Legacy of Growth

Ernest Corbett has been an entrepreneur for decades. These days, he is the chairman for Tintswalo Safari Lodges. Entrepreneur spoke to him about cultivating a growth mind-set and creating an experience that clients keep coming back for.

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Ernest Corbett  
  • Position: Chairman  
  • Company: Tintswalo Safari Lodges
  • Established: 2003
  • Visit: tintswalo.com

When Ernest Corbett moved with his family from the Eastern Cape to Johannesburg in the mid-1980s he had no money and very few prospects. The Corbett family had lived an idyllic existence in the Cape, but the focus had not been on making money. Eventually, the money ran out and the family was forced to move to Joburg, where there were more financial opportunities.

Devin Lester

“I realised that I had failed as a father and a breadwinner,” says Corbett. “I viewed it as a sort of treason.” 

But he didn’t give up. Corbett used this realisation as a motivator to create some of South Africa’s most successful property developments. These days, he is heavily involved in the exclusive Tintswalo Safari Lodges. Here is his advice on creating a company that not only shows solid growth, but surprises and delights customers as well. 


Have a good partnership in place

Very few entrepreneurs have all the skills necessary to run a successful business. I believe that the right partnership is essential. For me, that partner is my wife, Gaye. I have always been the goal maker and Gaye the financial and detail controller. This is possibly the biggest single reason for our success — the two of us working together. 


If you don’t have a purpose, you’re not even in the starting blocks

Very few people will attain long-term success if they care only about making money. Financial success alone is not a good driver for long-term growth. If you want to create a business that lasts, it’s important to figure out exactly what your purpose is. What do you ultimately want to achieve? For me, it’s always been about family.

I wanted to create a business that could offer work, opportunities and financial freedom for my whole family — that was my purpose. Of course, this isn’t the only worthy goal, but it’s important to have a goal. Pursue something that has true value for you. If you care only about money, you’ll lose your drive when the business becomes successful, and that’s when a company stagnates. Real growth comes from pursuing something bigger than money.  


Never underestimate the value of data

We’ve always placed great emphasis on tracking statistics. When you experience great growth, you want to be able to identify the reasons behind it. You don’t want to have to guess. You want to know exactly what’s driving growth, and you want to be able to double down on it. This is only possible when you track all activities in a business. Similarly, you want to know the moment that there is a downturn in the business.

Without comprehensive data, it can take you too long to notice an issue, so by the time you start tackling it, it could be too late. The adage is true: You can only manage what you measure. Identify your primary goals in the business, and focus on the metrics that’ll get you where you want to be. 


Know when to spend and when to save

Many companies start cutting back on expenses the moment that the economy takes a dip. This isn’t a bad idea in principle, but it’s important not to cut back on the wrong things. I’ve never believed in cutting back on marketing, for instance. That could easily end up just slowing your growth even further. When the competition is marketing less, that’s when you should get your name out there and increase market share. That said, you only want to push aggressive growth when the company is on a solid footing. Let the data tell you when it’s the right time to grow. 


Don’t be a debt slave

Success and growth can often lead to unnecessary spending. As soon as you become ‘successful’, there’s a temptation to splurge and show the world just how successful you are. That’s not how you build a great business. Sure, incurring debt is often necessary when building a business, but it needs to be the right kind of debt. Don’t spend money on fancy cars and offices. Don’t get into debt just to impress the world. More money and success can too easily just result in more debt. If you want to build a great company and enjoy long-term success, you need to first break out of the cycle of debt. 


Hire a good financial director

If you want to grow your business, you can’t be too operationally involved. You need to be able to step away and take a more strategic view, and you can’t do that if you’re putting out fires every day. You should be the goal setter — the one who gives the business direction. Find great people and delegate. Specifically, find a great financial director who can handle the money. In my opinion, it’s hard to lead the organisation and focus on the bottom line. 


Every business hits barriers

And every time you hit a barrier, you have the choice to either back off or swing for the fences. The important thing is to not view challenges as barriers, but as tests. Life gives us challenges so we can overcome them. Every great business is the result of immense tenacity. Ultimately, it is defined by the challenges that it faces and manages to overcome. Growth comes from viewing challenges as opportunities.  


Surprise and delight your clients

We go to extreme lengths to surprise and delight the guests who visit our lodges, specifically those who are regular clients. When a business becomes a certain size, you run the risk of losing touch with your customers.

You start focusing too much on the big picture, and not enough on the individual people who have played a role in your success. My wife and I often fly to a lodge just to greet regular guests, or we’ll arrange for drinks and snacks to be set up specially for them during a game drive. Regardless of the size of the business, the little things are important. Never take your customers for granted. Treat every client like your first.