Interview with Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days

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Interview with Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days

Paul Esterhuizen, a South African entrepreneur and philanthropist, currently serves as CEO of School-Days. School-Days is a rewards and incentives program backed by Skybound Capital. It empowers parents to support education in South Africa through a network of partner businesses (School-Days Earn Partners) at no direct cost. Participating parents can choose to fund their own schools or “adopt” disadvantaged schools to support the education of South Africa’s less fortunate children.

Esterhuizen is also well known as the founder and visionary behind MySchool, a popular reward and loyalty program for students and schools in South Africa.

MySchool arose out of Esterhuizen’s frustration with the process of raising funds for schools. What began as a hazy idea to develop a better way to fund education and support schools quickly transformed into a full-blown rewards program supported by the now-ubiquitous MySchool Card — a loyalty card swiped by thousands of South African families at retailers round the country each week.

Although Woolworths acquired control of MySchool some time ago, and Esterhuizen is no longer involved in the organization’s day-to-day operations, he remains proud of its accomplishments. Today, monthly, it collects some R7 million for hundreds of schools and charities across South Africa and has earned multiple awards (as well as global recognition) for its broad impact and innovative methodology.

In addition to founding School-Days and MySchool, Paul Esterhuizen also built two other education-related ventures: Safer Schools and Safer Internet South Africa.

Safer Schools is a free online health and safety compliance management program for pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, aiming to provide resources and information that enhance health, safety, and emergency preparedness for learners and educators in South African schools.

Safer Schools provides a comprehensive digital resource portfolio that includes operational checklists, health and safety incident recording capabilities, and compliance management tools.

Safer Internet South Africa is a digital literacy partnership with the South African Film and Publication Board (FPB). It aims to protect children from potentially disturbing or harmful content, and from premature exposure to depictions of age-inappropriate situations more generally.

A lifelong resident of Johannesburg, Paul Esterhuizen graduated from Florida Park High School and settled not far from his childhood home with Dianne, the love of his life, in the early 1980s.

Today, he and Dianne have three adult children and four grandchildren. When he’s not working to build School-Days’ brand, he enjoys reading and spending time with his family, prayerful reflection, and visiting the South African coast.

Where did the idea for School-Days come from?

Paul Esterhuizen: I believe that some of the best business ideas come from the obvious needs in society. Springing from the notion that education time can be considered and treated as a commodity, we built and structured School-Days as a business. We modeled it on the concept that the time that a child will spend at school can be factored as a “cost per day.” Expectant and new parents soon come to realize that raising a child is costly, and this realization triggers some mental calculations (“What is this going to cost us?”) as the needs of a child are contemplated. Throughout the years, the cost-per-day for education becomes our education-time currency.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Paul Esterhuizen: Each day begins with a quiet time of reflection, gratitude, prayer, reading and planning. This rapidly moves into the hours of the day that are used for research, connecting with work colleagues, and reviewing the data-flow of the business. The dynamic relationship between education and the school communities that nurture learners and educators provides the backdrop for purpose every day. My days are connected in positioning the stepping stones to build the ecosystem that can draw widespread involvement from corporate and retail businesses to support the education movement that is our School-Days project. Time management is critical.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Paul Esterhuizen: There is a constant stream of thought capturing and note-making that floats atop my desk. Every new day presents opportunities for me to share these ideas with those with whom I engage. In order to turn these ideas into reality, I strive to put into practice this wisdom of Solomon’s ecclesiastical relevance: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” That said, it’s critical to draw on the talent and resources of skilled people to enable the delivery of any good idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Paul Esterhuizen: One trend that excites me is the ongoing awakening of corporate social responsibility and its positive impact on education. Smaller businesses are starting to realize that they too can play a role in helping communities and, in doing so, enable their own employees to participate.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Paul Esterhuizen: Reading — it fires up the brain, feeds every emotion, and nurtures comprehension and perception.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Paul Esterhuizen: Look beyond the immediate perspective. Be less impulsive, strive to be more patient, and build a wisdom counsel team that supports business endeavors.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Paul Esterhuizen: You do not need to sleep for eight hours every day.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Paul Esterhuizen: Be tolerant in all spheres of life.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Paul Esterhuizen: I have consistently drawn in others and counseled with those who have a wisdom paradigm in their work-life. In essence, it’s about how you acknowledge and respect the point of view that others have.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Paul Esterhuizen: Some 12 years ago, I was party to buying a business as a going concern and funding it with borrowings. The apparent profitability of that business was not all that it was portrayed to be and, in fact, the business was struggling to retain its sales numbers. We had not built in any contingency clauses to hold the sellers accountable for future profits. Realizing the error of our ways, we took radical action to cut our losses and step aside from continued operations. We liquidated the business.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Paul Esterhuizen: Link a product as a service for communities to be rewarded for self-educating themselves. It’s more than a business idea, it’s a way of life if learners can earn and be rewarded for progressing through levels of learning. With the ever-increasingly empowering of online education, there needs to be an education currency created that students can exchange for more advanced learning. Fund their essential needs by paying them for completing their studies and then create employment for them. It’s an online world. Exchange what you have learned for a reward.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Paul Esterhuizen: Buying books! Every dollar I’ve ever spent on books is the best dollar that I have ever spent. That said, I recently took my seven-year-old grandson to the music store and bought him his first entry-level classical guitar. That cost about $100 and it was a joy for me to behold as he looked into my eyes and thanked me. He hasn’t stopped strumming away.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Paul Esterhuizen: The online collaboration-planning software from www.miro.com. It is cutting-edge simplicity and efficiency in the project-planning space.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Paul Esterhuizen: Read “Willing and Abel” by Mike Abel, who says that it is possible to start a business under any circumstances. This is especially relevant considering the extraordinary time we live in and it underscores how essential it is that businesses be led by people who truly partner with each other. Author Mike Abel shares deeply as he recounts the past decade and how M&C Saatchi Abel grew from a zero base to become one of the country’s most influential advertising agencies inside of a decade.

What is your favorite quote?

Paul Esterhuizen: “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences” — Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)

Key Learnings:

Paul Esterhuizen:

  • Look beyond the immediate perspective. Be less impulsive, strive to be more patient, and build a wisdom counsel team that supports business endeavors.
  • Put into practice this wisdom of Solomon’s ecclesiastical relevance: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
  • Reading makes you more productive: It fires up the brain, feeds every emotion, and nurtures comprehension and perception.

Originally published on Ideamensch.com

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