Vivian Reddy

Born philanthropist

Vivian Reddy, South African philanthropist
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For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the lives of others”; this is a Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom) quote found on the back of Vivian Reddy’s business card. The other one is from former US President JF Kennedy who said in his inaugural address of 1961: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”. 

The sense of the two quotes above underpinned the entire conversation between Vivian Reddy and Black Business Quarterly (BBQ). While the man has a natural flair for taking chances and for entrepreneurship; he also left BBQ with no doubt that he enjoys giving to and making a difference in the lives of others.“I know that it seems ironic,” he concedes, “because it is often my generosity that tends to make certain people suspicious of my intentions. My company has given more than R100 million to all kinds of charities over the last three years alone, and much more since we started, yet many of the philanthropic work doesn’t seem to attract the right kind of press coverage for the difference that it makes in the lives of others.

“It appears to me that there are people who seem to thrive on searching for ulterior motives even in simple acts of giving. We have helped many charitable organisations and individuals  both private and public figures  over the years. We even managed to raise almost R1 million for the recent Nelson Mandela Day, through a radio charity drive. My humanitarian work is like a calling; I really enjoy making a difference in the lives of others and giving them reasons to hope, despite all the undeserved scrutiny that I sometimes endure,” he lamented, while assuring us that even the scrutiny will not stop him from giving to others.

Reddy was emphatic that the fact that some of the people who have received help from him over the years are involved in politics has nothing to do with wanting to buy favours from them.  He remembers what it must have been like for many of the former exiles to return home – some with no family waiting for them  with nothing in their pockets and no homes or jobs waiting for them.

“I helped many of these political returnees because I was mindful of the sacrifices that they had made so that we can have a democratically free country. Whether or not one likes it, even money would never compensate adequately for what they had to go through over the years of exile and the part they played by contributing to ending the evil system of apartheid, and the achievement of the freedoms that we enjoy since 1994. I, therefore, feel no guilt for contributing in my own way to softening the landing pad for them after their return back home,” he told BBQ.   

To date, he has provided numerous educational bursaries to deserving students, and launched the Orphans of Aids Trust, which he also continues to sponsor. Reddy executes his philanthropy through his patronage of more than ten organisations in the areas of education, religion, the disabled, welfare organisations, community centres (including feeding schemes), health associations, conservation programmes, as well as  peace and cultural initiatives. He was recognised as a ‘Community Hero’ by the impoverished community of Bayview Flats in Chatsworth, Kwazulu-Natal, for the work he has done for them.

The ongoing construction of the Bayview Flats Community Centre and soup kitchen, also seems guaranteed to buttress the lasting legacy of Vivian Reddy’s contribution to this community.

Born in very humble surroundings in Durban in 1953, Reddy the entrepreneur, has single-handedly created a business empire with diverse interests in energy, casinos, healthcare, financial services and property development over the years. He is a typical ‘rags-to-riches’ self-made man who started his business with a bakkie and R500 in his pocket.

He grew it to be the multi-sector, multi-million rand, conglomerate that it has become today, employing 2 000 people and placing food on the tables of many more. But before all else, Reddy considers himself a family man. “A stable and happy family is essentially what keeps me going, and I never forget to celebrate this blessing,” he assured BBQ magazine. 

“My family is what I return to each time the world seems to be turning against me through untruths printed about me in the papers. I start each day in their company and end it with them. Everything else comes after family,“ he confesses.

But Reddy’s family seems to extend into his solid relations with his 200 employees. All of them, across all businesses, are driven by a shared principle known as Constant and Never Ending Improvement (CANEI). 

“The fundamental meaning of this principle is that we aim to be the best in all we do, all the time, and to build ourselves and others in the process. I want my employees to know me first of all as a human being like them. That is why I always strive to communicate with all of them at that level, making sure that I greet everyone when I enter a room or encounter them in the corridors and, importantly, that I listen sincerely to their input and, where realistic, act on it,” he explains with his trademark  radiant smile.

Turning to levels of poverty and unemployment in South Africa, Reddy refuses to point a finger of blame at any one person or group, especially government. We all have a role to play, he asserts. Government has the responsibility to create a viable environment for business to invest and thrive, as this would result in much needed job creation and poverty reduction; but unemployed youth also have a role to play. Instead of sitting at home and waiting for others to do something for them, they also have to be daring and rescue themselves. He goes on to say that whereas the environment never used to make it possible for people like him to start businesses wherever they wished to during apartheid, this should not be a major challenge for today’s young people in the new South Africa.

“Granted, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted, but no one succeeds in anything in life without first putting themselves out there to try. We also hear a lot about big business not playing its part in all this, but we all know that painting every one of them with one big stroke is unhelpful,” he says, sounding concerned for the first time since the start of our interview.  

Reddy feels that the many big businesses which have developed and implemented sustainable programmes for socio-economic development, skills and enterprise development, should not go unnoticed, lumped into the same basket of bad corporate citizens with others who either never try or have adopted off-the-shelf, superficial, programmes that fail as soon as they get implemented. “We should give praise where it is deserved and work with those companies which have demonstrated the willingness to invest in developing this country, while also holding the hands of those behind in this regard, guiding them along the way,” he cautioned, adding that no one, despite appearances, should ever be left behind in the journey to building the South Africa that “we all want for our children and their children’s children”.   

“Why don’t you go into politics?”BBQ asked him, “you seem to have the required answers to some of the questions facing this country in terms of socio-economic development.” To this, Reddy’s response was swift; he left no doubt that politics is not for him. 

 “In politics I would be too restricted and unable to exercise the freedom that I currently enjoy to move resources around as I deem fit, in order to focus on real issues as they arise. I currently enjoy the kind of flexibility that a government role would not allow me to have. I am, therefore, afraid that I will make a very impatient politician and probably end up being kicked out anyway. So I might as well stay put out here, and use my own resources to make the difference that I like to make for the benefit of others. I was never designed to be a politician!” 

Surprisingly, he also conceded that there was a small ‘selfish’ drive – selfish in a good way, he said – in making the world a better place for others. 

“Go back to JF Kennedy’s declaration, he reflects: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” In saving others, he said, “I’m also, in my way, contributing to making the world a better and easier place to live by those who have plenty. More people who have a little more than others should see it as their responsibility to share their wealth, if they want to enjoy it in happier environments.”  

Asked what his five key priorities would be, were he to be made President for a week, he listed unemployment and poverty alleviation, education, enterprise development and combating against child abuse as top priorities.        

Interestingly, the one contemporary man that he admires the most is Bill Clinton, former US president. As part of the Bill Clinton Global Foundation, he has observed how the former statesman has continued to use his influence to garner corporate support for hundreds of deserving charitable initiatives all over the world. 

“He has literally mobilised millions of dollars and improved hundreds of thousands of lives through his foundation. That is something I hope to emulate when I retire in about five years. My family already knows that I plan to establish my own foundation and grow my social entrepreneurship and they are firmly behind me in this,” he assured us.

More recently, Vivian Reddy purchased the Luthuli Art Collection, which is to be donated to the Chief Albert Luthuli Museum in Groutville. This most recent act of generosity has not gone unnoticed in leading political and business circles, with some wondering why he did and many others praising him for the foresight. 

Reddy’s philanthropy has also received numerous humanitarian awards in Japan and elsewhere, including the Paul Harris International Fellowship Award, for contributing to the development of previously disadvantaged people in South Africa.

“But my journey is far from over, keep watching this space for more from Vivian Reddy,” he said, winking! 

 

Solly Moeng

 

 

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