Jomo Sono on his other passion - business

15th August 2005 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Troublemaker. Kansvatter. Thatha-machance. Heart-breaker. Maestro. The Black Prince.

There is no shortage of nicknames for soccer supremo Jomo Sono.

Some of these traits he is prepared to take into the boardroom with him.

Handy baggage from a sports career spanning decades.

“I'm a go-getter,” enthuses Sono.

“And I'm not scared oftaking chances. I'll take a risk on any business. As long as I make sure I learn from any failures.”

A moment's silence.

“Being born is a risk.”

Well-known as South Africa's 2002 soccer World Cup coach and Jomo Cosmos football club owner, Sono's growing business empire attracts much less attention than his career in sport. And soccer is, by his own admission, still his first love.

However - at the risk of being labelled a kansvatter by the big man himself - Sono's business ventures are showing solid gains on the balance sheet; and Cosmos still has a bit of work to do this season to dig itself out of 13th position on the Premier Soccer League log.

Umbrella economics
Sono holds all his current investments - and there are many - in his personal capacity.

However, he is forming a company which will place all of these under one umbrella.

Groups that will, in all likelihood, become partners in this new empowerment venture will be Sono's church - Swiss Mission - and the Rivoni School. He is still looking for a suitable women's grouping to sign up.

Sono currently holds the following positions, and/or corporate investments:
- A shareholder in IFS Consulting;
- A 30% owner of vehicle-parts supplier Midas;
- A 27,6% owner of Paint & Ladders, which makes paint,aluminium ladders, scaffolding and related products
He is also the chairperson of Paint & Ladders.
- Sono's Accor forms part of a joint venture with Southern Sun, called Affirmed Investments, which owns the Formula 1 hotel chain;
- Sono is a director of the Carnivore Restaurant and Misty Hills hotel and conference centre, in Midrand;
- Jomo Properties owns and leases properties in Soweto.
Betting specialist TAB is a customer, and Score supermarkets is about to sign up;
- Sono is chairperson of the Exel petroleum group.
He was one of the original founders of Exel in 1997. Exel has been incorporated into a new-look Sasol Oil, through an empowerment deal;
- He owns 26% of Stellenbosch-based civil engineering consultancy company Entech, as well as holding the position of chairperson;
- Sono is a 50% co-owner in a venture to develop the Four Seasons golf estate, in Brits, in the North West;
- He owns 26% of printing company Silent Press;
- And, of course, as the pride of his stable, Sono is also the sole owner of Jomo Cosmos football club;
In addition to this, Sono describes a deal, which will see him become the owner of a football stadium, as imminent.

One of the ventures he has culled from his portfolio has been his association with bus-body manufacturer Busaf.

Last month, he resigned his position of chairperson, citing the company's reluctance to transform as the main reason.

His 40% share in the company is also up for sale.

When it comes to financing these deals, banks play a crucial role, but he also now and then digs deep into his own pockets.

Venturing underground
Sono has also entered the mining and mineral-beneficiation industry.

In November last year, he was invited to the diamond conference in Antwerp, Belgium, where President Thabo Mbeki was one of the speakers.

Here, the President campaigned for South Africa to increasingly beneficiate a much larger proportion of locally-mined diamonds.

Since then, Sono has struck a deal with Antwerp-based diamond company DD Manufacturing, forming a local company called Life Diamonds, which focuses on the cutting and polishing of the precious stones.

Sono owns 10% of the company, which has set up shop in Johannesburg's Diamond Centre.

Life Diamonds has so far spent €8-million on new equipment as well as on training for its staff of about 40 people.

In July, the company was appointed a sightholder - an approved buyer, of which there are not many - by diamond-miner De Beers.

Sono's other mining interest is a 15% share in Thunderstone Mining (along with other private investors), which owns a Kimberley diamond-mine.

Why did Sono specifically choose the diamond industry though?

“I love to learn, all the time, and getting involved here was learning.

“Besides, I was offered a good opportunity to become involved in the diamond industry.”

On empowerment and the 'same-faces syndrome'
Where does the best opportuntities lie for future empowerment deals in South Africa? Sono believes there remains room in each and every industry, including mining, often flaunted as the first to have strode over the threshold as government end(f)orced black and white marriages of the economy.

“Mining is still a good investment. Look at De Beers' turnover worldwide - it's still a goodbusiness to get involved in.

“Empowerment has only scratched the surface in South Africa so far.

“You cannot run the country but have no economic power.”

As for the criticism the empowerment process has come under in recent times, as continuously enriching the same people, Sono believes this group of people should be applauded, rather than objurgated, as they are the ones continuously taking the risk.

“They are literally putting their homes at risk. We should be proud of them.” He also believes that empowerment programmes whereby only employees or low-profile groupings are involved often ensure that no real empowerment occurs, as these groupings' profiles are too low.

“Empowerment collectives such as these are in need of a champion who will represent them and structure the best deal possible.

“Somebody who will say 'pay dividends rather than just sit on the cash'.”

He notes that most South African companies are embracing empowerment, especially so the large corporates.

It is difficult to resist sitting across from soccer boss Jomo Sono and not ask his opinion about the 2010 soccer World Cup.

“You know I've got a reputation as a troublemaker?” he quips before venturing to comment.

He weighs the question for a moment.

“I am 50% excited about the World Cup,” he decides.

He believes the event will showcase South Africa as a country. He anticipates a tourism and economic boom, and that some of the negative press in Europe may finally fade or, at least, slump to the back pages, as people travel here “and see for themselves”.

“Of course, there will be muggings and robberies, as is the case all over the world,” he adds.

What is of particular concern to Sono, though, is whether soccer, as a sport, will benefit from the 2010 event.

“There are too many people with big egos in football. People who are saying 'I brought the World Cup here', while it is really the government, President Mbeki and former President Nelson Mandela who made it possible. “The game will not develop with all these egos and the infighting that is going on at the moment.”

Sono adds that he would ideally like to see funds for - and generated from - the World Cup being used to renovate soccer stadiums, and not the traditional rugby stadiums.

“Rugby has enough stadiums, and it is the majority of these venues that are being renovated for the World Cup.”

Another aspect worrying Sono is Bafana Bafana's current level of play, which sometimes hovers south of average.

“What will happen if South Africa bombs out in the first round? Then the World Cup is finished. South Africans won't pay for tickets to go see Colombia versus the US. “It is important to start building a team that will make us proud in 2010. There is a lot of talent in South Africa, but it needs the right guidance.”

A long way from Soweto
Matsilela Ephraim 'Jomo' Sono was born in Orlando East, Soweto.

At the age of eight, his father Eric 'Scara' Bamuza Sono, a midfielder for Orlando Pirates in the 1960s, died in a car crash.

At that time, his mother abandoned him. (Sono was reunited with his mother, through a newspaper article, when he was 34.) He was left in the care of his grandparents in their small Soweto home - his grandfather being a blind priest who owned a spaza shop.

Ironically, Sono was a 'business man' before he pulled on his soccer boots.

At the age of eight, he sold apples and peanuts at soccer games and train stations in order to provide for himself and his grandparents and to attend school.

The nickame Jomo, by the way, means 'burning spear', and was given to the ten-year-old Sono by Rocks Mthembu, a former Orlando Pirates player and founder member, who saw in him the same leadership qualities as those of Jomo Kenyatta, the founding president of Kenya.

Fate played a big part in Sono turning his attention to soccer. One of the Orlando Pirates junior players failed to turn up for a soccer match where the then 13-year-old Sono was selling his wares and he was called to stand in.

At 15, Sono was playing for Pirates' first team and, some years later, he travelled to the US to play for New York Cosmos, alongside the legendary Pel