Born: Johannesburg, South Africa
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; master’s degree and Ph.D., Stanford University
What was your first job?
I worked for my father, and he was in the financial world, but my first real job was I was a summer intern for a radio manufacturer, and I can’t recall the name of the company, but I was functioning as an intern. I was troubleshooting broken radios very simplistic stuff because I had no expertise.
What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learned?
CRC is my second venture. I had one other key one. Back when I finished my Ph.D. at Stanford, I was at a consulting firm. I had an idea to put a device in cars that would generate electronic driving directions. Of course, today that’s become commonplace. I started a company with a different name back then, but it’s now called Navigation Technologies, and I started that back in 1984 with venture funding, and I actually sold it off to Philips in the early 1990s the big electronics firm and Navigation Technologies today is the largest company in the world which owns the underlying geographical database that supports automotive navigation.
The lesson I learned from that experience was that I was ahead of my time. Everyone loved the idea, but the technology wasn’t there yet, and I learned that timing is everything. If you have an idea for a product for an entrepreneurial venture, the marketplace has to be ready for it. It simply wasn’t ready for it at that time. It was too expensive. I realized finally that I needed a large corporation with deep pockets and a long time frame, which is why I sold it to Philips, and they invested $2.5 billion in NavTeq to build a worldwide database.
Timing for an idea is everything. If you have the greatest idea in the world, but if the market isn’t ready for it, it’s not going to fly.