CEO - The Nile.
Leaving South Africa in 1994, amidst its ongoing political turbulence, and moving with his family to the relative stability of New Zealand was a decision Jethro Marks says he fully supported.
Aged 15 at the time and describing his former home country as “very insulated” then, NZ offered a vast range of new possibilities and opportunities for the budding entrepreneur.
With a keen interest in business fostered from a young age, and regularly helping his mother to operate a stall at a local market, his future career was already being moulded leading to a certain inevitability about his decision to enrol in a Bachelor of Commerce.
But it wasn’t just the academic side of university that interested Jethro. He was also responsible for starting the Commerce Students Association which eventually grew to become the second largest student organisation on campus.
“We arranged for high profile CEOs to speak on campus, started the popular Business Case Study competition, which has since been spun out into its own club, and generally put a whole series of initiatives together that benefited commerce students and added value to their studies. The experience was valuable as it taught me a lot about how to motivate and lead teams of people.”
Going on to complete his honours year, Jethro describes that year as the high point of his time at university.
“I worked harder in that year than I had ever been pushed before. This came with some amazing learning experiences as we spent time with some brilliant minds in small classes, debating the theory and practice. I found the undergrad programme very prescriptive whereas the honours year flipped everything on its head. ”
After graduating and completing the requisite OE to South America it was time to get down to the serious business of deciding on his future.
Never one to consider working for someone else, Jethro and co-founder Mark Taylor, a fellow graduate in maths, decided instead to launch online retailer TheNile.com.au.
They say timing is everything in business and the two cofounders caught the growing online wave perfectly, initially starting out in books and eventually expanding to 10 product categories. Currently there are more than 30 million products listed on the website.
And it’s no coincidence that both TheNile and competitor Amazon are both named after famous rivers.
“It seemed a good fit with our business strategy which, like the river itself, is based on scale and longevity. We recently celebrated our 15th birthday having shipped over 5 million packages over that period.”
It’s what makes Jethro’s CV all the more usual these days. With just the one entry he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon, although he notes that the online sector is becoming increasingly more competitive.
“I now describe myself as a bit of a dinosaur. Every business is now getting into online in a big way and the barriers to entry have definitely reduced. When we started, which was about the same time as NZ based competitors Fishpond and MightyApe, there was no cloud and no software as a service (SaS) products available. We spent two years developing a piece of technology that you can now get for a $50 a month fee.”
Deciding to move to Sydney in 2007 in order to tap into the bigger Australian market where online spending accounts for between 7-10% of total retail sales, Jethro sees plenty of scope for further growth in the future.
“We now have an office in the Philippines and there are plenty of other markets we’re considering for further expansion in the future. It’s a process of constant adaption.”
Speaking of which, a quote from George Bernard Shaw that Chris Liddell, who was CFO at Carter Holt at the time, used in his address at Jethro’s graduation has always stuck with him.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. I took this advice to heart and have followed the path less travelled.”