied the basics of finance and law to start his new career in business.
This is the story of how he reinvented his career and overcame toxic masculinity to create his financial wellness platform, Paymenow.
Here’s his unfiltered advice:
Preparing for the next chapter and learning something new
Bryan, you are one of rugby’s true greats, but during your sports career, did you think about what might come next? Did you start planning for the next chapter at all?
Great question. I want to say yes, but I’m probably going to have to say no.
And I think the transition period in any athlete’s career is by far probably one of the most stressful periods, and it is almost like dying a mini death.
And now being in it, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I could have done this better. I could have done that better.”
I think the one thing I tell people is that the last thing I had as a professional athlete was balance. Because I was wanting to be the best winger in the world.
For a 14 or 15-year period, everything that I woke up to every day was, “How do I put my energy, time and effort into doing that and achieving those goals?”
And it wasn’t always smooth sailing. There were a lot of turbulent times, a lot of tough times that you had to mentally overcome.
Do I, though, believe that it’s good to give yourself adequate education, to hopefully understand what’s happening in the next form or phase of your life?
But nothing can prepare you for leaving something that you’ve only known for 15 to 20 years and entering into something different. And it’s much like asking a doctor 15 years on, “You need to become a lawyer now.”
The differentiation from everything you’ve ever known and transitioning into something very new is different.
So, was I able to, throughout my career, create a brand that was engaging, that was integral, that had integrity and honesty and commitment, that then allowed me to continue building on relationships?
Definitely, because I’m still walking that path with some of the people and brands that I was involved with during my career.
So, you do try to think of it. It’s also very difficult when you get to do something you love every day of your life. No one’s got to motivate you. You get paid an incredible amount of money. And unfortunately, it is a bit of an unrealistic reality that you live in, doing professional sports for as long as you do.
So, I want to say yes, but I think probably no. I think I had in the back of my mind that rugby is going to end at one at point, but you never know when that point is coming.
So, did I adequately prepare?
I probably could have done better, in my honest opinion, but also at the same time I was wanting to be the best rugby player in the world, which had a lot of effort, sacrifice, and dedication put into that specific silo, Kate.
A sport or a business is just a part of your life, it isn’t your life
And tell us about that moment when you did step back.
I know you were in France when you announced your retirement. How did you feel at that moment and how did you cope with it emotionally?
I mean, when I started out my rugby career, social media was the last thing on everybody’s mind. When we won the World Cup in ’07, I was worried about how many Facebook friend requests I was getting.
And fast-forward to 2018, you had Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, you had all these things that I’d absolutely needed to learn.
And I’ll never forget, I was driving home from RCT, the Toulon Rugby Club, and I’d done this post. It was very emotional, thanking everyone, going on this journey.
And I’ll never forget parking at my home in the south of France. And my wife, who was eight months pregnant, was downstairs with our little four-year-old. And as I opened the door, this flood of emotions just overcame me.
I literally just started weeping buckets at the top of the stairs, because everything I’d ever known I then realised was something of the past. It was not going to be with me for the next 15 years.
And I literally just sat there crying, and I was like, “It’s all done. It’s finished. I’m not going to turn back time.”
All the memories, all the friendships, everything that I’d developed over that 15 to 20-year period was coming to an end.
And I just sat there just consoling myself.
At that moment, I heard my four-year-old little boy having an absolute chuckle with his mum downstairs. And I heard her consoling him and just having this beautiful moment. In that, I just realised that rugby has given me so much.
I have so much to be thankful for, so much to be grateful for. And I gave it the best shot that I could possibly give it. And yes, it’s sad to be leaving and yes, I can be filled with emotions, I can cry, but there’s also so much more to life that awaits me.
I think the discrepancy between me sobbing at the top of the stairs and hearing that pure love happening downstairs, almost consoled me in a way in which I then wiped the tears off, went downstairs and embraced the family that had supported me, had given up on their dreams, so I could live mine.
It was pretty special, and it was very emotional. I’m not going to lie to you. You never know what it’s like until you experience it. But being able to have that circumstance of support around me, the circumstance of love around me was absolutely exceptional.
It’s interesting that it was the sound of your son’s laughter that made you realise that your identity isn’t just about rugby, it’s about being a father as well and everything else around you.
Yeah. It was more than just that, Kate. I think, I really did try throughout my career to understand that, yes, rugby is an incredibly huge part of my career, but I tried as best possible to make me understand that as much as it’s a part of my life, it’s not my life.
And to your point, just hearing something that took me out of the rugby playing mindset and something almost, I want to say much more important, hearing the sound of my little boy and my wife embracing, it almost meant much more than everything that rugby had given me.
Yes, it’s sad when you have to move on, when you have to say goodbye to something that has been such an incredibly important and integral part of your life. There should be time to share the emotion, to allow yourself to appreciate what has happened, to allow yourself to become emotional that it is now ending.
But being able to understand that sometimes life is much bigger than the rugby pitch on which you play the sport, the gym in which you go train.
And that moment for me, hearing my four-year-old just having the best time because all he knew was the love that his parents were giving him, and he didn’t understand anything else. And it was a pretty cool counter to the emotional state that I had found myself in, walking to that door.
Reinventing your career from scratch—where to start?
And talk us through some of the steps you took next and that transition period, because you did literally have to reinvent your career from scratch.
And I know you’ve talked about the shackles of uncertainty. How did you shake those off?
So, I was very, I want to say fortunate, yet being unfortunate. In the last season of my professional career, I was struggling with injury and as much as I would’ve loved to play one more game in my last season, I actually ended up not playing a single game.
But in that last season, I actually took up a course at the Toulouse Business School, doing a business unit manager course. And that really allowed me to get a bit of an understanding into business.
We did things like digital strategy, and I had to go do law and some very basic finance and accounting principles that just allowed me to understand a bit more about business.
I think when you’ve come from being in a very cushy, if I can call it that, environment, where on a Sunday night you get given a programme that tells you where to be that week, what to be wearing that week, how to be wearing it, what you’re going to be wearing it with, and where you’re going to be going wearing, it’s really easy.
So, in that last year under the Toulouse Business School, I was almost thinking differently about life, about entrepreneurship, about how educating yourself and upskilling yourself in certain areas gives you that ability to then make the leap a little bit easier.
If I’m honest, and I had a full-time playing schedule where I was playing every weekend, I’m not quite sure I would’ve actually completed my studies, but just doing the studies and the interaction thereof was really great.
It also gave me an opportunity to reflect and interact with other rugby players.
So, it wasn’t just me on my own, going through my own struggles, trying to overcome the educational part of what the course and the syllabus entailed, and that was really important.
It was also great that I had built up relationships that you were engaging potentially with broadcasters to do some punditry, created with brands like HSBC and Mastercard, that wanted to get you involved.
So, I want to say that I did have a really soft landing. I became a pundit on the Channel 4 foray into the European Champions Cup Rugby. I started touring the world with HSBC and the red polo gang across the Sevens.
And I was then very fortunate enough to get included as a Mastercard ambassador leading into the Rugby World Cup in 2019, which was brilliant. And then, I also started a digital sports marketing agency with a schoolmate.
So, there were a lot of opportunities that came across my path and I think I also really realised that I was extremely fortunate, because not many of those opportunities get to everyone.
There’s only a limited number of those that come across. And when they did come across, I grabbed them with both hands, put my best foot forward and tried to be as good as possible within those new roles.
But it was in that last year, getting some basic principles of understanding how to pivot on an Excel spreadsheet, how do you appropriately do a PowerPoint presentation?
Things that as a rugby player you potentially don’t need to learn, but everyone else in business almost takes for granted because they learned it 15 to 20 years ago.
Launching Retroactive and running a half Ironman marketing campaign
Because I mean you could have continued that career in broadcasting. So, what is it that made you start up Retroactive agency?
And what were some of the skills that you brought from your sports career into running a business?
So, I had a guy called Mike Sharman who I was with at school, and he contacted me when I actually made my announcement, said, “Listen, dude, I’m extremely good at marketing. I know how to sell something, but the expertise that you have in working with some of the biggest brands globally throughout your rugby career, the interaction, and the authenticity that you manage to create, not only for yourself but how the public view you, how can we use that to sell new stories? Don’t create a thing about storytelling, rather create a thing about story selling.”
And leaning on Mike’s expertise, leaning on his foundations, his network, and his ability to tell a story, led us to Retroactive, which we launched.
And I want to say it was a bit of a far-fetched idea. I mean, I had no understanding really of marketing, even though I had been involved in it on a number of occasions.
But kicking it off and just being able to tell a different side about the interaction, the authenticity, and I think our first ever campaign, we got a guy called Hobbo, who we deemed the first ever un-fluencer.
And Hobbo was a random nobody in a job, that we teamed up with an organisation called Biogen who create some incredible supplements and put Hobbo on a journey where he literally couldn’t potentially even walk 100m, let alone run.
And we put him through this programme with Biogen, that made him end in that year, competing in his first ever half Ironman.
Which is incredible. A guy that went from nothing to something. So, Hobbo lost, I think about 30kg, went on an incredible journey.
And that just started that whole story selling environment and also gave me a bit of an understanding into business, how you work and engage with fellow shareholders, directors, which would’ve ultimately then led me on to Paymenow, a few years later.
Out of Retroactive, we’ve launched a platform called MatchKit that allows athletes to really look at monetising and creating a platform where a lot of the amateur to semi-professionals just don’t have an audience. They don’t have anyone.
They’ve got these various idiosyncrasies of Facebook, Twitter, and all these various different social media platforms, but no one really has this holistic platform.
So yeah, Retroactive was a really cool stepping-stone into the entrepreneurial world, which has actually held me in good stead for then launching Paymenow a few years later.
How Covid shaped Paymenow
And tell us a bit more about Paymenow because you went live with your first customer a week before lockdown hit in March 2020.
So, how did the pandemic shape the way you do business now?
Launching in lockdown was a very interesting experience and very much like Retroactive, Paymenow started with my university roommate, Deon Nobrega, approaching me in about June 2019 about this concept called earned wage access.
I was initially very, I want to say hesitant or dismissive.
The reason being is, I was like, “D, I’m not going to give anything that potentially lends to how my brand is viewed, is seen as predatory, is seen as abusive.” It was Rugby World Cup year, I was like, “No.”
I did though let Deon twist my rubber arm a little bit, mostly because he’d introduced me to my then girl I wanted to be introduced to, now wife, was MC at my wedding, so I gave him a little bit more leeway than the general person.
But we had an incredible group of co-founding members, we had myself and Deon, as well as our two tech co-founders, an incredible angel investor, we really believed in the product, and we were just so excited to take it to market where it hadn’t actually been done before.
And January 2020, launched Paymenow in South Africa and we extremely bullish about the prospects of doing something incredible. And to your point, two-and-a-half months later, lockdown happens globally.
I mean, the immediate consideration that we had as a business, when funding is limited, you’ve got no clients, where you’re going to go to? And I think we were very fortunate that we managed to launch our first client literally a week before the first initial hard lockdown in South Africa.
And that just gave us a bit of market validation, which allowed us to continue building. It did though, change completely in terms of how I love doing things, in-person engagements, being able to get people’s emotional and emotive reactions, and all of a sudden you had to do everything online.
You were speaking to initials on a screen. You were trying to sell and pitch something that a lot of people didn’t understand. And yes, there was one company that had market validation, but you were just speaking to friends and family.
I do think though, it gave us an incredible opportunity to let people and particularly, employers, better understand the financial constraints under which their employees were working.
Covid really highlighted that because people were losing their jobs. Businesses were looking at various ways of stretching their employee value proposition, because all of a sudden people were working from home, costs were getting cut.
And yes, it was a very torrid, very tough time, but it did allow us to pivot and adapt and innovate, not just in our tech offering, but how we were able to sell, how we were able to change the narrative around how effective it can be to allow people a bit of access to already earned yet unpaid wages.
And in so doing, break the financial disconnect that came between that and a monthly salary.
So, it was, I’m not going to lie to you, it was a challenging time period, like many had to experience, but it did give us real great opportunity to springboard and do things differently, to innovate and adapt and really be meticulous in how we were looking at the circumstances that faced not only us, but hopefully our potential users.
Creating good relationships and a strong workplace culture is crucial
I mean, you talk about pivoting, innovating, adapting. How have you kept that entrepreneurial, startup culture as you’ve grown the business?
So, I think that’s probably the holy grail, growing as a business yet trying to keep that corporate mindset.
I think I’m extremely proud of the employees that we’ve managed to recruit from a Paymenow perspective and at work we’ve got a fantastic culture.
We have this big saying that we will 100% take attitude over aptitude, any day, because you can teach people, you can upskill people, but a person’s attitude is something that is very difficult to try change. And we have grown systematically, incrementally over the last three years.
We were four guys thinking and doing things the same on a WhatsApp group in a 20 sq m office, and all of a sudden as you grow, yes, you need to start putting better business continuity processes in place.
Yes, you have to start thinking and working differently with various other people within the organisation. You have to become more diligent in following process, more than just sparks in the brain.
But having that culture of, every morning, just checking in for 15 minutes on a standup, making sure that you have your tasks for the day, your focus for the day is being adhered to, but being able to physically look at someone and see if they are okay.
And that environment of creating people who are almost running an organisation as though they were in charge of it, so that they’re not just an employee, they’re a part of something really bigger, really more important and understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Yes, we’ve got this incredible ability to grow as a company, but we really are creating tangible value for those that get to use it.
And we all have been able to see that first-hand and as new members join, new employees come on board, that we then show them where Paymenow started.
Yes, it was just an idea that we’ve come across, but we’ve built it into something that is adding massive end value to the employees that use the platform.
So, are we there yet? No, we continue growing, we continue learning.
And to that point of pivoting and adapting, I think one of the biggest things that we’ve had to get to understand is that sometimes we have to unlearn, because all of a sudden there’s competition that pushes you further.
But how I was talking to our original three co-founders on a WhatsApp group and the banter we were having and how we were thinking about things differently.
Now all of a sudden you need to have regular check-ins with your direct employees, you need to have an understanding of the various units of the tech silo, the customer and client support silo, the biz dev and op silo.
It’s just, all these so intertwined and if you’re not creating good relationships, which I think is really important, that startup culture continues to slowly but surely wane away, creating a great office space where people almost love coming into the office.
We are very much a bums in seats operation, because all the silos really talk to each other. And I mean today was a classic example, our app was down through an SSL certificate that had been propagated somewhere, that we had no control over.
So, our CSM team was becoming frenetic, our tech team didn’t know… And because we were all in this environment, we were able to solution it together. We weren’t trying to wait for a response on a WhatsApp, or an email.
Our CEO of the company got up, called everyone around. We were able to properly engage, mobilise, fix the problem, which is really cool. Which yes, you can do it potentially remotely, but it just is, in our opinion, much more efficient and prolific to do it when you’re in person.
So yeah, it’s really cool. Like I said, creating a culture that people feel a worth of why they’re there. Letting people really almost take responsibility and accountability for their role and contribution that they have in the success of the business.
So, we’re not quite where we want to be. We do have a few audacious goals, but I think we’ve allowed growth internally. We’ve had people that started as a junior are now heads of departments, which is really great.
So, it is a great place to work, and we’ve got a pretty great view of the Stellenberg Mountain, so I’m definitely not complaining.
Keeps you motivated every day.
Why data is the liquid gold of the future
You talked about the importance of having the right culture and the right processes in place as you grow.
How important is data in all of that? I know there’s been a lot of hype around smart ball technology in rugby recently. Tell us a little bit about what that’s all about and how data and metrics come into play both in sport and in business.
So, if we really just take the data in sport Kate, I was there for 10, 15 years, and as a professional athlete they say the 1% is the difference between those that make it and don’t.
Jean de Villiers, the former Springbok captain, actually gave me a great stat towards the end of last year that in South Africa, if you played schoolboy rugby in your last year of school, your chance of becoming a Springbok in the next decade is 0.058%.
So, if you think of the thousands that play rugby at school, that very few that actually then get to go on and represent their country, I mean, I think there’s only been 960-odd Springboks, which is insane to think that you’re part of this elite group.
So, to the smart ball and to understanding stats. And yes, it’s great to help the end user, yes it’s great to help the viewers, the supporters watching on a TV, being able to see things that allows them to understand the game better.
But as a professional athlete, being able to know how effective certain elements of the game were, that the distance that you’re getting on a kick, you’re not guesstimating anymore, that you can continually test and push those boundaries.
How quick a ruck speed is, how quickly that ball is going from the scrum-half to the fly-half, to the wing’s hands, and what is that spin rate like?
So yes, I think it’s great insight for those that are watching on a television screen. It’s great to be able to talk about things verbally, and it gives the pundits and the commentators some incredible nuggets of information that we wouldn’t have had previously, which I think is absolutely brilliant, and it is revolutionising how we take in information.
Because all of a sudden, as a rugby player you potentially have this weird concept that anything within a rugby ball is going to change the balance of it.
So, I think what the team has done in not changing any of the dimensions, the weight, the trajectory of the ball, but getting valuable data that can be expressed and used internally or externally, is great.
I think for us as a company, data is pivotal. We’ve done just over three million transactions on the Paymenow platform over the last three years.
And that allows us to look at how people are using various streams of financial services, whether it be for airtime, data, electricity, put money into their bank accounts, how their credit scores are improving or not improving.
And that then helps us relay some critical messages that we can on-sell, yes, to the employees, but more so to the employers to tell them how much of a tangible difference a tech platform like Paymenow is creating value down the line for them as an organisation.
So, data and analytical insights is critical for us as a business, how we talk about our business, how we use the information that we’re receiving to continually improve, make better.
And not only just rest on our laurels, but try aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you’re going to land among the stars.
So, data is critical.
They do say it’s the liquid gold of the future and hopefully in using it correctly, you are able to not only monetise, but actually inform and create a better way of working.
Study your opposition to become a better player
And this morning, Bryan, I was watching some video clips of you racing a cheetah. So, I’d love to know some of your tips to entrepreneurs on how you outpace your competitors.
I mean, I’m going to have a race against a tortoise releasing shortly, Kate. So, keep your eyes peeled out for that one. Five years on from retiring.
Outpacing your competitors. So, I think what really is important to understand, and I think I got caught up in this very much, where you think you do everything to the best of your ability and that’s automatically going to mean success.
And it mostly does, hard work, sacrifice, determination and perseverance are non-negotiable.
But I do think it’s understanding the environment that you’re involved in, that there are competitors, that the narrative might be very different. How people are seeing you in comparison to someone else, and how are you doing things more efficiently, more responsibly?
Things that potentially are seen different from a buyer instead of a seller. So, as someone that wants to sell, you’re continually selling your story, but understanding what the competition’s doing.
And it’s very much like being a professional athlete. When the video analysis came in, a lot of us didn’t really understand how to properly use it.
And then you had peripheral vision, you had wide-screen angles, so you could see where the full back potentially preferred to line up or what the wing was doing, or how the scrum-half was doing a cover defence line.
And that then allowed you to make better decisions, to be more successful. And it was in studying the opposition that it allowed you to become a better player.
Very similarly in business, the more you understand what’s happening not just globally on a macro environment, but also in your micro space with which you play.
So, from an earned wage access environment, understand what the global trends are. Sit on a global on-demand pay council, but also understand fundamentally what is happening within your immediate environment of South Africa.
How are not only employers, but how is the competition talking about their messages, what are they doing differently? How are you constantly improving, innovating, and adapting to almost be one step ahead the whole time?
And it does come down to understanding what’s going on around you, because if you’re going to be an ostrich with your head in the ground, in my opinion, you probably will get left behind.
Overcoming toxic masculinity in rugby and the workplace
On that point around being really hyper-aware of your environment. I know you’ve talked about the toxic masculinity in rugby, where you can’t show your emotions.
How have you tackled that personally and in the workplace?
The toxic masculinity, I don’t think it’s just in rugby. It’s very much where guys are in an environment and how you tend to talk in a changing room or on a WhatsApp group is very different.
I did mention earlier about how, for me, definitely there’s a lot of unlearning that I have to do in the transition period, because how I was thinking being in a team where everyone wanted to achieve success, where all the arrows were 99% always in the same direction.
All of a sudden you get into an entrepreneurial workspace environment and not everyone thinks like I think, as a director or a co-founder in a business.
I had one of my great experiences in my first week of hiring a new sales executive. And I sent a message the night before, after 7pm, and this person came to the office the next morning, I’m like, “Ah, did you get my message?”
And they went, “I did, but it was after seven o’clock at night. My partner and I have this thing where we don’t look at our phones after seven o’clock at night.”
And at first, I was quite taken aback. I’m like, “But this is a startup, you don’t have time to switch off.” It’s like, “What?”
Because myself and the other four directors hadn’t switched off in seven months and now, all of a sudden, an employee is telling me, “No, no, but that’s a work-life balance.”
And I’m like, “I don’t have any balance. I’m trying to grow a company. We’ve put in all the risk. We’ve put in all the effort.”
So, I think the masculine toxicity around, that was very much spoken about, is that you almost feel that showing emotion, and I think, showing emotion is not always crying, but in that environment of showing any form of emotion, it is potentially seen as a weakness.
And I think that’s the biggest thing around how we interpret masculine toxicity.
I think one of the biggest things that I’ve come to understand that it is okay to not be okay. And the narrative around, how are you then verbally able to express that, I think is really important.
I think it’s become incredibly great to see around the world, in many forms of rugby, players standing up and firstly taking accountability to say, “I’m standing up to say it’s not okay, and I’m standing up to show emotion, because if I can do it, it could potentially help someone else down the line.”
I think Gareth Thomas was probably the first rugby player to come out as a gay rugby player back in the early part of 2000. And that was something that not many rugby players have had to deal with.
All of a sudden, we’ve seen the change in mindset, the change of acceptance and how that is done, which I think is really important.
So, firstly, to respect each other, I think is incredibly important in a topic of conversation. But knowing that emotion and the fact that it is okay to not be okay and that you shouldn’t be felt vulnerable because of showing emotion, which I think is really important.
And as much as we do it in the rugby environment, in the workplace, everyone lives such uniquely different lives, particularly in an environment like South Africa, where we have such an extremely diverse cultural differentiation. And coming to the office, I’m thinking differently to so many other people.
And if we do allow a platform for authenticity, for collaboration, but for people to feel safe and know that they’re not going to be ridiculed, they’re not going to be discriminated against purely because they’re different or purely because they’re not okay, and that it isn’t being seen as a weakness.
I think is an incredibly powerful tool to get growth and to create a culture where people really do appreciate the opportunity to come into the workplace.
And whether that be in the four walls or on the rugby field, I think it’s an incredibly important point.
Success doesn’t have an end destination
And how do you measure your own success personally now? What does success look like for you?
Oh, Kate, if I had the answer to that, I would be a billionaire. So, I think each and every person, and you talk about new year’s resolutions, writing down those many goals, the mid-term goals, the long-term goals, and I think the success, post-rugby, would for me being able to firstly provide for my family.
I think as first and foremost, obviously you go from earning the salary of a CEO for doing something you love, something you’re extremely passionate about.
And sometimes life doesn’t really give you that same salary entry bracket when you call it quits. So, it is about trying to maintain a lifestyle that I really want to give my family.
I was extremely fortunate growing up. Yes, I was probably privileged. And I think it’s measuring how you put certain things to task, where you can provide for your family.
I’m grateful that my wife gave up all her dreams so that I could chase my dream of being a rugby player all around the world. We had to pack up homes a couple of times, move across countries, across seas.
And now she’s a full-time mum, which in my opinion, should be a very well-paid job, because I just see how difficult her handling our two boys, the travel schedules that they have with the various sports.
So, what does success look like?
Success looks like me continually growing. And I don’t think success, in my opinion, is something that has an end destination. I think success is a continual journey that one goes on, and you almost have to do a daily success rate.
One of the things I really try to do is when I wake up in the morning, is I really do believe that you get a choice to make of how you’re going to approach that day and to choose positive, in my opinion, relates to positivity choosing me throughout the day.
And then, success then comes in when I look at myself in the mirror before I go to bed at night, was I present in the environments that I allocated my time in? Was I present when I had the opportunity with my kids? Was I present in the office where there was effort needed, that there were circumstances that needed to be addressed?
I think success is down to each and every individual.
For me, it is about being a better person and leaving this world in a better state than the one when I arrived in.
An opportunity to give, where you make this world understand that one is better than zero, that you’re making one life better.
The best rugby coaches and their wise teachings
And Bryan, you’ve worked with some brilliant coaches over the years. What is it that they’ve taught you about leadership and how to motivate a team?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with some great coaches, Kate, throughout my career. I think everyone actually asks me, “Who is the best coach you’ve ever worked with?”
And I think, well, I think that’s a very subjective term, because what do you base best on? Is it Jake White winning a Rugby World Cup in 2007?
Peter de Villiers beating the All Blacks in New Zealand two years in a row. Allister Coetzee, who did some phenomenal things. Heyneke Meyer, the first ever South African to win Super Rugby as a coach.
So, I do say hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance are non-negotiable when you want to achieve success. I think the one determinant that no one can really put their finger on is luck.
Because as hard as I worked and as much as I sacrificed and made sure that I was good, I had no influence on those coaches selecting me.
I tell everyone, “I can’t validate choosing one coach because each and every coach actually played their part in me becoming the player that I became, but more importantly, the person, because they all instilled certain elements of value that I really took to hand, to become better at what I was doing.”
I think if one looks at the elements or traits of influence that they’ve had, each and every one played a role.
Jake White telling me to leave the jersey in a better place than I’d found it. Peter de Villiers really leaning into the emotional state of more than just the rugby player. Heyneke Meyer, understanding that if you don’t have a kaizen principle, a continuous improvement in understanding, you will never achieve success.
So, I think it’s very difficult to potentially single out one coach. I do think as a leader though, John Smit, as the captain of the Springboks in that lead up to 2007, was phenomenal on a number of environments.
Firstly, given the unique diversity that we have in South Africa, and particularly the rivalry that we have from a rugby perspective between the Sharks and the Bulls and the Lions and Western Province.
I think what John was able to create as a captain, created an environment of honesty, of integrity and transparency, I think was incredibly important, because he allowed diversity to be seen as a positive rather than a negative.
And the way he was able to communicate, and I think that’s probably one of the greatest things I learned was that open and transparent communication always supersedes a WhatsApp or an email that could potentially be received wrongly or incorrectly.
I think, for me, that was really great. And John was brilliant. I think he’s also been, I want to say, instrumental in having a relationship with that group of players from 2007. He’s been instrumental in keeping engagements going.
So, from a coaching perspective, some incredible sound bites, nuggets of information and knowledge that, yes, allowed me to grow as a player.
But yeah, if there is one that I got to single out, John Smit was pretty special as a leader, a great friend. And he’s gone on to achieve his own success in business, ended up becoming CEO of some incredible organisations.
So yeah, Smitty, thanks for taking me under your wing. It was a very big wing, seeing that he played in the front row, Kate.
But yeah, Smitty was one of the good ones.
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