THE LEADING EDGE | AVROY SHLAIN
by Andrew Ngozo
Direct Selling Pioneer
To refer to him as a seasoned professional and businessman would be an understatement. Avroy Shlain, Founder of Avroy Shlain Cosmetics, a company that turned 41 years in July 2014, believes there is no alternative to hard work in business. According to him, in order for one to be a Titan, one has to realise that you have to start small and surround yourself with a great team which is made up of individuals who may even be better than you.
Why did you decide to venture into the world on entrepreneurship?
I spent a number of years in the creative space and enjoyed it immensely except for the fact that I believed the bureaucracy one often finds in big business was stifling my creativity.
Going on my own meant, I could do what I want, when I wanted to, without anyone saying no. I was working in Australia at the time when a young guy started a direct selling company and I asked myself: “If he can do it why can’t I?” I had general management knowledge and was I believed very good at selling. My wife, on the other hand, was an accountant and she put her admin skills to good use in our company. At the time we started we were so lucky because we had a lot of money - R3 000! We were fortunate enough to grow this capital through family, friends and even with the help of the banks. After a lot of hard work, we made our first sale four months after we started out.
In the last decade there have been a lot of studies conducted about the value of having a woman in an organisation and how they focus on sustainability. Did you think of having a woman to woman transaction would work well in cosmetics?
My background was in cosmetics and my line of business was a natural progression. We worked with women because the concept was that they could fit cosmetics into their daily lives. We were developing slowly, launching new products and growing. The opportunities we were creating caught the eye of someone at the SABC and they did a 45 minute programme on our concept and how we helped grow people. Making money, thus, became the by-product of growing people. The philosophy of Avroy Shlain Cosmetics, during my time at the helm, has been to grow people and it has been the key to running the business. You cannot be philanthropic unless you make money. However, this must not be your key objective. Rather it should be to create a better life for people.
What are your perspectives regarding harnessing the human potential in our youth that have good skill sets but are struggling to get into the mainstream economy?
There will be, among the populace, a very small percentage that have really good and unique ideas and proceed to raise funds to make those ideas viable business entities. But the big question here is: What happens to the rest? It is important to always remember that before you go big you have to start small. The problem in South Africa is not that there might be a lot of people who are out of work, but that there are only a few who are willing to work really hard. Too often people give up on great ideas once they realise how much hard work they will have to put in to achieve success. That is not how life works because it takes a lot of effort and intelligence to make a success of anything. So it’s best to start small and at the bottom if you want success.
You obviously keep attuned with the business affairs, but looking at the current business landscape, is it an exciting one with a lot of opportunities?
If you are thinking of starting a new business, then you mustn’t wait for an exciting time to come because that may never come. For instance, pessimists will tell you it’s a bad time to start whereas optimists will tell you any time is a good time. But the reality is that there is never an easy time to start because it will always be tough and with the prevailing economic conditions, it will remain so for many years to come. Hence if you are not geared for doing things and committing to them, you will not make it. The key is to find one original product or situation where you are not competing against the whole world. Move fast and keep innovating or you will be knocked off.
You have been in the business world for five decades or longer. What has been the key lesson that you take with you every day?
The market place has evolved and changed a lot from what it was fifty years ago. It has become more competitive but that does not mean entry is impossible. It’s still a David and Goliath scenario but, David can win. As such, what I have learnt over the years is that you can’t do it on your own and the better the team you assemble, then the better you will perform. Most importantly, don’t be scared to employ people who know more than you do and are better than you as you need that input all the time. I have seen too many senior managers who are scared of hiring really great people because they fear that they will be bypassed. I have a theory that if a manager hires a weaker person then that person in turn will hire a weaker person until the organisation is full of weaklings. You don’t want that to happen because if you employ weakness, you will pay the ultimate price.