Kurt Solomon. Leb, legend, and fellow partner in CN&CO. We always knew he was someone special who always adds a bit of magic wherever he goes, and now Fast Company SA thinks so too!
In their July 2016 issue, they’ve picked the top 20 millennials under 30 years old who are making waves and shaping the world in amazing ways, and our very own Leb made the list! We are so chuffed it’s actually crazy. In addition to Kurt making the list, Purple Group’s very own Lungile Msibi features too! There are many other young guns on the list who are all making magic in their own ways, including Gareth Pon, Kirsty Bisset, Danilo Acquisto and others.
Be sure to head out and grab a copy of the latest mag (with Chelsea Handler on the cover) to check out the full list and read about why each and every person is deserving of having made the list.
In the meantime, here’s a little sneak peak at what they have to say about CN&CO’s very own, Kurt:
If you’re familiar with the annual DareDevil speedo run, chances are you’ll recognise the name Kurt Solomon. For three years (2012, 2013, 2014) he was the national organiser and main driver behind the run (where he worked with the founders in driving awareness and funds for cancer.) While raising over R1 million for cancer initiatives and encouraging ballsy men to strip down to nothing but a speedo to run through peak-hour traffic in a bid to raise awareness for the disease (cancer is a cause very close to his heart) it is but one reason this 26 year old has made this list.
Kurt is a lover of life, family and friends; is a dreamer; an optimist; a Burner (the name for those who participate in the Burningman festival); and an informal adventurer with small biceps and a big heart.
Kurt is also a partner in the lifestyle business and consultancy, CN&CO, where his main role is that of “Head of People and Brand” – a niche he has carved for himself within the insurance and finance industry (and which is expanding into broader industries too.) What does that mean, though? In essence, companies and brands bring Kurt in to harness the power of their people (within a brand) to make a brand great.
“We work with brands to entrench them within a market, make sure that the right people and companies are talking about the brand (in a good way), and most importantly, ensuring that the people INSIDE the business/brand are all singing off the same hymn sheet and are constantly reminded why they love working there and what the brand stands for. Employees who are happy and appreciated will always do more than is expected, and that is good for business. At CN&CO we are passionate about building brands from the inside out. It’s the people who make the brand, not the marketing budget or annual financials.” While Kurt’s role in a sense overlaps with PR, it is more than that.
A lot of what Kurt does (and the success he sees) within his people and brand role comes down to the type of person he is. Charismatic, confident, able to laugh at himself and able to make those around him laugh. He is genuinely an incredibly likeable guy (which is an important characteristic for what he does, as he is able to engage with people in an authentic way, gaining their trust, translating that into enthusiasm, and ultimately getting the best out of them for a brand.) In the words of Kurt: “I don’t take myself seriously; I take what I do seriously.”
“When it comes to harnessing the power of people and brands, there’s no ‘perfect formula.’ Each brand and context is completely different, and requires a different approach to sim for success. For me, I hate doing the ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ stuff when I delve into the people and brand element. The crazier, more fun, more out-of-the-box, the better. Fun doesn’t mean less productivity – it actually increases it if done right. I often challenge the status quo and tradition, and I try punt change in the best way I can (be it in a client or personal context.) The change element is not always welcomed at first, but in the long run, it works.”
Kurt’s career journey (in general) is an interesting one, filled with many chance-encounters.
“I have always been intrigued and interested about business. I started my first car wash business around 9 years old, getting the kids in my suburb to wash cars. That led to other smaller and exciting ventures.” But, as it goes, life happens, and sometimes you’ve to relook at the journey you’re on. When Kurt’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, he realised he needed to take on a few more responsibilities and look at earning an income in a little more of a serious manner. At 14, he became a runner at Primi Piatti (Durban). “Runners do exactly that, they run, they clean tables, they clean cutlery, they help the waiters etc. I did that when I could and in-between school etc. and until I was old enough to be a waiter (officially). My kids will definitely be waiters in their teenage years, you learn A LOT about life. Long story short, after school I received a phone call from the owner of Primi, asking if I needed a job (timing was incredible) and that he put my name forward for a position at Vitamin Water (a new brand that was launching from Coke.) I got the job and loved my two and a half years with them, (working in sales and the brand/activations side.) During that time, while driving to a gig for vitamin water, he heard an advert on East Coast radio where one lucky listener could win a trip to a secret overseas destination with Etana Insurance. Kurt’s colleagues prompted him to enter for fun. He did, and again, long story short, he won the trip (which was to Hong Kong) where he met Carel Nolte (part of Etana Insurance, who would become his mentor, and later, business partner) for the first time. After a week in Hong Kong and while waiting for their flight back home in the airport lounge, Carel (who was one of the founders of Etana Insurance) offered Kurt a job. “He didn’t really know what job I was going to do, but said that he wanted me to work for him. This proposition happened over shooters in the airport lounge, so I punched him in the gut asking if he was joking. He was not, and later became my boss.”
Kurt spent three and a half years at Etana working alongside Carel and his team, driving internal comms (and later, people and brand) for the 600-strong insurance company which went on to win numerous industry awards. Following that, he consulted to other brands within the insurance and financial services industry utilising his skills within a people and brand context, and then went on to co-founding CN&CO in August 2015 along with a bunch of other like-minded individuals. Kurt is currently working with a JSE listed company within the investment space, and consults to various other brands across industries in driving people and brand.
Kurt is a big believer in the power of people and relationships, and the incredible effect this can have in both a personal and professional capacity. In addition to this, he is also a big advocate of mentorship.
“I can’t even begin to explain the importance of mentorship (particularly for young people) and how big a role it has played in my life. My mentor, Carel, has had such immense faith in me since day one, and has provided insight, expertise and experiences on a range of issues. More than that, a mentor is a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader, a door opener, and the kick-in-the-pants when needed.”
The primary role of the mentor is not the teaching of technical skills, but rather, how skills and judgement are integrated in decision making, as part of a growth process. Mentoring for small business owners and entrepreneurs is the equivalent of an apprentice system – this is how master craftsmen have been developed for centuries.
Beyond business, Kurt is one of a few people to have received an award at the annual (and international) Burningman festival for his ability to influence and make a positive change – which is no small feat. He is also someone with an incredibly big heart and regularly gets involved in charity drives and initiatives.
As long as Kurt is pursuing his passion for people and relationships, it is inevitable that magic will follow.