Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

Robbie Naidoo


1. Tell us about yourself, childhood, family and siblings.

I grew up in Stanger on the KZN North Coast.. I came from two very different families – my dad’s, the Naidoos, were a business family. My mum’s, the Samuel family, were all educationists and the academic type. There was one common factor though – they all loved sport. So I grew up playing sport everyday during my early youth – soccer, cricket and later tennis. I represented my school in Stanger and then North Coast at soccer, cricket, tennis and volleyball.  At 12 I was first selected for Natal at tennis and continued to represent the province at junior and senior levels for several years. I also represented the province at squash and North Coast Country Districts at cricket.  My hero growing up was my cousin Jay – who was the Natal 100m champion and an amazing soccer player. He also had a fantastic general knowledge, sound politics and great taste in music. But I suppose the most important person in my life has, without a doubt, been my mother, Marina. My father, Sonny died 15 days before my 21st birthday and she has taken care of me since and I am greatly appreciative. My mum taught for 40 years (she taught both my two younger sisters and me in Class 1). My dad was an entrepreneur and was the driving force behind my family business after acquiring two bottle store licences and before that he managed their cinema. He was a great movie buff and this has rubbed off on me. He was also very involved in sports administration at local and provincial level and had very strong political views with leanings to the left – and this rubbed on me also. He also played tennis once a week right until his death.

Personally, I studied journalism, qualified and returned to Stanger to work for a local newspaper. While I was there I got involved in politics. I coached tennis in one of the townships and assisted the community set up structures. When violence broke out, I was also integrally involved in securing peace in the area and negotiating with the warring parties.

2. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

It’s a funny thing but I generally battle to hold my attention for long periods. But I don’t have this problem when I write. I tend to write opinion pieces and columns. I wrote a sports column for 13 years and recently ventured into writing human interest stuff and I love it. I generally only write when something stimulates me. I don’t like the idea of writing just to fill space.

I read a fair amount and I only do non-fiction. I love psychology. My favourite books include Richard Branson’s Losing my Virginity, Eckard Tolle’s The Power of Now, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Viktor Frankl’s Mans Search for Meaning, which is the story of an inmate at Auschwitz.

I am currently writing a book of contemporary archetypes in the Indian community and how to deal with them from a marketing perspective – sort of a bible on marketing to Indians in SA – something I think most South African corporates have very little idea of.

I also still love playing sport – I exercise at home daily, try to get onto the golf course as often as I can and still play league tennis and a bit of indoor soccer. I also used to box to keep fit.

I also love photography. I have a collection of dawn images of North Pier (I live at Ushaka) in eight shades of sunlight. The sun over the ocean and cloud formations to me, are some of God’s most beautiful creations.

I also love movies. Again, I tend to like the more serious ones – tear-jerkers like Schindler’s List, Awakenings, Pay it Forward, the Pursuit of Happiness and a Beautiful Mind are top of my list. My other favourites include Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, The Village, The life of David Gayle and Sixth Sense. I tend to like movies that question things.  I also like some lighter stuff. My favourite  romantic comedies are Notting Hill and the American President and comedies Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and A Fish called Wanda.

3. What is one thing most people do not know about you?

I am a bit of a loner and I enjoy spending time to myself. My earliest dream was to become a professional soccer player.

4. Who did you look to as a role model and in what specific ways did this person influence you?

Richard Branson. His great attitude and the simple fact that he has never sworn at a single employee. Locally, Sam Ramsamy – for his resilience and amazing power to forgive. My mother, Marina, for her strength, humility and simplicity and her crab curry, of course.

5. What is the worst business advice you have ever received?

I am particularly averse to these gratuitous HR programmes that most large corporates do. I generally think most of them are designed to make consultants wealthy and most employees fake that they are really into them – so it becomes a bit of “an Emperors New Clothes” situation – where everybody is fooling everybody else.

6. A defining moment?

Being chased off the empty Stanger Country Club tennis courts by an old white fart when I was a kid because of the colour of my skin. Also, reading about the murder of a student protester at Zululand University. Both these experiences turned me into a very political animal.

7. Your favourite colour and meal. Why?

The silver grey of the ocean on a semi-cloudy day.

8. Who is your best friend?

I have many – and I love all of them equally.

9. Robbie’s sizzling secrets?

I have a tendency not to walk on lines (John McEnroe also did this and damn I know Jack Nicholson also did this when he played a psychotic in As Good as it Gets). I eat only fruit till midday. I love sports betting and find it difficult to enjoy a game if I don’t bet on it.

10. The travel memory of all times?

Spending 14 days as a commentator  at centre court, Wimbledon, in 1997. My dad taught me to care for the oppressed. I don’t like loud and greedy people. The best comfort food …. crab curry! Everyone asks when am I getting married?

I dream that I will still have a small house in the countryside and play golf and tennis all day and if I ever have a kid, that he should become a professional soccer player.


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