White graduates are the Greeks and “Porras” of the past – Anton Roux

In this article Anton Roux, who was the Chief Executive Officer at Medscheme, the chair of Aon Africa and still sits on boards of several companies, observes that many white graduates of his age have become entrepreneurs, either by choice or because they had no other choice. It is a university reunion that brought this to his attention. Roux was one of a few people at his reunion who came out of the corporate world. He also told me in a separate conversation that there is talent pool of white former C-level executives in South Africa of his age offering their services to bring back world class experience to companies who are in need of help with projects or interim roles. They have started a platform called PRETIRE where they connect experienced executives to exclusive assignments. They offer the kind of experience that is so sorely missed in the state owned enterprises, but so far few of them have been approached to assist. If so many White graduates in their 50s can no longer find employment in the corporate world, the question is, how do their children view their future ? I see the effect of that as more and more of my friends children crash on the sofa at our house near London as they look for other avenues overseas. Many of them opt to leave the country or as some of my nephews and nieces did, also take the entrepreneurial route. While there are positive effects from these developments such as entrepreneur led job creation – it means South Africa keeps on losing talented and educated graduates, which it can ill afford. – Linda van Tilburg

The impact on and unintended consequences of affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment on white South African graduates in the workplace

By Anton Roux

The aim of my scribbles is not to discuss my views on BEE, but rather is a piece focussing on the unintended consequences of such policies and the impact on a very large portion of the skilled workforce in South Africa. These are my own observations and no scientific research was carried out, however in my opinion this topic is something that can be used as a basis for research in the future.

Secondly, I have a somewhat unique personal circumstance in that I grew up in an Afrikaans family environment, during my school years I worked at a Greek café on weekends, I have worked in an English corporate environment for more than 30 years, and have married a Portuguese lady whose mother was Scottish and father Portuguese. My eldest was ,and youngest still is in an English school. I also consider myself to be an honorary “Porra”. My children can sometimes be confused on what they are, depending on the audience they can be Afrikaans, English or Portuguese.

Why do Greeks and Portuguese people own Café’s and Greengrocers in South Africa?

When my wife and her Portuguese friends and family get together, someone always mentions the wasted space in my garden where a possible vegetable patch (including the tomatsh and potatsh) could be planted. When my wife and her Portuguese friends and family get together I am always concerned that they will plant tomatoes and cabbages in my garden.

Then there is also the famous Greek joke, that you cannot give the Greek football team a corner as they will build a café. Why is this the case?

My take on this is that it is because they had no choice. My late father-in-law, Manny Lourenco, was a prop in the Roodepoort rugby team, whilst at the same time by wife’s younger brother was a wing in the same team. Father and son played in the same team. Manny was the strongest man I ever met and a very good rugby player that thoroughly enjoyed the game. He played in trials for Transvaal, but was told that he would never be put in the team as he is Portuguese. To this day, all my “Porra” in-laws support the Free State (and now the Cheetahs) as a result of that decision made by the then Transvaal Rugby Union. The point about this is that there was a prejudice towards the Portuguese and Greeks and they had no choice but to become entrepreneurs and start corner cafes and greengrocers. My eldest daughter met a Portuguese student on campus the other day, and within five minutes of meeting him and him finding out that she was Portuguese he said to her “So what business does your family own?”

What happened to my fellow graduates that studied with me in the eighties?

It was a huge privilege for me to attend my University residence reunion over the past weekend. It was a two day event and was attended by some 150 of us. It was our first official get together in 35 years. It was unbelievable to see everybody again. Most of us studied something in the business science environment and a large proportion of us became lawyers or engineers.

When we went into the “koshuis”, we all had a very similar background. We all came from Afrikaans “white only” schools and all had the same religion with a “Christlike Nasionale” outlook on life. We were all also roughly the same age. We borrowed money from banks to study, or our parents paid for our studies, and some had bursaries from corporate entities. It was a very homogenous environment and diversity was a word that we had never heard of.

At the illustrious reunion that I went to, I expected to find my friends to be working in the corporate environment, to be bankers, consulting engineers, partners in auditing firms or to be lawyers in big legal practises. I was pleasantly surprised as this was not the case at all. I must have spoken to eighty people over the two days, and found only about 5 of us to be working in the corporate world in South Africa. What was even stranger was that those who are living in the US, Australia, the UK or Europe are all employed in corporate environments.

So for those who are in South Africa, what are they doing for a living?

The conclusion that I reached is that we all became the “Porras” and Greeks of the fifties, sixties and seventies. We became the entrepreneurs by choice or otherwise; – it does not matter. Most of us own businesses as divergent as trading in cycads, perfume dealers and manufacturers, farmers, software developers, wood merchants etc etc. These smaller businesses all employ the various peoples of South Africa, and that is what is important. Unlike our parents, people of my generation became entrepreneurs. And personally, I find this to be the largest surprise which I am delighted about.