LONDON — Our new weekly podcast where we eavesdrop on Alec Hogg and Bob Skinstad as they switch between highlights in the week of business and sport. Episode One’s topics include a sobering debut for South Africa’s former Super rugby teams in Europe; Jannie Mouton’s newfound philanthropy; AB de Villiers’ groundbreaking comeback; the unravelling of Bell Pottinger; Irish-based coach Dan van Zyl’s tips on how Springbok rugby can learn from the North; and two CEOs ousted from the companies they founded. . It’s work in progress so let us know what you think – all suggestions welcome to on twitter @BobSkinstad or @AlecHogg – or via email to [email protected]
Welcome to Episode 1 of Team Talk. I’m Alec Hogg.
I’m Bob Skinstad. We’re trying to work our way around this, but it’s great to be here. Thanks, Alec.
We’re going to talk about business and sport. Just from the business side: the whole Bell Pottinger story – very interesting. Lord Bell has said that the investigation into Bell Pottinger was a sham. Then, on the sport side, a lot has been happening.
Loads has been happening. There are both rugby and cricket resurgences from teams that have been struggling in the last little while, but you’re right. A big focus on South Africa in business, sport, and in some of the things that have happened to the country that irk – from the outside looking in.
One of the nicest interviews I’ve done in a long time was with Jannie Mouton who’s giving away all his money and you’ve got a connection there.
Unfortunately, I give my money to his son Piet on the golf course so that’s a losing connection but we were in the same hostel, Simonsberg, at Stellenbosch University. He was an intensely bright and wonderful guy to be around then and we’ve had a friendship for a long time. I don’t know his father well at all but what an incredible mission that he’s on to good after he’s done so well.
We’re not going to play that particular clip but I asked him what his family thought about giving all his money away. Remember, this is the guy who has R12bn just in PSG shares and he’s giving it to charity. He said, “No, Piet’s fully behind me.”
Well, he knows that he’s got some earnings. We’ve got a wonderful challenge called the Boer and Brit, which is all the English and Afrikaans guys who were in res together in the last two years so he’s spending my money on the dinners out afterwards. Don’t worry about Piet.
Well, the Boer and Brit and the All Blacks and the Wallabies are I suppose, parallel lines, aren’t they? The All Blacks and Wallabies have played over this past weekend. What’s your take on that game?
A cracking test match. The All Blacks were sublime again. They have been very, very good as we know but the Wallabies have been battling under Michael Cheika, their coach at the moment. He attracts controversy. He’s one of those guys. He’s outspoken. He doesn’t need the money from the ARU, which maybe gives him this chance to think and say whatever he wants.
Why did he leave?
Well, he’s a self-made man. He’s gone back into coaching after he’s made money in retail and he’s very passionate about it but he is very obviously, his own man. He’s nobody’s puppet and because of that, he does attract controversy and opinions etcetera from some of the past players, some of the present players, and some of the fans. However, he’s done well where he’s gone. They players have played really hard for him and this weekend was a great example. The Wallabies, after taking a thumping in the opening road of the Rugby Championship, really stood up and took it to the All Blacks. In the All Blacks’ own back yard, it was literally, an 80-minute thriller. They started with a wonderful intercept try by Israel Folau who’s their AFL and League convert and is an outstanding athlete. It was heart-stopping from then on, all the way through.
Eventually, the All Blacks put the lid on the game with a try in the 79th minute. They had to come back and score because they were 4 points behind after the Wallabies had also scored a ripper. It was a beautiful game of rugby and I’m delighted for the Wallabies. They’ve had a few internal struggles, as we’ve mentioned, the Western Force from Perth are making the headlines too. They’re not going to be part of the Super Rugby going forward.
What happened there?
Well, I think the format’s changing and the ARU have wobbled their way to a decision now so a lot of people have been put off the way that the decision was handled and because of that, everybody’s blaming the internal administration of the whole of Australian rugby for the results on the field as well. As you can imagine, that heats up the pressure.
Well, we’re going to be talking a lot more about implications after the Super Rugby with of course, the Kings and the Cheetahs coming into the European tournament and also an interview that you did with Dan van Zyl (and we’ll be playing a clip from it).
Let’s go back to business now because a big story today…and I know Bob, you’re very much in the business world. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re an angel investor and you pay attention to things like marketing, communications and Bell Pottinger is the name that is swear word for many South Africans. A report that’s just come out – an investigation into Bell Pottinger – showed that they were guilty of inciting racial hatred in South Africa. BBC’s Radio4 spoke to Lord Bell and this is what he had to say about the report.
Lord Bell: “It’s partially true. It’s not completely true. It’s not a complete picture. The broad thrust of it is it’s not a whitewash as such, but it’s as near to a whitewash as you can get.”
That’s going to stir the pot a little bit more in South Africa. Have you been tweeting or going onto social media on this stuff?
I think I said something on social media the night before last. I just said, “Is it not gale time for somebody involved in it?” Inciting racial hatred in a country that has borne the brunt of the entire world’s… We are a melting pot of cultures. We are a melting pot of different economic situations and outputs, etcetera. If you read the history of Southern Africa, we’ve been caught up in the maelstrom of power from other countries for all of our existence. This is a firm that makes their money by public relations that have literally taken a brief saying ‘incite racial hatred into the country’. You would think that in a time like now, that would be punishable by a sentence. You should be struck off any form or roll from being able to do work in that space. I’m flabbergasted by the fact that they would even take the work, let alone the time and effort that they’ve put into making sure they got the work done.
Peter Hain was also interviewed in this program and he has a very similar line to yours. Of course, Peter Hain has a love/hate relationship in South Africa, depending on how old you are. Some people who are a little older saw Peter Hain as a bit of a stirrer who was fighting against sport. People who are a bit younger thank heaven for Peter Hain because he played a big role in normalising sport in South Africa.
I’ve said this a number of times. I was actually born in Zimbabwe so with my family, we were sent merrily on our way for not being part of the larger demographic left in Zimbabwe. We made our way in South Africa and I’m in the UK now – not for anything, except opportunity. I’m not leaving South Africa. I’m building a house and business in South Africa and I love it. I’ve said a number of times though that we as a group of players had more to deal with than anybody else. We had all of the atrocities of the past in the non-sporting environment plus the leaving out of players of a chance to excel in a sporting environment all of which was a sharpened barb above our heads. To be honest, I think it’s a cross we’ve had to bear. We are incredibly privileged to have played a game for a living.
Sometimes I think the last ten years in corporate has been more interesting and more difficult than lacing up your boots and running around for a bit. You sometimes forget how great a living it can be but we weren’t a professional outfit when I started. We’d chosen to play rugby because of what rugby meant to South Africa. It meant what rugby meant to all of South Africa. I think you forget sometimes that the players take it very seriously. I watch these young guys coming through and the work they do in communities – the time and effort that they spend – getting youngsters enthusiastic and keen to watch the national sport. I take my hat off to them. I think they do a really, really good job. It is however, a mantle that comes with a lot of the baggage of the past.
Suddenly, you’re thrown into an environment because you’re good at something so someone says, “Well, then you must take the blame for what happened for the last 50 years.” You tell an 18-year old wonder-kid that that’s all his fault and I think that sometimes causes a bit of a wobble. It’s definitely a big psychological burden
I guess that trying to overcome that burden means that South Africans are very keen to see another black Springbok Captain and Siya Kolisi is a great player. He’s also played as a loose forward. Is it time for him to become the Bok skipper?
Well, it’s funny. I’ve got an opinion on this. I know Siya well. I love him to bits. He’s just such an amazing kid and not a lot of people know his entire story. He came from an environment where he wasn’t going to necessarily go to a good enough school. He got thrust into Grey High School in Port Elizabeth after literally coming out of a township environment. He played good enough rugby but became a good enough ambassador for his own school, that they chose him to be their Head Boy. If you think about it: what a great example of talent uncovered. He was always there – the good man that is Siya Kolisi, rugby or not, was always there so I think it’s a great example of what can happen with different circumstances. He’s then gone on and through a lot of hardship in his career, he’s actually come out on top.
I think he’s on fire at the moment. I think he’s playing the best rugby of his life and I really think that he needs to go on this journey. He needs to play the rugby that he’s playing and focus on his game. The leader in him will continue to develop. He’s in his mid-twenties. I think he’s 26 at the moment and already there’s the call ‘he must be captain’. To be honest, captaincy is a title. To have a title thrust upon you because somebody else needs you to be captain, would be unfair to him. I hope he is captain of the Springboks one day and I hope that when he is, it’s a team that deserves his captaincy because he’s going to be amazing and he’s going to be an amazing leader. I want it to happen in the time that it’s right, and not at a time when it’s someone else’s need that’s thrust him forward. I’ve seen that happen too many times.
How are the team doing? We know we won five in a row so you’ll be putting your test out a little bit… I guess all South Africans are…
Nervously, at the moment. I’m pleased for the team. Allister Coetzee went through a difficult year last year. He said, “Give me time.” He was given time. He’s got five in a row against a strong French outfit and Argentina who have proven themselves over the last three years. They’ve had home and away wins against both South Africa and Australia in the last three years. They’re a difficult outfit and we put 40 points of them – both sides of the sea – and I think that’s a good example of where this team can go. They’ve got a huge task ahead of them to try and beat New Zealand in New Zealand but they’ve also got New Zealand and Australia at home, which I think we’ve got a crack at. We’re now able to be slightly more consistent with selection. We’ve got the same players, playing well. I’m delighted to see a number of players come back out of injury.
We missed a few guys after Super Rugby and they’re back. I think Warren White was a great contributor in that campaign and I think he’s a few weeks off still but Mike’s still playing although the loose forwards are playing so well; maybe he just joins a squad but I’m pleased for the Boks in general.
Let’s get back to business now and this is the story of Jannie Mouton. When I last visited with him, it was a couple of years ago in his Stellenbosch office. You can imagine. He had his PA Sharon October, outside the door and Jannie has his office. He sits next to the window because it’s a no-smoking building. You’re not allowed to smoke in it but he does puff a cigarette once in a while but his pal GT Ferreira owns the building so he doesn’t think he’s going to be evicted as a consequence of this. He was telling me at that time, about how he had just finished reading Warren Buffett’s Annual Letter to shareholders and he’s a great follower of Buffett does. Buffett of course, is the second or third-richest man in the world – feet very firmly on the ground and a great philanthropist.
I asked Jannie this week after typical for him – no fanfare, there was just a little note that came on the Stock Exchange News Service to say Dana Investments, which is one of the investment companies that he has, has put R1bn worth of PSG shares into a charitable foundation called the Jannie Mouton Foundation. I phoned him up and said to him, “This is unusual, to say the least. How did it all come about?” Here’s what he said and did Warren Buffett have an influence…..
Jannie Mouton: ”There’s no doubt in my mind that he inspired me. I listened to his last talk on TV two or three months ago and when he talked about his foundation, a smile appeared on his face. He looked happy and that inspired me. The next day I was walking on the farm and I realised this was what I have to do as well. I’m sitting with The Pledge of Warren Buffett in front of me.”
That’s incredible Jannie, and it’s R1bn decision.
“Yes. Keep in mind this is step number one. I have some bigger plans in place. The total value of my PSG shares that I own is about R12bn or something like that so there’s a long way to go… We do it but there are all sorts of rules and regulations. Again some of my PSGs I’ve given to the banks as security, it’s not that you can donate it like that, but I have a long-term plan to create something like Warren Buffett.”
Isn’t that lovely? He was watching TV. He saw Warren Buffett was so happy about giving away money. He walked on the farm, thought about it, and followed suit.
Yes. I think it’s outstanding. I’m not sure if I saw exactly the same program but I watched a documentary, which finished with the biggest pledge part of what Warren Buffett gave away. One of sons and his daughter manage the foundation, they literally walked into the room and got given the news that they were going to be managing $60bn-odd worth of those charitable donations with a management team and a group of people to protect the money, which is the best part of it. For me, Mr Mouton’s position on it is clear. He’s not wasting this money. He’s going to give it in the right way. If he’s pledging some money against various shares etcetera, he’s clearly got a good strategic management plan for the good that it can do and I think that’s a far better and more long-reaching plan for a donation. It’s outstanding and it’s a wonderful gesture.
Could you do it? You’ve been out of rugby for ten years. You’ve been doing quite a lot of interesting entrepreneurial stuff – angel investor here and there. Would you like to do that when you get to Jannie’s age – 70 – give it away?
Yes. I think you get inspired by these guys because you think they are gathering wealth but it’s the same question. What do you do with it when you’ve got it all? What they’ve done (for me) is they’ve done a lot of good along the way as well as now. They probably reached a point where they couldn’t lose this money even with….
You couldn’t spend twelve billion. Even with the most outrageous habits, there’s no way you could spend that.
Exactly. So, the beauty is that they know there will be more and they know that their gift will keep on giving. I think that’s an even better message.
Piet Mouton, given that you know him quite well, do you think he would be delighted at what his father’s done?
I think they’re very similar characters, actually. I think they’re both deep thinkers. I’m concentrating on just getting a golf shot or two off him at the moment and I’ll settle for that, Alec. I think Piet’s made some incredible strategic investments and the two of them are a formidable pair.
Let’s get back to rugby now. We mentioned very briefly, the Kings and the Cheetahs who are no longer in the Super Rugby competition, but now playing in the Guinness Pro-14 in Europe. It seems like it’s quite a change for both.
Absolutely. Look, it’s a poor start in the new format of the Pro-14.
They’ve had their first game….
They’ve had their first game but they’ve lost their opening games to quite big scores. They’ve played difficult teams. If you think about the Scarlets, the Llanelli Scarlets are a team that have turned over the Springboks before. This is not a poor team. To be honest, for me it was a good indication of the fact that South Africans maybe thought that they’d just come over here and wipe the floor. I don’t think the teams thought so but I think in general…
I don’t know if you went and saw the first games after South Africa came out of isolation but I remember going to a game at what was then Ellis Park. It was a good Springbok team. There were banners all over the place to say, ‘South African undefeated’ for however many years it was but they hadn’t played rugby because of the isolation. But they really looked second-rate against the Kiwis and the Aussies in fact, for a while, in the very early period. That’s why I suppose the World Cup in South Africa in 1995…it was such a surprise that the Springboks won it. Why I’m saying this is because there was a huge amount of arrogance amongst the population that this provincial competition would have made the team strong enough to take on and beat anyone in the world. Now, we have South Africans suddenly looking at Northern Hemisphere rugby after the weekend’s results of the Kings and the Cheetahs and perhaps getting a similar wake-up call….
I think you’ve got to take it in context. The Cheetahs and the Kings have been our two worst-performing franchises so that’s going to sit on the one side. Everyone’s going to say, “Well, what if the Bulls, the Sharks, and the Stormers came over? They would smash them.” It doesn’t matter what we think they would do. For me, South African rugby has been badly managed for a long time and it’s one of our shining lights. Nelson Mandela himself was quoted as saying ‘sport being like the opium of the masses’. The religion that is sport, makes a difference in a way that other things can’t. In that very famous 1995 World Cup, he embraced that and I think we’ve almost thrown that away a little bit. I think what’s happened here is these two teams have performed poorly on and off the field in our domestic competitions and in the Super Rugby competitions, and they’ve fallen by way of literally (I think) out of the frying pan, past the fire, and rolled away to safety because they’ve now got a pathway to Northern Hemisphere rugby almost paid for by someone else.
They’ll be participating passengers to start, but they can get better and better. If you think about the young players; would you rather now go and study at Nelson Mandela Bay University because potentially, if you played for the Kings, you could be on the show to Eddie Jones, to Ireland, to Scotland, to England, or to Wales. Everybody’s got a grandparent or someone that they can call on when they need to. Even after five years, as a 17-year old kid, you’re over here. Now, you’re 22 and you could turn up for Ireland. We don’t know where South Africa’s going but we do know that there’s money, time, effort, and most importantly, planning in Northern Hemisphere rugby and that’s what we’ve seen. In fact, I didn’t want to make my own judgements on it before I’d asked someone. Dan van Zyl, whom I’d played with, actually has been coaching in the Leinster setup In Ireland for more than ten years so I think he was better qualified and he echoed a lot of what I’d thought.
Dan Van Zyl: “Over the years, what is different about the Southern Hemisphere is that you only have so many players, especially now that England has a different story. In Ireland, you have to focus on trying to keep the net as wide as we can. We don’t play competitive rugby until we’re 13 years of age. Even from then on, we’ve got two different pathways. We’ve got a club pathway and a school pathway to try and keep as many players playing for as long as they can. Through that, we concentrate a hell of a lot on individual skills – the technical aspects around that – and tactical understanding. Again, my perception would be (being back home a couple of times) is that South African rugby would be very much ‘let’s dominate the game line and let’s play field position’ where here, it’s very much on the individual skills of our players. That then came into the Sevens program now and Ireland only being there for a couple of years now have qualified for the World Cup in San Francisco next year.”
It’s an interesting clip and of course, the whole interview is on Soundcloud so click on the link above to listen…
I doubt we’re going to be able to lure Dan back because he’s doing so well over here in the Leinster Island setup but he’s talking about coaching coaches. Now, someone had a go at me the other day about, “Well, if that’s true then why did Johan Ackermann do so well?” Can I tell you one thing? Johan Ackermann is not only a great coach. He was a wonderful guy to play with. He’s got such a high EQ that culturally, he was always going to be in a good position to get players to play for him. Right next to him, he’s got Swys de Bruin who’s coached for 30 years but he was always the Natal B coach or Natal Duikers coach. Now, he’s been elevated to the point where Swys, can you help me with the structure of the week and what we need to do’ and it’s an amazing combination. There was no doubt in my mind.
Where I think things go wrong is that we think like Carel du Plessis, for example (the Prince of Wings) never coached anyone until he coached the Springboks and we all know how that went. Nick Mallett kept reminding us how poor Carel was but I think Carel actually had the ability to be a good coach. I’m saying that surely, when you leave this game of rugby, there must be a pathway where you can qualify to be a better-quality individual to then bring the next wave of youngsters through. I see our situation as so haphazard. You never know who’s going to be in the pot next. Who’s going to be part of it? Who’s going to be coaching the coaches? Who’s guarding against the guards?
What I love about what they’ve said there is that with small resources, Ireland – if you think about it, they’re the only team in the last couple of years to knock over the All Blacks in an incredible match that they did and they came close the second time as well – with much lower player resources than anybody else on this bunch of islands, let alone around the world. They pulled themselves out of the Sevens because they said, “We’ve only got so much budget and so many players and when we do concentrate on that, we’ll give it a good go.” What did they do in the first year? They qualified for the World Cup. I think we’ve had an embarrassment of riches in the number of players we’ve had and it allowed us to become apathetic and lazy in terms of developing our coaches to develop that asset. Nelson Mandela would be a lot prouder if we could say we are the best production line of world-class rugby coaches and players and that’s what we’re proud of. New Zealand’s turned what was a very difficult, contentious, political part of their environment… Remember, rugby was elitist and separatist for a long, long time. Maoris had their own separate team. They weren’t even allowed to play. We all forget this….
When did that change?
The Maori All Blacks are still around but they’re only included into the bigger picture. New Zealand have led the way there in terms of the Women’s vote and they’ve been amazing like that but they’ve also taken good examples of other countries and made it their own. Nkosi Sikelele is a six-language national anthem, which the whole world thinks is amazing. New Zealand changed and put the Maori words of ‘God defend New Zealand’ in before their anthem without telling anybody and now they shout about it saying, “Well look how inclusive we are” whereas in South Africa, nobody gives the credit of that to our 1995 World Cup, Nelson Mandela, and the story behind it.
Which makes the whole Bell Pottinger story so horrific, doesn’t it?
Well, it does because history is recorded by those who write it, as we know and written by those who record it, so for me, I always feel that we get downtrodden in the areas where we shouldn’t be, you know, and that’s one of the things. We have a South African guy who played sport for South Africa well, provincial cricket and very close to a couple of ODI’s, Dan van Zyl, and rugby for his country, but he’s coaching in an Irish setup because he actually thinks it’s better than his home country set up. Now for me, the Minister of Sport should grab that story and say, “Well, how can I change it?” but you know, Razzmatazz is off doing something more important. Sorry, I am passionate about it….
You mentioned Cricket. Let’s talk cricket for a change. AB’s back – are you a big fan?
I am a big fan. I think he’s a wonderful guy, I think he’s been through a lot off the field. At the moment there’s intense pressure about what do you do after cricket as an individual, what is he going to do to preserve his cricket playing years because he was playing all three formats of the game because he was our best cricketer by our country mile for a long, long time and what do you do with all the pressure that gets put on you. You know, nobody knows the actual story behind that semi-final in New Zealand except AB and he hasn’t turned around and blamed everybody else, he’s kept it to himself, so I think there’s a lot of extra pressure there, but did something, which I think is very current, it’s definitely on trend at the moment. He made an announcement to the world on social media. He recorded a clip.
No press conference…
No press conference…
No press release…
No press release, nothing from cricket.
No social media.
Nothing from Cricket South Africa, it was like, “I’ve recorded a video on my position, on me and international cricket, and have a listen if you want”.
What is his position?
His position was that, he felt that he had to repair his body to get to the point where he could perform at the level that he wants to. He was playing too much cricket in too many formats and because of that Cricket South Africa was saying, “Well, what do we pay you for and what don’t we pay you for?” so it became a bit of a mix and a difficult thing to work out. Therefore, I think what he’s done now is, he’s said, well in these months he’s obviously cleared up the back room, if you want, of what the AB de Villiers brand is doing and he said he’s now fully available for Cricket South Africa in all formats that they play whenever they want to play.
And the new coach?
Yes, Ottis Gibson has just taken over.
He’d be an admirer of AB’s…
Oh, absolutely. I don’t think there’s anyone that isn’t. AB de Villiers and a Virat Kohli are leading the stats in terms of ODIs. AB de Villiers is a player that, I think all of England said, “With him in the team, we might not have won that test series”, so you have to understand the quality of this individual. He’s gone through a difficult period because as good as he was, many people said, “Well, then leave him out if he doesn’t want to play because of that mixed messaging that happened. I’ve said it before, I’ve met AB, I love the way he plays cricket. I think he’s an upstanding, God-fearing South African, a guy who can be a great example to many young South Africans and I’m just glad he’s playing for us.
Cricket is getting interesting. Apart from the Proteas, unfortunately losing against England in the last series, there have been some other interesting results lately. There’s lots of spice to the game today.
Exactly, no more so than the West Indies turning around a huge capitulation in the first day/night test to be played over here, to actually turn around and beat England. What a wonderful test match, literally, you know, 20 minutes to go or 40 minutes to go on the final day of a five-day test match, a couple of wickets and a number of runs. It was how test match cricket is supposed to be played and that’s why we all love it so much, the ones who follow it and I think that was a great turnaround and then Bangladesh, who actually, with a number of good players have knocked over India, England and now Australia at home.
England lost a series to Bangladesh and now Australia, so they are in an incredible run of form and these so-called two or minor nations have had big victories, which I think is fantastic for cricket because it throws it open. Look, it starts all the conjecture about Tier Two and Tier One and who should be where, but West Indies are going to feel the backlash because England are preparing for a big Ashes Series and Ashes cricket’s wonderful, great to watch, I love that. So, they’ll want to do well in the next coming games against the West Indies and then I think Australia is already on track to make right their wrongs. Nathan Lyon looks like, the last update I got on the way in to you, is that he’d taken four LBWs of the first four batsmen and I think that’s only been done by one bowler once ever before. So, Australia look back on track….
Bangladesh go to South Africa next….
They do, yes and there’s a little bit of talk about whether we have a pink ball game in that series and I’m not sure that we’re playing a New Year’s Day test at Newlands. I think that might have moved to Port Elizabeth, St George’s Park.
However, we’re going to need AB on their form?
Well, on this form from Bangladesh, we’ll need everyone we have.
There’s another interesting story that came through this week and I spoke with David Shapiro. Now you might remember for 15 years, David and I were on radio every night talking about what’s happening in the stock markets and so on. One of his good friends is Brian Joffe. If you recall, Brian Joffe started Bidvest in 1988 and when he very quietly. There was literally an announcement on the stock exchange, the new service, to say Mr B Joffe has resigned or has left with immediate effect as a non-executive director. So, he did step down as CEO, so now he’s off the board of a company he started which employs together, the two sides, 175 000 people.
So, I said to David in our conversation this week, “Surely Joffe should have got a better farewell”. If he’s had a word of thanks from the chairman. Given that they were such close friends, I asked him what he thought of it.
I know you’re a good pal of Brian Joffe’s. I’ve been trying to get hold of Joffe to find out what the heck happened there at Bidvest, was that an amicable parting, or was he fired?
David Shapiro: “I can’t really get into it. I bump into Lindsay Ralphs here and he seems quite amicable, so I think maybe time has healed certain differences that there might have been. You know, I used to pick up a little bit of talk, but it seems that maybe they had patched up things and things are okay because I asked Lindsay when I bumped into him, I said, “What’s Brian doing, you know, what’s this new venture of his?” and Lindsay seemed to suggest that he’d also wanted to know. I will catch up with Brian and try to find out, but I don’t think it’s something he’d discuss…
Yes, it’s not something that Joffe discussed, the fact that he left the company that he started, which is a pity because he should be discussing that kind of thing. What are you doing in your business life now? You’ve been an entrepreneur for ten years, are you going to go into a big company?
No, I’ve spent some time with a business division that was a listed business and fell into the HCI Group. I think for me it was more about going into a business, especially after 14 years in professional sport. It was about understanding how to dot the “I” s and cross the “T” s. I mean, you spoke about giving away. I’ve been involved in charity stuff; I’ve seen the good and the bad of what you can do in business. I’ve been too wet behind the ears in deals where my partners have gone on to make hundreds of millions of Rand and good on them, you know.
Although, I wanted to go into corporate to, like I said, dot the “I” s and cross the “T” s and learn a little about navigating things like boards and exercising control in areas of business and not being blindsided just because I was a naïve ex sportsman and that came to an end, which I really enjoyed and I think I mentioned it to you last time, I’ve joined a family office which effectively is a diversified portfolio of businesses. We have a great investment into a dental health business, chaired and CEO’d by a South African who has done this before in Australia, and we’ve backed him with Universal Partners, which is a South African listed fund. We have an investment here in the UK, but just general property holdings in the same sort of space and we have quite big positions in various listed entities as well.
What do you do?
Well, I would say, a minister without a portfolio is how I started the first year, but we’re settling into a role, so business development is probably the area where I’m most effective. The leadership of all of these businesses, we see common threads that run through them. There are people who need someone to talk to about the next steps; they need people to talk to about how they’re managing their finances. Especially when a restructure happens, everybody wobbles and you find that the business, it goes into standstill mode and because I’ve now done that for myself and in a listed entity, my role is probably broader than I thought it was going to be but it’s more fun.
I would say, business development is the one that’s easiest to name. Maybe a slight Mr Fix It when we have a business, which we buy into, and maybe we’re looking for a slightly different leadership or we’re trying to connect dots between that business and another one. I’ve had the great privilege of cultivating and curating a network without asking them for anything for 25 years. I have friends in business and sport around the world and within a couple of phone calls I can meet up with someone who knows a lot more than I do about the problem at hand, but would also help, so I’ve done that where I can.
One of the fun ones is, you know, in the venture capital space I was at university with the guys who led the management of Mark Shuttlesworth’s private portfolio through Knife Capital and we look at venture capital as fleeting entities all the time. You know, we don’t like putting money into ideas, but we do put growth equity money into post revenue businesses and because of my 20-year relationship with someone who’s been in that, I’ve now gone alongside, I’ve invested with them and now we’ve bought into them.
So, we find businesses that might want to take a product market fit in the South African environment and look international. We’ve seen South African be successful all over the world. That pathway is now quite a well-trodden one, but it’s the same people. So I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I’d rather take the people that have been successful and help them with some capital and to put money into these ventures that are looking to grow.
It’s very interesting, one of the better biographies around, is the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs and he reckons that the ability or the genius of Jobs is that he was able to get the intersection between science and art, between IT and design in effect. Now if you look at the understanding that you have of the sporting world and now of the business world, is there enough business engagement in sport? We saw the story with Remgro and the Western Province Rugby. Western Province Rugby is a place that you know very well and it seems as though there’s antagonism there that perhaps could have been dealt with in a different way.
Yes, the short answer to the first part of our question is, “No, certainly not in a South African context”. I think internationally, yes and look, I’m looking at an international rugby project at the moment, just as an interested observer and I see some really high-quality individuals being brought in and the areas where they would contribute, you know, whether it’s budget management or brand and marketing. This is not a sort of a jobs for friends kind of pal-pal, you come, let’s play a bit of Super Rugby, you know, this is a proper business. I mean, just youth sport. Time Magazine’s just run a cover, just youth sport in America last year, the industry was worth $24bn and if you think about that, compare it to some of the size businesses we have on the JSE and these are kids up to the age of 13 in minivans being carried –
It would be top ten business on the JSE…
Well, there you go, exactly. And that’s youth sport, it’s not even NFL, MBA or MLS, which has had such stratospheric growth, but yes, I don’t think we have enough in that space. I don’t know the details about it and I certainly don’t want to ruffle feathers, but I do know that if you look at a guy like Johann Rupert who has made such a clever, strategic investment and helped, just financial backup to South African golf and the huge drive that South African golf has made around the world. I think we need to doff the cap to him all the time and to say how much hard work and time, money, effort and capital he’s put into developing it. Look how way above our weight we punch in world golf in terms of young South Africans winning majors and being ranked around the world and how well we do.
He’s had the same financial wherewithal and gone into rugby, but he’s now jumped out and said, “There’s just no ways I can fix this with these people in charge and the way that this is done, I’m taking my money back out, I can’t help”. For me, you know, it’s absolute madness that there are some administrators who are now happy with that, you know, “Yes, get him out, we’re going to manage this okay”, you know what’s going to happen, it’ll all collapse.
I mean, there’s the big problem with moving from Newlands to the new stadium, you know, who is in charge of making those big decisions? When I was there, there were still 99 clubs in the Western Province and every club had one vote and I’m not saying that it ever happened, but you read between the lines. Why are people going to vote for something to stay the same when it’s easy to look at, the future has to change? Well, it’s because that’s where the income comes from and as long as they remain president of their little club, they’ll vote for the person that helped keep them there. You know, so like I said, I think it’s a tragedy.
Perhaps they didn’t talk, they talked past each other, did they -?
No, look to be honest, I don’t know.
Personality clashes, I suppose.
Potentially. I don’t know Johann Rupert well enough. We’ve had one sort of business engagement many years ago, but that turned into what he did with Saracens Rugby and he’s done some really good stuff there, so I wouldn’t want to judge it more than the fact that I’ve seen how much time and effort he’s spent on golf and how good it’s been for golf. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Louis Oosthuizen Academy or the Ernie Els Academy or what they’ve done at Fancourt or youth golf in South Africa, I think it’s amazing. Surely, that experience and that financial clout behind the passion that he has for sport could only be good for rugby. I think we’ve seen already with Altmann Allers, who’s backed the Lions and underwritten them into staying in Super Rugby and Curry Cup with Kevin de Klerk being an old friend of his who is also financially independent anyway. These are smart businessmen, they’ve gone, and they’ve turned ailing unions into something that’s actually doing well. Now why could we not embrace that somewhere else? I think we need to privatise all that sport and create a franchise system, copy what MLS did. They really looked after the beginning of Major League Soccer because they knew that the endpoint would be stronger.
If you have a look at football here in the UK, the premiership is just incredibly popular. Whenever you go onto the BBC’s website for instance, you’ll always find the top ten best read stories are to do with football and premier league in particular….
Well, I don’t know if you found, it was a really quiet weekend this weekend because they were playing international football not domestic football. Besides Wayne Rainey getting himself into trouble, there was almost nothing to be shared and there were a couple of international qualification matches, but there just wasn’t as much news about domestic football and that’s because the Premier League wasn’t operating.
Yes, unfortunately it means yet another week that West Ham is bottom of the league. What’s your team, Bob?
Arsenal. ‘In Arsene we trust’ used to be one of what we said. I literally grew up, a mate of mine, I was five years old, I went to my first school in Natal and that friend stayed with me all the way through and a friend of his once gave him an Arsenal jersey which he wore once, is my only reason, I’ve never wavered from them, I love them to bits. When they were The Invincibles, I was the king of the heap, but he’s put me through a lot of emotional turbulence over the last couple of years.
Don’t even go there.
Not as much as the Hammers but it’s still great to see how important and how well run that EPL is.
Well, that very same day that Shapiro, last year gave me his ticket to go and watch Arsenal vs West Ham at the Emirates, which was a spectacular occasion, excepting that you can imagine David Shapiro, like you is a mad keen Arsenal supporter, you can imagine where the tickets were, right in amongst all the Arsenal supporters and we were warned, Deon Gouws, who had the other ticket, and Deon and David both go to the game together. Deon warned me that I must not let anybody know that I’m not one of the home fans. It was an extremely difficult evening, not just because we weren’t able to clap on the rare occasions that our team did do something reasonable, but also because we clearly didn’t celebrate loudly enough when Arsenal scored.
And Oliver Giroud…..
By then we were getting, when it was two nil down already and it was one-way traffic, I could see the people around me looking in a quite distrusting manner. I picked my wife up and off we went and as we were walking out it was three nil. It was a horrible game for us, but it’s quite an intimidating atmosphere there.
Very much so.
However, having said, we spoke about David Shapiro, we spoke about Jannie Mouton today, just to close off on the business side, Serge Belamant, I spoke with him last week, he is the former chief executive of Net1. He’s had some very interesting things to say, it was a cracking interview. He said, “I am very angry about this”, in fact, he used much stronger language, “Because 26 years of my life have been wiped out by one bad year” and that was a very bad year indeed. Let’s just hear a little bit from that interview with Serge.
Serge Belamant: “I would probably do very much what we did now. Except that I would protect, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I would still run and control the company, like a lot of other people that manage to do, B shares, A shares. In those days, I was writing code. I had no clue about how any of these things actually worked. Candidly, I lost the control of it. Although, I kept the company, I believe, glued together because of the people around it. But over time, you lose complete control. Like now, a shareholder activism, 2 or 3 of them get together and they vote. Well, if I had any shares, and my shares are a thousand times more than theirs, well they can vote as much as they like. At the end of the day the only recourse they would have is to say, ‘we don’t like it – we’re selling.”
That’s a very good point on retaining control because Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has shares that make sure that he will always run the company; Google have two classes of shares, which make sure that they will always run the company, the Google guys. In fact, I think between Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schultz, they have something like 60% of the votes even though they have a much, much smaller percentage of the equity. Naspers has a similar setup where Koos Bekker, effectively controls the company with, also not a huge percentage of the shares and I think if I ever listed again, I would go the same route, so I have sympathy with this.
Remember I said I went to go and dot the “I” s and cross the “T”s and learn about things. Well you know, he is talking about control of a business, which was his baby. I’ve had the pleasure of having a lunch with Serge and he’s an incredible character, very knowledgeable about the space that Net1 has operated in. I think he would admit that the one thing he could do a bit better is where Bell Pottinger has been experts, is in the PR of the business.
What did he say about carrier pigeons…..
Oh, my goodness, yes. It’s also in a hotly contested and hotly debated time in South Africa with a poorly performing administration of SASSA. He was someone who was looking to blame everybody. Everybody was looking to blame someone and he was so perfectly situated because he was a wealthy white man in the middle of controlling a –
No idea of PR.
He kind of put his foot in his mouth because he wears his heart on his sleeve.
Yes, I would say though that Net1 as a, I think poorly cobbled together bunch of assets, is still a bunch of assets. I think he has some incredible patents, he has some extraordinary businesses. He mentions in this interview about a business in Korea in payments. He’s clearly a visionary, he’s seen things before other people, so I find it interesting and I really think Net1 with some solid leadership could turn itself around and be a player as long as they understand that they – it’s again back to our 80/20 principle that we’ve spoken about. You know, the 20% of the best parts of this business need to operate like an absolute steam train and they need to carve off the bits that are not good for the business going forward.
Well, Bob that’s our Team Talk for Episode 1. I think it went relatively smoothly and we’ll try looking at a nice balance between business and sports because I guess many people who are interested in business also want to find out insides into sports as well and I don’t think there are many people around there who focus their attention quite as much as you do. How many Twitter followers do you have now?
Oh, I don’t know. I think most of them were bots for a while, so I had to clean them all up.
Do you spend a lot of time on social media?
Yes, I like picking up stories in that space. I think that news moves fast, I think Instagram is challenging for pace right now, but Tom Peters, who I read a lot of, I like his management books and stuff, he said, “You will find your niche in one of them, you know you can’t be an expert across all of them” and for me, Twitter now and the comments and the people that I see, I enjoy. I enjoy that there’s still a little bit of the intellectual capital and a link to a story or something behind it as opposed to just a video of someone who’s popular for the now.
So, be careful. We know what’s happened on Twitter. One wrong character –
Can get you into a – and I think that’s the message there, think before you speak and thing before you Tweet.