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Lowvelders love hearing stories of a “local boy done well”. Get it caught up with former White River homeboy Ettiëne Pretorius, a serial entrepreneur and real-estate investor, after his trip to Necker Island where he joined Sir Richard Branson and others to

reimagine the future. Ettiëne believes that “if you can see the invisible, you can achieve the impossible”. This burning desire to break down traditional business barriers and do what some say can’t be done, has resulted in him succeeding in his industry, far beyond expectations.

He grew up on a farm on the outskirts of White River. At the age of 10, he realized the 350-odd laborers who lived on the farm had nothing with which to keep themselves busy after a long day in the fields.

He bought a coin-operated foosball table and earned a steady income for a few years. Unwittingly he experienced the law of passive income; a principle extolled by the likes of Robert T Kiyosaki. He advocated financial independence and building wealth through investing, starting and owning businesses, as well as increasing one’s financial intelligence.

Simplistically, Kiyosaki proposes ownership of high-value assets that produce cash low, rather than being an employee on a payroll.
It was evident from a young age that Ettiëne was never going to be a name on an HR payroll. In his second year at university, he started a clothing business supplying students on campus with affordable day- and sportswear. It was a real money-maker and, at the end of his honours year, he handed the business over to the university.

In his third year, while completing his degree in risk management, Ettiëne embarked on his first real-estate development. He had identified a shortage of student accommodation and, with the help of a private investor, developed a sectional-title estate consisting of seven units. By the age of 21, he’d made his first million. He’d also received the Absa Top Entrepreneur Award.

Since those early days, Ettiëne has gone on to establish himself as a formidable businessman in the real-estate market and, more recently, has created events and coaching platforms for business networking and knowledge sharing. He has a number of accolades to his name, including an international businessman of the year award where he was congratulated by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donna Karan (DKNY) and Wayne Allan Root (US vice-president candidate). He’s shared the stage with the likes of George Ross (Donald Trumps’ right- hand man) and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Inc).

In March, Ettiëne joined a group of 20 global entrepreneurs for a four-night stay on Necker Island with Sir Richard Branson and a selection of elite business innovators. It was the third ‘Necker Meets Oxford’ leadership gathering; a partnership between Virgin Unite and Oxford Martin School. This unique meeting brings together entrepreneurs, philanthropists and professors from the University of Oxford to explore ideas and solutions to the greatest challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. It’s an incredible incubator for brilliant ideas. This year the group was challenged to “reimagine the future of our planet”, with the focus being on addressing the pressing issue of climate change.

Ettiëne, tell us more about your experience on Necker Island
It was a life-changing experience. Meeting Sir Richard Branson has been a lifelong dream which has now become a reality. Every day was inspirational. Once you get over the awesomeness of meeting Richard, you appreciate just what he has mastered in his life: dynamic entrepreneurship. He made me realise that the difference between him and someone down-and-out on his luck, was merely about the choices a person made. It was exciting and humbling at the same time.
You decided to swim across to Moskito Island from Necker Island (50km). Why?
I wanted to set myself a challenge as a symbolic gesture of my passion to step up and show people I’m not afraid to be the first to do something for a good cause. I’m a natural energy junky and Richard said to me afterwards he saw a bit of himself in me in his early days. I’ve competed in Ironman competitions so the swim wasn’t that difficult but I got a huge fright when a 50ft yacht almost sailed right over me.

What did the trip to Necker Island mean to you?
It made me realise that being influential is greater than you think, but also easier than you think. People think that in order to network at this level you need a bank balance with a large number of zeroes. But that’s far from the truth. It’s about how you approach life; being disruptive, being different and daring to break the mould. We elevate highly influential people to such a level they become hero figures and not real to us. This creates a sense that it’s impossible to achieve what they have and that takes you out of the game before it’s even started. The difference between the people on the island and the rest of us, is they made a choice to do what they love, based on a passion to change things and help the world by providing solutions to its problems.

Who had the greatest influence on you when growing up?
Life lessons aren’t learnt from any one person or experience. It is a gradual build-up of a lifetime of unique experiences. I surround myself with people who inspire me and have the same burning desire to grow and develop as individuals.

What lessons did you learn from your early projects in real-estate investment?
• Establish yourself as an authority in your area; it’s not about who or what you know but who knows you. People will believe in your vision if they see results, feel your confidence and can see a benefit in partnering with you.
• Know your facts; be up to speed with numbers and statistics.
• Be honest and keep the deal simple; do not promise unrealistic returns as it will put too much pressure on the deal and 90% of the time it’s not attainable. Do not break trust early in the deal as it is rarely gained back.

You travel extensively and work hard. What do you do to relax?
I don’t view it as work, I do what I love. If you have to “work” your whole life, you will not live a life of abundance. Building my business energises me and I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to innovate and disrupt the industry. I’m happiest on our smallholding where I have about 22 different types of animals to care for. I suppose at the end of the day I’m still a farmer’s son. I usually have my iPod in my ears and I listen to audio books on branding and business strategy. That’s me; I’m always looking for new ideas and inspiration.

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