Jonno’s Words: Why I flipping love The Noakes Foundation

I was born in Cape Town in 1984, the same year Prof published The Lore of Running. The son of a passionate GP and a nurse, I spent my younger years at the dinner table listening to how my parents spent their working hours helping people improve their health and in some cases, saving their lives.

I was always passionate about biology, knowing that my parents would be so proud of me if I followed in my father’s footsteps and became a doctor. Unlike my father (and every person in academia) I turned out to be a reckless teenager and a hopeless academic at school. I had heard that Richard Branson had done pretty well in life with no tertiary education so I backed ‘future me’ and ignored school until it was over. The net result being a shed load of great stories coupled with very little to brag about on my matric report.

Being young and arrogant, I wasn’t too put out by my school results. I was still pretty convinced I was going to become an outrageously successful entrepreneur and change the world, fast. I remember telling one of my mates I’d be a millionaire by the end of my gap year. I wasn’t.

Instead of studying business, I fell in love with food. I went to chef school and absolutely killed it. I finished around the top, but not quite. As part of my training I was posted to one of South Africa’s best restaurants of the time, GINjA. It was rated in the top ten restaurants in the country three times while I was there. I was only one up from the dishwasher so I can’t claim credit for the awards, but what I got out of that was that no matter how much you suck at some stuff, you can still be involved in the awesomeness of other stuff. I sucked at school, but I was great at food, and I was part of one of the best teams in the country.

My stint in kitchens taught me that if I saw meaning in something and worked hard at it, I could be great at it. I loved making delicious food but the thrill of each plate was short lived. I felt I had more to offer the world than crispy duck with caramelised pears, soy glazed walnut potatoes and green peppercorn jus. After three years I left restaurants to give business a crack by studying a BCOM.

While I buried myself in the books I was lucky enough to get a full time job at Cloof Wine Estate in marketing. I worked under Oscar Foulkes, a marketer who was years ahead of his time. Oscar taught me what made brands work and what broke them. There was a fearlessness in his marketing that I got a real kick out of. One of the Cloof wines was called The Very Sexy Shiraz and it was a raging success. It jumped out at you off the shelf. The words along with the simple minimalist label were equally distracting to anyone trying to choose a wine. You can be a courageous idiot and that can get you into trouble. The Very Sexy Shiraz taught me that being fearless can yield great returns if your courage and the skill in your execution are equally matched (Reminds me of someone).

After Cloof I landed a job as the general manager of one of Cape Town’s hottest catering companies. I had advanced in my degree by that point and got a chance to test my newly acquired business skills. I got my teeth stuck into finance, HR, marketing and played a few hands in production too. Much like my experience in food, I became more passionate than ever. I spent nights studying business and spent the following days putting into practice what I had learned the nights before. As my passion grew, so did my level of skill.

When I finished my degree, I resigned from the food industry and swore I would never work for anyone ever again. I had a degree in accounting, experience in marketing or branding and a generally solid grounding in the business of food. I loved learning through books and with other people’s businesses, but it was time for me to learn the hard way.

I spent two years experimenting with business models and failing a lot. My dear wife, Kate, didn’t like it very much but one thing she (unintentionally) did to inspire me, was lose 20kg. She lost the weight after hearing a talk by Prof on how carbs make us fat.

I’ve always been a ‘believe it and it will come true’ kind of guy but not everyone lives breaths and sleeps in self-help books. Kate didn’t like being overweight. Like most women, she hated it. She was despondent and negative about her weight and it carried over into the rest of her life. When I saw how effortlessly Kate’s life had been transformed by a change in her diet, I felt the benefits myself. I had the pleasure of being in a relationship with a happy, secure and radiant woman. Her success at losing weight changed her entire life, and it changed mine too.

When we put The Real Meal Revolution together I believed in it because I had seen it work. Tudor and James, the editors on the local and international books each developed a tone that gave birth to our brand voice. The fist on the cover set the tone for a tongue-in-cheek-come-revolutionary attitude that we embody as authors. We still embody that attitude as a company.

Real Meal was not only a culmination of my interest in biology, saving lives, marketing or business knowledge but it was a realisation for me. I realised I had acquired enough skill in my career to make an impact through business.

Prof Noakes goes out to bat every day for a cause he believes in, on the pitch on which he is best equipped to bat. He is a scientist and he does science so he can change the world. I have complete faith that he will change the way our planet eats. Every person on earth has a choice to use their skills for good or for evil. If you’re good at something, you should do that thing that you’re good at. Prof Noakes does what he is good at, and he does it for good.

I am not an academic. I am not a nutritionist. I’m not even a chef anymore. I am a shameless businessman and I am proud of it. I am the founder and MD of Real Meal Revolution (Pty) Ltd and I love my business.

Through our bulletproof alliance, The Real Meal Revolution donates a significant portion of its revenue to the Noakes Foundation, so that Prof and his team can keep doing amazing work. Without the Real Meal Revolution, The Noakes Foundation may not have existed. More importantly though, The Real Meal Revolution would not exist without Prof or The Noakes Foundation. The foundation gives us a reason to exist. We have a common goal and we use different skills to contribute to the same change in the world.

The Noakes Foundation, in its fearless pursuit of the truth, gives me a reason to get into the office and create new awesome stuff every day. The more awesome stuff we can create, the more people’s lives we can change and the more work the Noakes Foundation can do.

I sleep at night because our partnership allows me to be a shameless businessman and change the world at the same time. That’s why I flipping love The Noakes Foundation.

It’s business time.

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