South Africa’s biggest asset

What do you think is our nation’s biggest asset? Perhaps it’s South Africa’s gold and precious metals reserves? Perhaps it lies in the range of its beautiful natural biodiversity, from the Cape to the mighty Drakensburg? Or is it its people, and the range of cultures and languages that our population shares? I guess a natural follow on from this might be it’s unity, pride and unique ability to deliver world class athletes, statespeople, visionaries, authors, thinkers and events.

For me, South Africa’s biggest asset is it’s children.

Our children have the opportunity and clear frame of mind to take our country forward. They collectively share in the talent and our nation’s history to learn from the past and fashion a country that thrives on a global stage. Children who continue to challenge “why” things are done in a particular manner, will lead the way to new frontiers. The children of South Africa make our nation colourful.

A risk to this incredible asset is what we do (or do not do) for our children today, will have a direct bearing on both our future lives and theirs. If we do not make the time to share our experiences and knowledge with them, and inspire them to take a grasp on the future, we stand to lose a great deal. In a global perspective, our focus on the youth should be even more magnified than in other countries. As the talent market is no longer regionally or nationally segmented, our youth need extra care and support in order to really shine internationally.

The headline article in the Business Report today highlights this through attributing a R550bn annual loss that is directly associated with illiteracy.  Currently, the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2010 ranks South Africa 137th out of 139 countries based on quality of maths and science education.  With 3.3m illiterate people in our country currently, the scale of this problem cannot be more underlined. Education is just one of the threats to our children. We cant forget about the impact of HIV/AIDS, crime, poverty and hunger. All impositions for which our youth have done nothing to deserve.

We are blessed with so many assets in our wonderful country. Each, however, is a fragile resource, and something that needs care and nurturing for it to be fully realised and enjoyed by the generations that will proceed us.

So, what do you think is South Africa’s biggest asset?

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Facebook Fun

Got to say I’m not a fan of Facebook. I’ll admit I havent concreted down the reasons why exactly, but still, it just isnt my cup of tea.

But these, I’ll admit, I did enjoy. Hope you enjoy them too!

Puppy Love

Toro the Tenacious has soccer in his blood. He was born the day of the opening of the Soccer World Cup 2010, and met us on a Friday afternoon 8 weeks subsequent to that. We felt it only fitting that he be named in memory of this great soccer event. Almost settling for “David the Dog Villa”, his bullish behaviour made us favour a fellow Spanish compatriot in the form of Fernando Torres. Toro now had a home. No longer a sad and sleepy lonely pup in the pet store window.

Now, 10 days on, Nicole and I are very short on sleep. But for all the times he wakes us up, he makes up for in killer puppy-dog looks and cuteness. (Cant believe I’ve actually softened this much in a week!)

He’s always exploring new places and putting new tastes in his mouth. What a li’l legend!

He’s big on chewing your shoes, munching on his toys and tearing round the lounge. As with all pugs,  his nose is always stuffy, so you can always hear him breathing – easy for for he’s playing hide and seek. After a few hours of exertion, he’s got to take a breather in his bed though.

But he’s already “Big in Joziwood.” Toro was the guest of honour at a family lunch at Emmarentia. At only 9 weeks old, he’s already keen on the ladies, and was playing a lead role as Mike’s wingman in the quest for some summer lovin’. He’s also met his cousins at Englewold and Divot Street, attended a live indoor football match and gone to strut his stuff in the park.

I’ll keep you posted on Toro’s adventures. I’ll pass on compliments to him. Please share yours below..

Being right VS being liked VS being you

Having sat through and also conducted a fair number of interviews in my life, I have come to appreciate the interviewee that tells me about them – from the heart.  A job interview couldn’t be a more stressful time, if you really think about it. In an hour or so, the interviewer wants to find out exactly how the candidate thinks, works and talks, and figure out a probability of their fit into a team or organisation.  The interviewee wants to portray their finest intellectual assets and past successes, as well as find out about the job.

I find it interesting how people respond to particular interview questions. Do they answer so that they will be liked for how they answer? Do they answer so that their answer is in accordance with what the interviewer expects as a solution? Or, are they brutally honest, and tell you exactly what they feel?

Extend this away from the stressful interview and into normal life. Do you adapt your character to the company you keep? Are you answers skewed to reinforce a relationship? I guess everyone wants to be liked, to some degree or another, so a degree of mouldability might not be a bad thing. Or you might want to always be seen as being right? Right as in correct or right as in righteous – and the degrees in between – I suppose that is another debate.

Personally, I’m sometimes uninterested in people’s conversations – typically if they involve conversations about other people’s lives or topics with too much detail. I then have to consciously make an effect to look lively and interested – for the sake of being liked – I guess. If I choose to “be me” I’d rather play on my guyphone.

But I do frown on those people that make it their purpose in life to be liked by everyone, and on inspection actually have very little personality themselves.

So how do you fit in? Socially inept or totally aware? Just superficially or on many levels?

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My talk on heart valves at TEDx

Corporate Social Investment – A warm story in a cold winter

Since starting Penguin Tutoring in 2005, it’s always been my primary passion to see children inspired by education. Particularly those that have a very bleak outlook on future prospects. I’m very proud to have been able to facilitate a weeks worth of learning for 90 scholars during June. It would not have been possible without funding and involvement from a big corporate that wants to stay low key, Sonia from I am Changing the World and the team and tutors at Penguin Tutoring.

One of the Penguin Tutors - Joseph Thomas

The week comprised of lessons on Life Skills, maths and accounting tutoring and time to chat to the tutors and staff involved about their path through high school and into university. It’s amazing what we take for granted. For the majority of these kids, their biggest worry in life is where they will be getting food and warmth from over the next week. Their passion to learn and take advantage of an opportunity to revise work they were not comfortable with was quite incredible. If I think back to high school, the turn out at a winter school would be shocking. But for these young learners, by the end of the week they were begging for more lessons, and were happy to have them happen even on Sundays.

Sadly, the quality of education that these learners has been exposed to, in conjunction with educational support of their parents and teachers comes off a very low base. The class average in grades 10 to 12 for maths and accounting sits between 25 and 30%. So a few days of intensive tutoring and guidance is great, but in the bigger scheme, helps very little. The worry for me is that it is going to take interventions of mammoth proportions to solve these issues.

You can read the release here and check out the pictures here.

How do you think we can get this right?

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Stock Market Investing 101

I went to the JSE recently, and was stunned to find out that only 200 000 individuals actually trade equities on the bourse. That’s hectic! In a bad kind of way. I’ll make the assumption that as a reader, you’re not investing in shares. If you are, leave this site and go check your portfolio.

In your mind, you might think that keeping your bucks in a savings account is the way forward. Well, it might be, but inflation pretty much cancels out any growth you might have. Your money will become less valuable.  What the banks do with your money is lump it together with a lot of other peoples’ and “rent it” to a corporate or individual to finance some asset. Like a house, or a new Massey Ferguson tractor. Maybe even a massive coal truck. They’ll charge that person/company a particular interest rate, a few points above what you earn. The difference? The bank’s profit.

It is a good idea to keep some of your money in a savings account, just to diversify.

Guys, I'm part owner of this here truck!

When you invest in the stock market, you actually buy a little bit of a company, or a number of companies. Lets say a Coal Company. You buy some shares in that Coal Company. You then have equity.

But your friend left their money in a savings account, and a bank lent money to the Coal Company to buy a big monster truck, which is used in the process of making money – taking coal from the earth and selling it to Eskom. The Coal Company does very well, because of the energy demand in South Africa, and the recent price hikes on electricity. So at the end of the financial year end, the Coal Company pays the bank back it’s money for “renting” cash to purchase the truck. Your friend earns a wee bit of interest. But because you own a portion of the coal company, you earn a share of the profits as dividends. The market favours your company and are willing to buy shares in it at a higher price than you did. You earn the difference as profit, too.

So the risk is that the company does badly. Then you might not earn a dividend, but you still have shareholding, which you can hold on to for future potential growth, or sell and cut your losses.

Still, equity returns win. Over the past 10 years, the average ANNUAL return on the JSE has been 20.04%. So if you want to be wealthy one day, why aren’t you investing in shares? Even if you start with R5000.00?

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Remember me?

I’m pretty bad at remembering names. You might introduce yourself to me and I end up calling you “dude”, “guy”, “bru” or “you” for months to come. I’m also ears to the ground listening for mutual friends to mention your name so I can store it again. Year after year my New Year’s resolution is to remember people’s names.

I know where it comes from though. My dad is a ruthless name-switcher. You wont play it down that he cant remember your name. You might introduce yourself as Mike. But through the evening, he’ll say,

“Hey Bill, please pass the salt.”

“John, I’d like you to meet Steve”

Mike says, “Please you meet you. My name is Mike.”
“Hi Mike, the name is Andrew.”

And so it goes.

But today I felt even better. One of my colleagues forgets not just names, but his own name. Not only his own name, but creates new brands, too.

So I call Alan*.

“Hi Alan, Murray here.”
“Howsit Alan!”
“No, you’re Alan, I’m Murray. Anyways, please come past my desk and pick up thee documents I have for you.”
“Sure thing, see you shortly”.

So Alan comes in the door on my floor and I have my eyes on my screen but hear someone in the distance..

“Hey Mark, how are you doing? Did you see how well Germany played last night?”

Oh, Alan is talking to me. I take it in my stride.

Commenting on my jersey, Alan says “You know they make great quality clothes?”
“Who does, Alan?”

Old Kalahari“….

*Names not changed to give anonymity

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When Principles get in the way

So the last 4 months have given me gray hairs. A house in Atholl came up for grabs through a deceased estate, and I was fortunate to grab it. It was in a shocking state though. The dirt and grime and hosts of lice and small bugs living in the bathroom carpets would latch onto your ankles having not eaten in the last 3 years and feast. Damp in the bottom floor required the chipping out of all the plaster and some layers of waterproofing to be put in place. In a nutshell – a massive reconstruction project.

Note to self : Don’t try it again!

The problems I have encountered along the way have not been the usual suspects. Finding decent suppliers, managing a timeline and payment schedule have been fine to deal with. But there are two common threads that all issues have been related to:

  • The level of acceptable quality is just far too low
  • And difference in acceptable principles is a vast chasm of discord.

My dilemma is whether it is acceptable to be disappointed and upset with a service provider when they do not meet your own principles? Extending this – can one expect at least some principled behaviour in the business relationship?

An example was when the builder committed to arriving at 10am to do the tiling. My supply chain was ensuring the tiles were ready for collection at 9am – which happened. My car was in the panelbeaters so had to disorganise a person’s day to use their car to pick up the tiles. So although difficult, the tiles arrive at 9.30 on site. Later I hear the builder has not even arrived at 1pm. No call to explain, no warning to minimise disruption – just flat out do what they want.

Another shocker was “Gavin” the shower door guy. “Murray I’ll meet you at 3 at your place.” Murray confirms this arrangement at lunch time, and proceeds to request leaving work early to see Gavin. At 3.30 I call Gavin and can clearly hear he’s still at his office. Eventually arriving at 4.30! An hour and a half of work time lost!  But it gets better – Gavin promises the quote the next morning. I call the day thereafter as I’ve received none, and Gavin says, “Ah sorry man.” The day after that, still no quote. It ended like this:

Oh and dont go calling that number for advice on showers!

So some tips I’ve learnt about doing renovations:

  • Specify who buys the plumbing equipment in the quote
  • Order bathroom fittings but pay for them and collect them just before you need them. They take forever to arrive and are a significant capital investment. This helps manage your cash flow.
  • Do two coats of paint on all surfaces and a final coat with close supervision when all tiling, fittings, cupboards and so on are in – even though builders suggest it the other way around. The mess that is made and the visibility of paint touch up jobs spoil it all.
  • Go for ¾ inch piping in the bathroom
  • Put timelines into your builder’s quote, with an acceleration clause and penalties for late delivery.
  • Confirm with your kitchen installer who actually installs the sink, hob, oven and extractor. You might assume they do this, but in most cases don’t.
  • Retain at least 25% of all sub contractors money until final snagging is complete.
  • Don’t pick up tillers or painters from outside Builders warehouse. I never did this but heard a host of stories about how bad they can be, or how much had gone missing after they left.

I’d do the exercise again happily – this time round having paid the school fees.  I now know the limits of my patience.

How’ve you experienced building in the past?

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How much of your week do you spend being economically proactive?

I spent the last weekend painting the inside of the new house together with Nicole. I don’t know if it was the fumes of the Velvaglo or the monotony of the task, but I got to thinking about people and what they do in their lives. Sadly, I think most people moan. Then this was the though pattern:

Moan > About what > What they don’t have > Why? > Because they don’t have money > Why?

[Paints some more…]

But they all have good jobs?> Debt? > Maybe > Spending Patterns? > Spending versus Earning?

Yes now there’s an insight!

Everyone wants more. Nicer car. Bigger house. Cooler clothes. Better quality food. We’ve become conditioned to consumerism as being “The Western Way”. Everyone has ambitions, and generally gets a good annual salary increase. But so does everyone else. So the revenue stream increases annually, But so do the costs. At a minimum of CPI plus the “rate of perceived exclusivity” for all the fancy goods and gear.

So then what could be the “financial differentiator” between you and your peer? What gets your bank balance ticking and thus opening the doors of opportunity to:

  • Make more money off the initial capital
  • Spend it

The next logical influence on this topic is the compounding of money.  The more money you have the younger you are – the better your potential for significant financial freedom later in life (should you put it to good use and compound it – not blow it on material crap). In marrying the two concepts together, what I get out of it is the need to increase your earnings early in life – albeit that you’re a novice at whatever you do.

This got me thinking about how much of a person’s day is dedicated to being financially proactive – how many hours in your day are billable? The 8 that you spend sitting at your desk? What about the odd two or three after hours? If you can do this early in life, the cash remuneration can be put into assets that work while you play – houses, shares, equity in companies.

So I’ll put the question out there – how much of your day are you billing? And if it’s only those hours whilst in employment – best you trim back on those plans for a rosy future of excess.