Louw van Reenen, CEO of Kimberley’s largest private employer, Beefmaster Group, shares what makes him happy, where he finds his inspiration, and what it takes to motivate a team of 1000-strong people.
04 April 2021: Beefmaster Group started as a small cattle feeding business in 1965 by Lourie van Reenen. A family-run operation with Lourie’s son, Louw van Reenen, today leading the company, it has grown into one of the largest beef companies in the country, with the capacity to process 800 cattle per day. It employs over 1000 people at its Christiana feedlot and processing plant in Kimdustria and exports quality beef products to international markets such as the Middle and Far East.
What is the best leadership advice you have ever been given?
Create a strong, motivated team.
I do this by ensuring I have the right people. I don’t choose people based on their ability to work with me. I give them the resources and freedom to choose their own team. Trust is very important here, as I do not interfere with this process.
How does this inform your leadership style?
I aim to lead with integrity and honesty. If you have the wrong intention when communicating with your people, then you are not being truthful. I always try to have the right intention, which I believe helps people trust me as a leader and view me as authentic.
I also like to give praise where it is due. But for this, it is essential that people buy into me as a trustworthy leader. There is no point in praising someone if they don’t believe you. I like to surprise people who have done well. Sugar-coating feedback also doesn’t work. If you hand out praise at random and gifts for good work every week, people stop trusting you. People need to believe your word and if you are genuine, then it fosters good will.
What do you believe is the job of a leader?
To inspire others to help create a better future.
But you need people to buy into this vision, and to do that, you have to reward and incentivise them.
Incentives work well in motivating a team; but different people have different reasons for doing something; for some the incentive would be money, for others it is a day off to spend quality time with their family.
What is your leadership motto?
Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and motivate everyone to be part of that plan.
I aim to get everyone to row in the same direction by communicating a workable plan to execute.
Once you have a plan in place that meets an end goal, then you need the tools to get there. For example, we started an internal modelling department and hired an actuary to help with scenario planning and forecasting. This planning informs the decisions we take as a business.
I am a big believer in preparing and always having a contingency plan.
How has COVID-19 impacted this outlook?
We didn’t have an issue because we already had a plan in place that helped to create efficiency in the business. This plan involved extensive training of our people in dealing with pathogens and hygienic matters before the pandemic took hold. Training is ongoing we and have about 70 – 100 learnerships per year.
Your biggest mistakes that you learnt early on in your career?
Believing that the job can be done better by putting in more time. It is not necessarily the quantity of time spent on something that makes it work, but rather the quality of the work. You don’t always get it right because of effort, and sometimes it is about working smarter, not longer hours.
It is also a mistake to think you are bigger than the system. It only breeds arrogance that will come back to hurt you. It is far better to be humble in life, and business.
What were some of your proudest achievements as a CEO?
Being involved in getting our exports off the ground and opening up new international markets.
It is also worthwhile to note that as a business we have taken the position to be active champions for our industry, which is why I am Chairman of the Feedlot Association and part of the Red Meat Industry Forum. At the time when we got our first exports off the ground, not everyone was for it, including our competitors, perhaps because they didn’t believe that it would benefit them. But we believe that by opening up doors for our business, all players in the industry benefit.
What is your plan for Beefmaster Group for the short- and the long-term?
In the short-term it is to remain profitable. In the long-term it is to grow the business to ultimately employ more people. This is because I believe we have a responsibility as an employer in the area to create jobs, help educate our people, and to foster a better community. This comes from our core values, which is that those that work with us or for us, are part of our extended family. We don’t always get it right, but we are striving to improve our communities by being a responsible business.
What motivates you?
I am not motivated by personal riches or financial gain. I am motivated by how the business helps our people; if I can grow the business, that means more people will be able to feed their families or send their children to school.
I am a Christian, so I get my inspiration from the Bible, by listening to spiritual music and reading spiritual books, as well as praying.
What books do you read?
Some of my top favourite books are The Five Love Languages (Gary Chapman), Goeie Môre Mnr Mandela (Zelda la Grange), Divine Direction (Craig Groeschel), The Book of Joy (Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu), Om Dogters groot te maak (Dr James Dobson).