An advantage of spending a lifetime in a single career over an extended period is that you gain a rich history. You develop an institutional memory that predates and supersedes numerous passionately argued ideas from those who have never read King Solomon’s wise words about there being nothing new under the sun. Because, indeed, there isn’t.
Witnessing the sudden decline in the BAT share price yesterday (down 9%) was startling. News that the tobacco giant is writing off £25bn from the value of its US cigarette brands certainly gave pause. The fact that this decline only impacted the Rupert family’s Reinet by under 3% reflects astute forward planning. BAT, once a dominant asset for the Ruperts, now represents only about a quarter of Reinet’s value – and virtually nothing in the industrial arm, Remgro.
Speaking of the Ruperts, while patriarch Johann has been deservedly praised as an outlier in the appeasing SA Big Business sector (see above), his aversion for corporate transparency continues. For decades, a much-criticized lack of disclosure placed Rupert group companies at the bottom rung in JSE-listed annual report rankings. I discovered after Monday’s AGM little has changed in this regard.
At the hybrid event, Rupert, as Remgro chairman, shared opinions that have since been widely reported. These include, apparently, scepticism about investing in a country where people refer to each other as “comrade” and cynicism over the SA president’s much promoted and hoped-for social contract.
I use “apparently” because not having been there, cannot verify either the context or accuracy of Rupert’s reported statements. Remgro’s AGM was internally recorded, but my request for a copy was denied with the explanation that “the comments were not scripted and unfortunately we do not make the webcast publicly available.”
This is reminiscent of Warren Buffett’s long-standing refusal to allow recordings at the Berkshire AGM under threat of immediate ejection. However, times and Buffett have changed. Rupert should follow suit. What SA’s most powerful businessman says in public should be widely accessible and presented in full, allowing for a complete understanding of the context. It should not be reduced to piecing together snippets.
Come on, Johann, it’s time….…..
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