Book Review: The Unconventional CEO by Mario Pretorius

Mario Book

Some of my best experiences have been with books, and some of my worst.  As a student, I endured textbooks which were unbelievably badly written.  The authors were clever, knew a lot about their subject, but knew nothing about plain, clear writing.

It’s the same with business books.  You start to read them and before long you realise that your hands still turn the page, your eyes still follow the text, but your brain is on leave.

That is why ‘The Unconventional CEO’ is such a good business book.  It’s a good read.  Now, that’s a rarity.

The author, Mario Pretorius, runs a telecommunications company, and has put his thoughts on management into a slim volume.  If you only read one book on how to run a company, this should be it.  The same applies even more to your boss.

I do have to declare an interest.   Mario is a good mate (which my spell check cheekily changed to ‘good date’!) and asked me to help with the editing of the book.  What a pleasure.

This book is devoid of charts and spreadsheets, devoid of refined theory and lofty prescriptions.

It is a book on how to be the CEO of a business by someone who is the CEO of a business.   It deals with issues in a style which may seem a bit homely, but which contains the wisdom of how things are done, not some theorist’s vision of how thing should be done.

One of my favourite sections deals with what to do when you visit a client.   Mario’s advice is to take along a melktert (Milk Tart), a sweet and delicious traditional South African treat.    This advice may not appear in many business books, but it should be in all of them.

The layout is practical, too.    No long chapters; most fit on a page, a few spill over.  You can dip into it, or read it in one go.   It won’t boggle your brain.

Why take my word for it?   Click on to Amazon and buy the damm thing.  Mario doesn’t need the cash, but chances are that you need the help.


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William R King (@phil_osborne):  According to the directors commentary, Pirates of the Caribbean is historically accurate in the sense that they all wore a ton of mascara

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Do We Need Jobs More than Robots?


I don’t envy our Trade and Industry Rob Davies. He has a tough job serving a President he wants to remove, and the challenges he faces are really daunting.
He was in action the other week, opening a factory owned by Black Industrialists, which makes industrial cables. The Alberton United Industrial Cables (UIC) factory is testament to genuine BEE, as Davies himself stressed.
This factory will be the only one in Africa to make at least one sort of specialist cable and it was good to see how state grants and incentives have worked well in getting this venture going.
Of course, there is no perfect solution to SA’s industrial ills. This factory is full of machinery imported from China, and does not look as if it will be a major employer.
Same problem at a Germiston factory formally opened last week. Lucchini RS, an Italian manufacturer of forged railway products, has invested R200m in a new factory.
Almost R38m has been given by government in tax and training allowances, and the factory is modern and impressive. So far, so good. But where are the jobs?
We were told 38 or so jobs have been created, which makes it around R1m a job if you look at the state support.
The R1m-a-time job creation initiative will reduce imports, has brought new skills, and will form the foundation for future inward investment. And there are BEE partners who are benefiting, all of whom seemed to have smarter suits than the dti Minister.
But with the economy in recession, with unemployment at crisis levels and rising, are we getting enough job creation?
A review is underway of the whole arsenal of government investment incentives. Let us make sure that job creation remains at the front of our minds.
Of course we want sustainable and skilled jobs. But we need tens of millions of them.
And we just can’t afford to create jobs at R1m a time.

Tweet of the Day.

Sean Leahy (@thepunningman): Interviewer: Under skills you put horse whisperer and able to see ghosts

Me: Ask that horse if you don’t believe me

Interviewer: What horse?

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Can We Toque About Fermier?

Fermier Restaurant in Die Wilgers, Pretoria

There are many food trends which alarm me.  If I go out for a meal, I want a meal.  Not a series of minute blobs of food on smears of slime.
So when I heard they had a nine-course fixed menu at Fermier Restaurant, I was worried.  I would probably have never ventured there, had it not have been a big thumbs up from my Wine Master chum Debi van Flymen.  What I mean is that she likes the place, not that she has big thumbs. And I had a visitor from Europe, who needed to be convinced how classy we are in Africa.
The restaurant is not enormous, but has a warm, rural feel (without any of the rural smells to which one might object).  It is hidden up the hill from Lynnwood Road, and has no useful signage.    However, there were enough diners there to give the impression that word of mouth is positive, and effective.
I have been to similar restaurants in SA and elsewhere with small tasting plates, and rarely have I been happy.  All too often chefs can get the taste right, or make it look good, but not often both.
And at R550 a head, before the wine, you really don’t want anything other than excellence.
Happily it was 9/9 on the evening I visited.  Canapés, fish, meat, venison, cheese and pud were all superb.  Interesting flavours, all natural flavours.  You could taste the ingredients, and there was pride and creativity.  They grow a lot of their own produce, and source stuff with care and knowledge.
The dishes were all small, but when combined they made a satisfying and impressive meal.
The open kitchen allowed us to watch the chefs at work, and they were meticulous, hard-working and took a pride in what they did.
So what didn’t I like?  We arrived after dark and the signposting is not great.  The waiting staff were efficient and friendly, but tended to rattle off the details of the dishes, which was annoying as one of my guests does not have english as her first language.
The wines paired with the food were all fine, but only a few were really impressive.  Having said that, there is a very good wine list, and next time I will choose my own.
One thing I noticed which illustrates how Fermier Restaurant strikes the perfect balance between fine dining and zero pretension ocurred at the next table.    A group of about eight included two children, and as the evening wore on, the kids lay down on blankets and rested.  Some people might have found this a bit too casual.  I found it brilliant.
It is very rare that I leave a restaurant, bursting with desire to return.  Happily, I now have a new addition to my list of faves. Thanks Debi.  I owe you!

Rating:  I give it 5*

Key to the Ratings….

1*    Dog food is nicer

2*.  Cat food is nicer

3*.  Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready meals.

4*.  I like it

5*.  I love it.  Not to be missed.

Die Vine Intervention: Spier Chenin Blanc & Creative Block #3

Legendary food and wine expert Michael Olivier has sourced another pair of Cape wines to delight and excite the palate.   They are the Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2015 and the 2014 Spier Creative Block Number 3.

John Fraser has donned his leathers, unfurled his whip (or is it a Spier?) and us determined to keep order with the Jo’burg studio panel – Cape Wine Master Debi van Flymen from Grapslave,  Philippa Rodseth from the Manufacturing Circle, manager and chef from Alfie’s pizzeria Nicky Geerts and Clientele’s Malcolm MacDonald.

Uncork the podcast:

Is the dti funding the friends of Zuma?

NB.   Since I wrote this piece, the dti has announced that it will be naming recipients of all incentives in 2016/2017, in a new report.    I salute their change of heart.  

This was the piece I wrote earlier this week…..
One shining beacon in any democracy is the flow of information to the people.  Control of that flow is known as propaganda.

So I was quite frankly astounded by the grumpiness and defensiveness today of Trade and Industry (dti) Minister Rob Davies when he was asked for details of the black industrialists who have been receiving billions in funds under his department’s flagship programme, which is being run in alliance with a number of development funding institutions like the IDC.

He told us that so far 46 black industrialists have received support, and he announced that four of these were being showcased.

However, my colleague Terence Creamer from Engineering News and I asked for the full list.  We were told it is not normal practice for recipients of incentives to all be named, even though Terence was able to detail past instances when such information had been sought and produced.

At one stage dti director general Lionel October said he would provide the information to Engineering News, and to other journalists, but there was a reluctance to go wider.

The Minister eventually agreed to consult the recipients of awards to see if they minded their names being published.  Yep.  You read it correctly.   It is their call.

It turned vile when Minister Davies in effect accused me of racism, for seeking details of benefits to black industrialists.   He equated me to people who call blacks monkeys and baboons.  Incredible.

And Lionel chipped in to suggest this was white prejudice.

Now, Davies said in his budget speech: “I am happy to report that as of now we have approved 46 projects run by black industrialists, with Government agencies – including the dti, IDC, PIC and NEF deploying over R2 billion in financial support on top of R122m in grants from the dti.”

Over R2bn of public money deployed.  And yet it is racist to ask for full details of the recipients?

We are living in a country where corruption is rife, where there are daily allegations that a powerful group of businessmen linked to President Zuma are coining it.

I am not saying that one cent of public money from the dti’s black industrialist programme is falling into the wrong hands.

But unless there is full disclosure, what else are we supposed to think?

What on earth could they be trying to hide?


Tweet of the Day

the dti (@the_dti):  DG October says Black Industrialists Programme is going well and producing the desired effect


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This is life GM. But not as we know it.

It was perhaps naïve to hope that the impact of all the musical chairs at the National Treasury would not spill beyond the bureaucrats and political fat cats.    But then came the ratings downgrades, and yet more political shit with the re-deployment to Eskom of disgraced, tearful CEO Brian Molefe.

And now the news from General Motors.  They are off; leaving SA.


Just as every bit of news of new investment in the auto industry, or in any other branch of manufacturing, should be seen as a vote of confidence in SA, so equally must we worry about withdrawal.

I remember from my time in PE, at school in the late 1960s, that some of my schoolmates were American, their dads working in the auto industry which was even then an important part of the City’s economic infrastructure.   The horrors of apartheid led to some withdrawals from the country, but GM’s return was a blessing.

Is this an isolated problem?   Nope.  Just last month, an important corporate deal involving Pioneer foods collapsed.  And what of the many discussions which take place all the time below the radar, with companies looking at fresh investment in South Africa, or in expansion here?

How many of these investments are turning sour because President Zuma and his cohorts are messing up investor confidence as fast as they mess up the economy.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies is due to deliver his Budget Speech next week, when he will, no doubt, give an update on the billions of rand in incentives which are paid each year to anchor global auto firms in South Africa.

He may be reluctant to express concern at this latest GM bad news, but he must be worried.   As should we all be.

Tweets of the Day

Cirha (@MtikiCVU):  General Motors leaving SA is a huge loss for a country plagued with high rates of unemployment and slow economic growth.

Michael Jordaan (@MichaelJordaan):  First Barclays (UK) and now General Motors (USA) decide to leave SA. Sad but as always it creates opportunity for others.


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Die Vine Intervention: Sara & Valentina from Gabrielskloof

Is house wine horrible?    It can be.   But we try two house wines which are really enjoyable.  They come from Alfie’s Pizzeria in Pretoria, which done a great job at sourcing the wines, and they were brought to the tasting by Nicky Geerts, who manages the restaurant.

The first we glugged was the Sara, a Savignon Blanc from the Gabrielskloof Wine Estate: the second is a 2014 Shiraz, the Valentina.  Michael Olivier presented the wines.

Other tasters are Philippa Rodseth from the Manufacturing Circle, Cape Wine Master Debi van Flymen from Grapeslave,  and Clientele’s Malcolm MacDonald.

Please check out the podcast…..

Die Vine Intervention: Fairview Darling Sauvignon Blanc & Shiraz


We are back with another podcast, with a visit to the ever-popular Fairview Estate.   The always fair and never fierce Michael Olivier introduces the 2016 Darling Sauvignon Blanc and the 2014 Shiraz.

John Fraser is in charge of the Jo’burg rabble, who are Cape Wine Master Debi van Flymen from Grapeslave, Nicky Geerts from Pretoria’s Alfie’s Pizzeria and Deli, the Voice of Manufacturing Philippa Rodseth from the Manufacturing Circle and technical wizz Malcolm MacDonald from Clientele, who also hosted the tasting.

Do take a listen…. 

SA Must Beware New Global Trade Curbs

There are many concerns for the business community in South Africa, but one which is less evident than, say, the political manoeuvres around the Finance Minister is the growing tsunami of global protectionism.

More than once recently, there have been multilateral meetings at which Trump’s US administration has blocked a declaration against protectionism, and both protectionist sentiments around both Brexit and the French elections have shown that this is not just a US threat.

One of the strangest outcomes of America’s AGOA trade concessions to Africa is the difference it makes to a German car manufacturer, BMW.   The detail may have changed since I last researched it, but I am pretty sure that at least for a time BMW was the biggest SA recipient of AGOA benefits.   It has been able to assemble cars in SA, and then to get them into the US market at far lower cost tariffs if they were sent from Europe.  Thanks to AGOA.

The SA government has poured the largest slice of its investment incentive cake into the willing hands of global auto giants.    They get SA benefits to produce the vehicles and then minimal tariffs when they ship them off to the US.

However, AGOA is a unilateral trade concession, at the mercy of the US administration.   And the danger is that Trump will show Africa little mercy.  Ask the Syrians whether or not he is a nice person.

Global trade rules are policed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the successor to GATT.  For decades there have been efforts to agree on a new WTO trade round, which would provide additional benefits to SA and other emerging markets.   Most observers believe that Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy will scupper the current trade round and may ultimately neuter the WTO itself.

Listening to a few recent speeches by SA’s Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies I have noted his warnings that there is turmoil ahead in world trade, which may be why SA officials are so keen to ensure there is still post-Brexit access to both the UK and the EU.

But what of those investment incentives to which I have been referring, worth tens of billions of rand a year?    Is there much point in encouraging export-focused investment in SA if trade barriers are rising around the world.   If we are to return to a siege economy, and that model did not work too well under apartheid, should we not instead be investing again in siege industries?

Just this week, our beloved President was in the Free State, opening another Special Economic Zone (SEZ) – an area where export-oriented firms can enjoy all sorts of incentives, including a lower tax rate.   Not much point in setting up more SEZs, as the government is doing, unless the export markets remain open and receptive.

It will take much thought and wisdom to chart the way forward, but the first vital step is to raise awareness of the shifts in global trade policy.  It is going to get a lot more scary.

Tweet of the Day

Make your own bacon by tricking a pig into running headlong through a harp.

Frank Whitehouse

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The Great e-Rip-Off.

I am deeply concerned that millions of people may be victims of a discreet but widespread rip-off in the e-world.

I am referring to mugs – like myself – who have purchased digital books and music, and to people who buy data and other cellphone stuff which expires before they can use it.

This has come to me over time, but not before I have spent a lot of hard-stolen cash on limited-access e-shit.

Take an e-book.  They are incredibly convenient.  You can log on – as I have done on countless occasions – to a site like Amazon and purchase a book which can be accessed almost immediately on your Kindle or app.   No postage and packing.    It is there like magic.

But is I it there forever?  Certainly, you can share it with a few friends and family who also have access to your Amazon account.   But can you trade it in when you have finished?   And what happens if you die?   Will it accompany you to Hell?

The problem with e-books is that they are not like real books.  You can’t lend them to friends, or sell them, or donate them to a charity shop.   Their use is limited, restricted.   They can cost a lot of money, but it is for short-term convenience, not for long-term value.   I have similar concerns about digital music and other paid-for e-entertainment.

An even more immediate problem comes when you buy data, or SMSs, or call-time.   Some providers do not let these expire, but the ones I have used do let them expire.  Goodbye.  No refunds available.

The customer purchases something which disappears at the end of the month.   Great for the provider, not so great for the victim.  Terms and conditions will screw you, and I have the financial scars to prove it.

Maybe I am just a sad old cynic who belongs in the Caxton age, but I do feel that the rules and regulations which we mildly accept when we do business with Amazon, or with a cell phone provider, are slanted dramatically against the interests of whoever is coughing up the cash.

Diamonds may be forever.  Data?  Not so much.


Tweet of the Day

Jewish Comedians (@JewishComedians):  Rodney Dangerfield: I tell ya, my wife’s a lousy cook. After dinner, I don’t brush my teeth. I count them. | #Quotes


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