Goodbye Yesterday, Hello Tomorrow

It’s time for a ‘wow’ story, which I certainly got from Charles Broome, the Chairman of Added Value, South Africa.

Added Value is a global marketing consultancy. Their clients include prominent brands such as Old Mutual, Vodafone, McDonald’s and Harman.

Charles and some of his team members recently flew to New York to do a presentation for Harman on what their global consumer looks like, their age, what they need and want, and a set of possible innovation ideas they recommended that Harman should add to their audio and infotainment systems range.

The Harman people listened, nodded and liked what they heard, but the recommendations didn’t end there with the usual handshakes and snacks.  They went straight into the next phase where a group of hot, hungry, independent, twenty-something designers were briefed and immediately started transforming Added Value’s ideas into product designs. They worked through the night on their laptops and within 24 hours the product designs was ready for patent registration.

That’s when a team of Harman lawyers arrived to register the patent. The following day the product was showcased to 100 000 potential customers across the globe in to get their feedback. Their feedback was taken seriously, suitable adjustments were made, and the product was ready to go into production after just seven days.

Charles Broome flew home seven days later, exhilarated by the speed at which the team had moved ‘from thought to bought’. He described it as the “ maker generation “ in action.

This is the norm there. This is a city, where, if you want headphones, you can go into a store where they will take an image of your inner ear to customise them for a perfect fit. You tell them what style, colour and design you want and they make them up for you then and there; no delayed gratification required.

Those who don’t operate like this over there don’t succeed.

The message here is twofold: the first is that South Africa has world-class thinkers, doers and institutions who are operating internationally at the highest level in countries where their skills are welcomed in fast-moving, growth-enabling environments.

The second message is that these environments make it easy for people to do business, work collaboratively, perform at their best and help to grow and enrich the economy.

This brings me to another ‘wow’ story, which comes from ‘How South Africa Works – And must do better’ by Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills – which should be essential reading for everybody, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

In illustrating what South Africa should be doing, they share the example of Singapore’s growth-enabling economy.

“It was not inevitable that Singapore would be rich,” they write. “Independence (in 1965) was a tough time, as S.R. Nathan, the sixth President of the Republic of Singapore who retired from this post in 2011, explains: ‘We had our back to the wall. We had no money, no skills and no resources. But we had a group of leaders with a common purpose and a common vision’.”

Their vision was exemplified by a ‘Goodbye Yesterday, Hello Tomorrow’ approach.

Herbst and Mills explain how these leaders came together with a plan to elevate their people out of poverty by proactively establishing a manufacturing industry, developing large public housing estates and investing heavily in public education, all of which they did with outstanding success.

‘We got steel from ship-breaking, and that formed the basis of the National Iron and Steel Mills,’ Nathan recalls. ‘Then we went to Japan to get help in building up our ship-repair industry. From Australia we acquired the know-how to make ammunition, and from this ST Engineering developed’. And so it went.

From the outset they set up bespoke training academies to develop their people’s skills, and they got their unions to set aside unrealistic demands and play a productive role.

“(Initially) the unions made demands meant for another world. We were faced with an international labour movement, which had laudable aims but an ulterior (political) motive,” said Nathan who was the Director of the Labour Research Unit during the 1965 independence era.

Herbst and Mills explain how the government had to give labour the choice of ‘jobs or no jobs’, making it clear that if they insisted on asking for Europe-style wages, companies investing in Singapore would employ people from Europe, and they would lose out.

Their other decision was to stop focusing on the evils of colonialism.

Nathan is quoted in their book as saying: “There was no point (to this) at all. Injustices will not become justices. You have to get on and go ahead with the job you have to do, and put money in the pocket of your people. Until you solve your problems yourself, they will not be solved’.

Twenty-one years later, a graph in Herbst and Mills’ book illustrates the percentage growth in Singapore’s economy.

Singapore showed an outstanding 324% increase in GDP per capita from 1965 to 1986 in constant 2005 US dollars, as a basic measure of how the economy had grown.

According to this same measure, South Africa, by comparison, showed a 31% increase in GDP per capita from 1992 to 2013, while Namibia increased by 53% between 1990 and 2011 and Zimbabwe by 8% between 1980 and 2001.

SABSA’s Executive Director, Dr Millard Arnold who is also the Honorary Business Representative for the Government of Singapore in South Africa summed up Singapore’s streets-ahead success at a business forum about Singapore.

He explained that in Singapore the government, business and academia all come together to find solutions to issues that they need to address, and then they go away and deliver them. It goes without saying that they don’t always agree but what they all have in common is they put Singapore first, which is why they now have their future in their own hands.

This article was written by Professor Owen Skae, President of the South African Business Schools Association (SABSA) and the Director of Rhodes Business School.

Professor Skae writes in his individual capacity and hence the views expressed are not necessarily those of SABSA or the member schools. For more information on SABSA and its members, visit its website www.sabsa.co.za

This article appeared in Leadership, Edition 363, September, 2015. It is reproduced with their permission.


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