To be probably the world’s most successful corporate venturing unit requires a bit of luck in being in the right place to strike the best deals, but also having the individuals to see the opportunity and team to buy into the vision.

The death of Antonie Roux, chief executive of the MIH corporate venturing unit of Naspers and the parent’s internet operations, at the age of 54 on June 24 marks the loss of a senior member of the tight-knit team of primarily Afrikaaners that over about 30 years turned a South Africa-based newspaper group into one of the world’s largest media conglomerates operating in more than 120 countries.

Roux had been touted as a potential successor to Naspers chief executive Koos Bekker, who has agreed to remain in the role until March 2014.

In an obituary by news provider Daily Maverick, Roux was reported as describing how the team worked: “Everyone brings a unique angle to the party and I don’t think there is anyone here who feels they work for anyone.”

The Daily Maverick gave an example, previously described by other Naspers executives, of how recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles was tasked with finding an external recruit but struggled to see how someone could fit in.

“We briefed them for two or three hours because we really wanted them to understand our culture. Fiona (Vickers), who heads their UK business, said it would be impossible to find anyone that would fit within Naspers’ top management because it was such a closely knit team,” Roux told the Daily Maverick reporter.

Naspers is effectively a holding company with a corporate head office run by Bekker and his team that includes Steve Pacak, chief financial officer, Cobus Stofberg, chief executive of MIH until Roux took over in April last year, and Mark Sorour, group chief investment officerin charge of mergers and acquisitions.

The head office manages four subsidiaries covering internet, pay television, technology and print media.

Most of the minority and majority-stake investments by the MIH investment team at Naspers have fallen into the internet division as the company backs local entrepreneurs to leverage the ways the internet is shaping consumer behaviour at different times around the world.

In an interview with news provider Economist, Roux said: “This international presence allows the [MIH portfolio] firms to apply lessons they have learned in one country to another. We spend an enormous amount of time on sharing knowledge.”

This so-called “geographical arbitrage” looks at a country’s gross domestic product and internet connectivity and then builds a business based on free communication tools and other services and virtual goods, such as in games or e-commerce.

As chief executive of the internet division since 2002, therefore, Roux was in charge of Naspers’ fastest-growing segment, which in the company’s latest financial results helped drive an earnings increase of 15% and group revenues of R39.5bn ($4.8bn).

The primary portfolio companies within Naspers are two listed companies managed by Charles Searle – China-listed media group Tencent, which has a market capitalisation of about $57bn, of which Naspers owns about a third, and Russia-based internet services provider, which listed on the London Stock Exchange last year and owns minority stakes in US-listed social media groups, including Facebook.

While these two investments dominate Naspers’ value, Roux expanded the internet holdings globally, especially in the markets with the largest populations and largest numbers of software developers, including Brazil, India, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa.

Roux was in 1985 a co-founder, along with Bekker, of Naspers’ pay-TV subsidiary, MNet, six years after he joined the company as a junior technician on the company’s main newspaper, Nasionale Pers, representing mainly white South Africans under apartheid.

MNet’s success drove most of the group’s revenue growth before Roux moved internally in 1997 to set up the company’s internet service provider, MWeb South Africa.

Initially, Naspers tried to replicate the MWeb model in other countries using expatriate workers before changing its strategy to look at communications and social networking companies run by locals.

As Roux told Daily Maverick: “The biggest lesson we learned is that you don’t invest in a product or an income statement. You invest in a local team. Now we find the best local teams we can get, people we can trust, and then do everything we can to support them.”

The greatest examples of this approach are Tencent and, in which Naspers has yet to sell a share during or after their flotations but instead reaps dividends – about $60m this year from Tencent and $230m from

Naspers facilitates lessons to be shared by the entrepreneurs working in its myriad holdings around the world with regular meetings where it pays for accommodation and picks up the bar bill.

Those that knew Roux describe him as having the “attention span of a mosquito, and he was sometimes insufferably arrogant” but as “an amazing team-builder”, motivator of people and true believer in the transformative power of the internet.

Though Roux led Naspers occasionally into trying to apply models in underdeveloped regions, such as the use of Tencent’s QQ instant messaging service in South Africa, being prepared to risk a failure has helped it expand the services offered in a textbook example of reverse innovation.

As Roux’s email signature reportedly said: “Only if there is a large problem is there a large opportunity.”

In a remembrance website for Roux, a host of colleagues and friends described Roux fondly. Jacques van Niekerk said: “In the years I worked for Antonie I learned to value his keen insight into people and his knowledge of the industry.

“I admired his intolerance of nonsense and his warmth to others. One always knew where one stood with him – he was true of heart and mind. It was a privilege to have known him as a great boss and an exceptional person.”

John Lo, chief financialofficerof Tencent, said: “I miss Antonie and will always remember his committed, passionate and energetic character.”

Roux is survived by his wife, Sonja, and three children. He died following surgery, having been reportedly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.