Growing up during Apartheid was tough as an African, even more so when your father dies and your mother is left the sole provider for your family. Lebo’s mother scraped, scrimped and saved what she could to give her kids a decent education. He attended the private Woodridge College – one of the only multiracial schools at the time.
It was a great move on her part as I managed to get a really good education there, but it meant there was nothing left over for varsity,” Lebo says.
Lebo managed to get a bursary to attend university. He began his business career by selling accounts to a fashionable clothing store on campus, for commission, of course. This quickly led to him being brought in-house, where he earned a lot more money. The downside was he had to catch up with missed classes at night. It wasn’t long after receiving his degree that Lebo was snapped up as a sales executive for South Africa’s state broadcaster, the SABC.
He was so good at his job that he was promoted on a regular basis and ended up as the marketing manager of the SABC-run radio station Metro FM before he was 25. Lebo didn’t stop there. He left the SABC and joined advertising mavericks Herdbuoys, where his salary doubled. By now, he was well on his way to earning his first million.
That’s when Lebo’s need for independence came to the front. Over the next few years, Lebo started Gunguluza Entertainment, which made use of his networking and connections to throw parties in clubs around South Africa. That soon fizzled out when a well-known celeb started doing the same thing and people flocked to his events because of his name.
In 1997, Lebo was back with a bang and landed a massive deal with YFM.
I knew radio and I knew parties so I called YFM and convinced them to give me half a million rand’s worth of airtime to organise the launch event on their behalf. Kwaito was big at the time, and I knew all the stars. I met with sound, stage and lighting guys and used the media space I got from YFM to barter with them so that we ended up with a R4 million production,” he says. “I made R1.5 million cash, with all costs covered, and YFM got a fantastic launch party.”
Out of money
Lebo found himself running out of money when he bought a flashy car and spent his money on parties. Once again, he had to start from scratch. He approached Penta Publications and sold media space for them. Within a year he’d left and started Corporate Fusion, which was earning R2 million in business in the blink of an eye. He bought a restaurant and turned it into the place to be in Joburg.
I hardly ever slept at that time. When I was not at the restaurant I was developing a new media business and creating new partnerships. I had managed to settle all my debt and build a company that had already turned R2 million by the time I was out.”
Set to stay
Once he’d found his feet on the roller-coaster ride that is entrepreneurship, Lebo founded the GEM (Gunguluza Enterprises & Media) group of companies. He partnered with Uhuru Communications, the publishers of SAA’s Sawubona magazine and a number of other youth and campus-orientated publications. It’s the latest stage in a long line of hit and misses, and this one looks set to stay. Who knows, Lebo’s first billion may just be within his grasp.