Bootstrapping entrepreneur Louis Pulzone: Crossing the transformation river one step at a time

LONDON — As he explains it, the arrival of his first born five years ago pushed Louis Pulzone into starting a business in the garage. After hearing from past participants and doing his homework on the event, Pulzone and his executive team at LFP Training will be at the CEO SleepOut™ on July 11. He has an interesting story: a farm boy from Kroonstad, fluent in South Sotho, who made his personal transition into the New South Africa. And is now determined to provide the right example for his two young sons. – Alec Hogg

In this episode of the CEO SleepOut™ update, we’re going to be talking with Louis Pulzone who’s the Chief Executive of LFP Training.

It’s nice to be hooking up with you this morning, Louis. It looks to me like it’s not going to be a really big problem for somebody like you to be sleeping out under the stars. We’ll get into that in a minute though, but why did you decide to participate in the CEO SleepOut™ this year?

Look Alec, this year’s SleepOut™ has for a long time been an interest of mine personally. For us as a company and for me personally I believe that corporations can make a difference. I believe that individually we can, but corporates as well. I believe that we’re in a position to make a difference, I don’t’ believe we all always do so and these types of events puts emphasis and puts it out there in our faces to get involved. I believe that obviously the CEO SleepOut™ also gives us two perspectives. One, of how these less fortunate people are living. I believe we should on, if possible a daily basis look at how other people are living and for me it’s to see what the less fortunate are enduring every day.

Louis Pulzone, Chief Executive of LFP Training.

Personally, I have two small little boys five and two years old and every day we make it our purpose to make a small difference whether it be sometimes just giving money to somebody or sometimes just talking to somebody. As part of my trying to be a better dad, I do tend to get them involved in working with people as well.

That’s really interesting. The patron of this year’s CEO SleepOut™, Dr Mandela was saying that with homeless people or with people who you bump into at the robots, sometimes you don’t have money to give them, all you need to give them is acknowledgement, just to let them know that they’re human beings, so that’s a good example you’re showing to your children.

Thank you very much. Look, I believe on the 11th of July I’m personally getting an opportunity to literally walk in somebody else’s shoes and I think that’s very important for my own perspective going forward. I’ve read a bit about the CEO SleepOut™and what others that have done it before have endured and specifically what one of our clients CEO said about how his perspective changed of homeless people who have to endure it daily and I’m looking forward to again motivate myself to do a little bit more.

Yes, one gains empathy. I mentioned in the introduction that you’re one of those guys who won’t find it too difficult coming from Kroonstad. Now that’s not the big city. They grow them rough in the Northern Free State, so you didn’t go the traditional route of getting your degree, you studied through UNISA. It sounds to me like you’re one of those guys who had to make your own running.

Yes, I suppose so. I don’t know how much time you have. Do you have all day? Yes, Kroonstad obviously being very cold, I grew up on a farm there, mostly in a hostel from literally grade one, so I’m used to the cold, but I’ve also, in the last couple of years, become very comfortable in a very warm bed with heated blankets and everything, so it’s going to be tough, but I’m definitely looking forward.

I’m just thinking about the business that you started. I presume LFP stands for Louis and Francois Pulzone, your brother Francois.

Yes, initially I suppose that’s how it began, it’s for Louis Francesco, which is my second name Pulzone, as we consulted in training. Today it’s not that anymore, it’s Leadership Focused Passionate.

When did you start your business?

In 2013, while sort of desperate I suppose. In a sense I moved to the big city, Joburg via Bloemfontein and was basically unable to find work. My firstborn was on his way and yes, I started a business because I came from the training industry and I started consulting, as obviously we did not have the finance to get accreditation and everything that goes with it. I started consulting and training and working with different providers and at one stage decided that I could do it better than others I suppose. We started in a small garage at my house a week before my first son was born and it grew from there.

That’s so interesting because often people look at South Africa; particularly people coming from white backgrounds in South Africa saying that you really can’t build a business in this country. You’re showing that that’s not the case.

Look, I ultimately believe that each individual can make his own choices; I believe that it does boil down to that. I’m reading an interesting book, it’s an older book of Anthony Robbins where he said that, “It all comes down to a choice” and I suppose that encouragement was obviously my firstborn, but I had to make the choice, am I just going to sit back and make excuses because you can obviously find many excuses or alternatively provide for my family and what then I thought would be an interim until I find a job, within the first six months I realised there’s huge opportunity. What was nice for me is in the tough times I’m driven by passion.

We all know when you start up businesses and as you said being your white South African male, I suppose some people’s opinion would be it’s not easy, in the beginning of this business when I didn’t really know where it was going, what was the driver behind it was my passion for people, from all races, genders, etc. I believe that when I got to know different cultures because obviously growing up in Kroonstad you’re with one or two cultures and when I moved to Joburg it opened up a whole new world for me. That and my passion took me through those difficult times.

Louis, I was interested to see in your CV that you also speak South Sotho. Now I’d just like to dwell on that a little because many black friends of mine have said that part of the reason for white and black people in South Africa missing each other is that white people expect black people to speak their language, but not the other way around.

Yes, I definitely agree. I did an interesting training session about two weeks ago, Friday with our sales team and then got our ops people involved where I said, “You know, we so easily judge people on the colour of their skin”, which is one definite thing that stood out for me of what Nelson Mandela said that we can’t be born to hate people because of the colour of their skin. I asked a simple question and I drew a picture on a whiteboard of a guy sitting on a tractor.

I asked these people, “So, what do you see?” The white people funnily enough said to me, “A black guy on a tractor” and the majority of the black people also said, “That’s a black guy on a tractor”. I said, “Okay, on this basis, do you believe that the former is rich or poor, in your own opinion?” and they said, “No, the black guy is on the tractor, so the white guy needs to be rich for that to be”. Then the majority of our African people said, “Look, the African farmer needs to be rich because he owns his own tractor” and that to me sort of opened up the discussion, which internally we encourage a lot because of how different our cultural history is.

In addition, different preconceived ideas no doubt.

Most definitely. As you can imagine we were three brothers, we grew up in Kroonstad on a potato and pig farm. We went to hostel and with our background, it was difficult to make the transition, but I can tell you now, we’ve all done so and it opens up a whole new life and that to me is exceptional.

What do you mean by the “transition”?

I think with our limited education that we got for example, when I went to school, an agricultural school in Kroonstad I believe that we had limited access to other cultures and those who were there you avoided. That was just the way we were, our own culture was and with my father as well, you had a white farmer, and he had a couple of black people that worked for him. The transition that we had to make is that that’s not the case; there are so many other races that can participate very effectively in conversation and have their own opinion and can also participate in the economy.

Once I’ve made that transition today I’m sitting with people, that 85% of the population in my mind in the way I grew up would have been excluded from my decision-making. Today out of our seven people in Exco, five people are African because they make me think completely differently and that I believe is the big success of our company and that was a big part of the transition that I believe I made into having a more open conversation, ideas from absolutely everywhere.

Louis, I have to ask you, do those members of your Exco all support your sponsorship of the Blue Bulls? Are they all rugby fans?

Ah, well no, not at all. Look, rugby on its own is a discussion and I suppose a fight in most cases, but yes, the majority of us do, they do understand the business side of it, penetrating the Pretoria market.

Who inspires you? Maybe we can start with Nelson Mandela because this SleepOut™ is to celebrate him. It’s called the Nelson Mandela SleepOut™. It’s to celebrate his life and the fact that he would’ve been 100 years old a week after the day of the SleepOut™. What did you take from his life? Then perhaps you could tell me about other people who inspired you?

Ultimately with Nelson Mandela I believe that he just changed so much in South Africa that to me that from a completely different perspective, one, he got 80% plus of the people who at a certain stage had no opinion, he got them involved. I don’t believe that any country can survive with only 20% or less people having an opinion of what happens or participating in the economy. From an educational perspective, I’m the same as Nelson Mandela obviously I believe that it can definitely change the world. I believe that education as a fundamental can be re-differentiated between a social stance and that education creates opportunity. I honestly believe that.

As I said before, one thing that stood out for me is the fact that Nelson Mandela said that, “Surely people aren’t born to hate each other because of the colour of their skin”. That to me really stood out and obviously I believe that once you have a good mind you can do business and you can probably get along in South Africa. However, as you also agreed, if you combine that with a good heart, it’ll really make a difference, which is what I believe his sole purpose was, is to make a difference.

Looking at other role models, what about a guy like Bill Gates, does he inspire you?

Typically, to be honest, not really, I’m inspired by Steve Jobs. I believe that he was an outside of the box thinker as much as Bill Gates, but I’ve really studied Steve Jobs. I think he, not only because of “To the crazy ones…” slogan, but of what he had to endure to get Apple to where it is today. I believe that he had the persistence and had the commitment through difficult times to build a brand more than a company. We might think the same. For me building a company is one thing, but I also want LFP to be a recognisable brand and I believe he set out to build a brand and not only a company.

What are you hoping to take home after we’ve frozen a little on the 11th of July?

Well, hopefully the flu I suppose, hopefully not. The involvement of this goes way beyond just giving. I suppose it’s easy in most cases to drive and see somebody standing at a robot and give him R50 and whatever he does with it, it’s his own, but I think it’s a lot more difficult to get involved and as you’ve worked with various CEOs, time is so important because the time you’re not working you want to be with our families. I believe that this should be a third pillar of being successful in your own life, which we all know, money does not determine success. I honestly think that it’s going to “re-motivate” if that’s even a word, me as a leader or a captain of a small ship, to encourage our internal people to do more to get involved more.

When I read up about the CEO event I was thinking, “What are we planning for our 67 minutes?” and we got ideas and I thought you know, this is not nice, if I redid the CEO of IQ Business Road I immediately see that there’s already going to be a difference and I want to act already, so it’s already motivating me. I think it’s going to be very cold, I think it’s going to give me and my Excos joining me a bit more perspective of what some of our learners, because the majority of our people are learners, that come in to our system that finds permanent employment, these guys are unemployed, some of them for ten years. We are getting these people, so now we’ll see how they live or how they used to live or most of them at least and I think that’s going to make us better, well be better at our jobs.

Louis Pulzone is the Chief Executive of LFP trading. He’s going to be learning, empathising, and finding his inner Madiba on the 11th of July.

Thank you very much.