MarkLives is running five extracts from Joe Public United founding partner Pepe Marais‘s first book, “Growing Greatness — A Journey Towards Personal and Business Mastery”, over the next few weeks. Here is the first, “I want to tell you my story in the way I would like you to know me.”

Growing Greatness book coverby Pepe Marais (@pepemarais) I would like to tell you my story in the way I would like you to know me.

During the first quarter of 2010, I was invited by a friend of mine, Allon Raiz, to one of his Medici business dinners. Allon is the founder of Raizcorp, an incubation company whose purpose is to accelerate the growth of small entrepreneurial enterprises. In my opinion, he is one of the leading entrepreneurs in our country, a mastermind behind the success of many of the businesses under his tutorship, and a person I highly admire and value.

To my left at the table was an empty chair, reserved for an invitee who was running late. He finally arrived, in time for our entrée, in the form of the flamboyant ex-MK fighter, chief economist and vice president of the Industrial Development Corporation, Lumkile Mondi. Even before sitting down, Lumkile announced loudly that he and some friends would be climbing Kilimanjaro in September that year, and that they had two spots open. “Anyone want to join us?’ he asked in a boisterous voice. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap, but I had learned over the course of my journey that the only way to overcome my fears was to step boldly into those opportunities where few people are willing to tread. My hand shot upwards while my jaw dropped downwards: “I’m in.”

And so I found myself a few weekends later, accompanied by my wife, repeatedly climbing the stairs of the Sandton Towers, with my 20-month-old boy strapped firmly to my back. Together with the other members of our party, we would sweat through flight after flight of those stairs over the weeks to come: Khanyi Chaba, an executive working at Standard Bank, Irene Jacobs, an executive working at Coca-Cola at the time, and Vincent Charnley, former president of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA). I am blessed to call myself a friend of Sibusiso Vilane, the first black African to summit Everest, who agreed to shepherd our party up Kilimanjaro.

On day one of our six-day hike up Kilimanjaro, I experienced for the first time in my life what it felt like to be a minority in a social context within our group of seven. I remember how the majority of our team were conversing in isiZulu, then suddenly stopped upon realising, “We have abelungu with us.” After some lively laughter, they quickly changed back to speaking English. I also remember overcoming hell on the night of our final summit, reaching the top of Kili just before daybreak, after a back-breaking 10-hour climb. But, most of all, I remember spending eight solid hours above the white clouds at Karanga Camp, after scaling the Barranco Wall the day before. It was as if the entire trip was designed for this one episode to play out.

We arrived at Karanga Camp just after 11 o’clock that morning, at minus ten degrees. We had just survived a pretty treacherous climb up the Barranco Wall, where one wrong step could send you toppling 200m down. It was to be the shortest hike of our six-day climb and we would be spending the remainder of the afternoon resting, in preparation for the second-last leg to Barafu Camp from where we would attempt the summit the following evening. While tightly huddled around the tiny plastic table in our teeny-weeny tent, Khanyi suddenly leaned towards me, looking me straight in the eyes. I remember her exact words to this day as she asked, or rather instructed, “Pepe, I would like you to tell us the story of your life, in the way you would like us to know you.”

I remember her exact tone of voice, the sincerity in it, even the way she pronounced my name. This simple question unlocked a deeply profound eight-hour sharing session between seven strangers, who afterwards walked away friends. And although most of us would never see each other again after our expedition into the depths of each other’s souls, there would forever be the deepest connection between us.

I would like to tell you the story of my life, in the way I would like you to know me.

I was born on Tuesday, 5 November 1968, at 8.45am, weighing in at 3 pounds 3 ounces and measuring 18 inches. It was Guy Fawkes morning, and one could say I entered the world with a very small ceremonious bang.

My first living memory is that of my mother sitting on a black-and-white toilet. I must have been less than three months old, lying on my back in my little crib, looking up at her from the level of a chequered black-and-white floor. There was a tiny window to the left of the toilet, way, way up on the wall. The sun was shining brightly through it, backlighting my mother’s head, making her appear like an angel. It was a contented moment. The calm before the storm called life.

See also


Pepe Marais August 2018Pepe Marais (@pepemarais), founding partner of Joe Public United, officially launches his first book, “Growing Greatness — A Journey Towards Personal and Business Mastery”, on 27 August 2018 in Cape Town and on 29 August in Johannesburg. Filled with scribbles from the mind of an adman, the book inspires innovation, creativity and showcases the entrepreneurial spirit. Through his growing awareness of what purpose means in both business and personal terms, Pepe points the way to growing your own greatness.  Published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, “Growing Greatness” is available in print and electronic format from leading bookstores.

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