Twelve months feels like a very very long time in South Africa. Especially with the mining industry again challenged, Pres. Zuma being more vigorously attacked and the new Development Plan released.
So it was wonderful to pop down to Doornfontein in Johannesburg. Now for those who are not Lions rugby supporters (and there are fewer and fewer of us left) a little bit of context is necessary.
According to “A Concise Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg” (Musiker, N. & R., 2000) Doornfontein was originally a farm and became the first residential suburb in Johannesburg. Barney Barnato owned the freehold and it was THE upmarket area of Johannesburg (being referred to as “Millionaires Row”).
In the 1930s the area became occupied by small factories and printing works (my Uncle had his printing company “Douglas & Barry” there until the 80s).
For me, Doornfontein is Ellis Park (I can’t bring myself to call the stadium CC Park). I used to go watch rugby with my Dad in the days of Gerald Bosch and Paul Bayvel (this might have been the last time when Transvaaaaaaaallllllll! were really really good!).
In those days (the 70s) the area was already a bit run down. I remember the small poor householders making a few Rands by offering parking in their driveways during rugby games.
Today there are parts of the suburb which look good (those next to the Stadium) but for the most part its dodgy. Small shops are everywhere. Old warehouses are, seemingly unoccupied, windows are broken, an abandoned wheeless car lies alone in an old parking lot.
So what happens? Well you get a couple of guys with big ideas who decide that the area is cheap (and it should be) and value can be gained if someone with oomph does something.
I met with Eric Botha from 1886. They described their business like this:
Gold was discovered in Johannesburg in 1886. The first Gold casino online rush rocketed the city into the African economic powerhouse it is today. In the same way, 1886 seeks to unlock undervalued property assets in the CBD for their untapped wealth. With Property Developments, Asset and Financing solutions and Strategic joint ventures, 1886 aims to see the City of Johannesburg living up to its reputation as the real City of Gold.
And these guys are not just popping in an out of the area and looking to make a quick buck. One of the brothers lives there. Their office is in an old meat packing plant. They are supporting small entrepreneurial businesses. They have a big green agenda. They are promoting arts.
So wonderful. To see that tenacious South African attitude coming to the fore. Based on building a business. Doing it to make it happen.
From a strategy point of view 1886 has done its homework. The University of Johannesburg is expanding their Doornfontein campus and there is a shortage of student accommodation in the area. So being there makes business sense.
But what excites me is their view that you can’t strategise yourself into a vision. You make it real. And you do that by doing. By starting.
Which reminds me of Tony D’Amato in that wonderful movie “Any Given Sunday” talking about life being a battle of inches.
The inches we need are everywhere around us. They”re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that”s gonna make the difference between winning and losing!
Ok. So this is a bit dramatic. But the point is that big dreams are realised by an accumulation of small actions and victories. You can’t strategise your business into making a vision real.
It is made real by doing.