Strange and humble first jobs of South Africa’s top tech CEOs

South Africa has some of the world’s best technology CEOs and entrepreneurs, running global enterprises and punching far above their weight.

These executives have interesting and challenging jobs, with salary packages that are the envy of many people.

However, this was not always the case. Most top telecoms and tech executives started right at the bottom, and had to work hard to reach the top.

Many of them began their working career long before they finished university, doing some strange and unglamorous jobs.


Afrihost CEO Gian Visser – Dropping off pamphlets and feeding pets for R40 per day

Gian Visser

Afrihost CEO Gian Visser’s first job was to drop off pamphlets and look after people’s pets while they were away on holiday.

“I walked around my neighbourhood dropping pamphlets in post boxes, and I was paid R40 a day to visit the client’s house, feed their pets, and check that everything was fine,” said Visser.

His first professional job was to run Afrihost – the company he started, for which he received no salary for the first 6 months.


Business Connexion CEO Isaac Mophatlane – Worked on a cattle farm for R25 a day

Isaac Mophatlane

Business Connexion CEO Isaac Mophatlane’s first job as a schoolboy was to work on their family cattle farm, for which he was paid R25 per day.

Things improved significantly for Mophatlane as a student when he landed a job with the South African Breweries (SAB).

He received an impressive student salary of R2,400 per month in the early nineties, and could enjoy SAB drinks after work. “Cold beer after hours is great fun when you are a student,” he said.


Cybersmart CEO Laurie Fialkov – Semi-professional swimmer, with a first pay cheque of R200

Laurie Fialkov

Cybersmart CEO Laurie Fialkov was a semi-professional, full-time swimmer, which kept him from a “real” job in his early twenties.

“My first ever job was to swim around a buoy in a team triathlon and make sure that I came back first,” he said. “I received the princely sum of R200 for that effort.”

“I did not have a “real” job until I was in my 20s. I used to swim full time, and if I was lucky I received a bit of change for my performance.”

Fialkov was also the youngest person to complete the crossing from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay at age 11 – a record which stood for 21 years.


Vox Telecom CEO Jacques du Toit – Security guard for R1,600 per month

Jacques du Toit

Vox Telecom CEO Jacques du Toit’s first job was as a security guard at Infoplan for a salary of R1,600 per month.

While serving as a security guard during the week, du Toit ran a mobile bar business over weekends.

In 1995 he started to sell mobile phones, which introduced him to the world of telecommunications.

Du Toit said his first job taught him the value of respect for others. “Very few people have any respect for a security guard, but little did they know that I was finishing a degree similar to theirs while standing guard at night,” he said.

“The most interesting times as a guard were during office parties and year-end functions – you cannot believe what people get up to when they think no one is watching.”


Axxess director Franco Barbalich – Instrument technician apprentice at R500 per month

Franco Barbalich

Axxess founder and director Franco Barbalich is currently running one of the largest Internet service providers in South Africa, but his path to the top had humble beginnings.

Barbalich’s first job was an apprenticeship as an instrument technician, with a gross monthly salary of under R500.


MWEB CEO Derek Hershaw – Management trainee with a salary of R1,200 per month

Derek Hershaw Mweb

MWEB CEO Derek Hershaw’s first “real” job was as a management trainee at Norwich Life in 1990.

“I was accepted onto their management trainee programme, for which I received R1,200 per month,” said Hershaw.

He added that most of the departments he worked in at the time only had a single PC which everyone shared.


Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub – Selling samoosas and earrings for 20c

Shameel Joosub

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub’s first job was selling samoosas and earrings in the township for “2 Bob”, when he was only 5 years old.

“I would buy these products for 10c and sell them for 20c,” Joosub told MyBroadband.

He continued with this when he went to school, and was running a small business by the age of 7. At age 12, he was running an uncle’s bottling factory during the school holidays.

These ventures helped Joosub to become one of the top telecoms CEOs in South Africa.

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Strange and humble first jobs of South Africa’s top tech CEOs