Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Can South African manufacturing compete?

Yes it can! Proven, no less, by Levi Strauss in an industry well known for making jeans for a few dollars using sweat-shop eastern labour.

From the Business Report

SA clothing industry can be profitable - Levi Strauss
April 26, 2006

Johannesburg - The strong performance of the Levi clothing factory in Cape Town, one of only five Levi-owned factories left in the world, over the past few years shows that the local clothing industry can be profitable while maintaining global best practice operationally.

Although tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in South Africa's clothing and textiles industry in the past three years as factories have closed their doors in the face of stiff competition from China and elsewhere in Asia, the Levi factory at Epping has gone from strength to strength, moving from being the 13th most profitable operation among Levi's businesses worldwide to the third most profitable in 2005.

Levis Strauss South Africa was named "Manufacturer of the Year" by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel at the Cape Town Fashion Awards last week.

Managing director Mike Joubert said Levi's South African operation had managed to persuade its US headquarters to retain the Cape Town factory three years ago when a strategic decision was made to move away from owning any factories at all. Instead, the company opted to invest further in the factory based on its potential growth in South Africa, and as a base for exporting to the rest of Africa and other markets.

Since 2003, the group has transformed its manufacturing operation to produce more high-quality clothing by improving efficiencies, doubling its stock turn and increasing productivity while driving down costs.

At the same time, it agreed to a new pay incentive scheme with the South African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (Sactwu) for its workers, which allows them to boost their earnings 30 percent above industry norms.

Levi said it viewed the agreement with Sactwu as an innovative and commercially sustainable response to the challenges facing the local clothing industry.

In the past year, the business posted 25 percent turnover growth on that of the previous year, making South Africa one of the best performing markets for the Levi brand in the world. One in every four pairs of jeans sold in South Africa is Levi Strauss.

Levi Strauss' Asia-Pacific division, which includes South Africa, Australia, Malaysia and China, performed well overall in 2005 with total net sales of $604 million (R3.69 billion), 19 percent higher than 2004 levels.

Over the past two years, Levi, like other clothing retailers, has taken advantage of the consumer spending boom, more than doubling the number of its stores in the South African retail market to 16, and plans to have 30 open by the end of 2007.

It has also strengthened its partnerships with national retailers like Edgars Consolidated Stores (Edcon), Truworths, Markham and Stuttafords.

Sactwu Secretary General Ebrahim Patel said the union had been working closely with Levi's on Project Spear, which aimed to integrate Levi Strauss' global experience and its 153-year history and reputation for quality excellence into the South African business.

"We support the project's aims and commend them for their confidence and commitment to the South African consumer market and clothing manufacturing base.

"The company's success is particularly encouraging taking into account that they pay significantly above the industry norm, and continuously invest in technology, machinery and skills development," said Patel.

Joubert added that Project Spear also focused on responding much better to demand from its retailer base for certain styles of jeans.

"This has allowed us to get the product mix just right, with fewer ranges and a stronger focus on our core business and products that customers want. There are fewer over-runs and seconds, and we've managed to keep prices as low as possible," said Joubert. - I-Net Bridge

Should these men be in charge of our safety?

The South African security guards strike drags on. And with it, more and more violence.

Yesterday saw six people (thought to be working security guards) thrown off a train near Benoni. All 6 were killed.

Throughout the strike, striking guards have injured and killed working guards as they rampage through the cities.

In Durban, a crime wave has hit as shops struggle to manage security without their guards.

This in aid of an 11,5% wage increase. Sure these guys earn small salaries (apparently an average of R2000). But unions other than SATAWU agreed to an increase of 8,5% - almost double the current inflation rate.

SATAWU's holding out should be seen for exactly what it is - a power struggle for members with other unions.

And the workers who damage property and injure and kill people should be seen for what they are - thugs who have no right to be in positions as guardians of human life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

how do you post on the move?

Blogger is pretty easy to post to on the move. Simply set your blog to recieve posts by email, then set up your mobile phone to be able to send email, and mail your blog entry.

Flickr is pretty amazing too. Set it up to recieve photos by email and it will give you two email addresses to post to - one to send pics to and another that will upload your picture and publish it to your blogger blog.

Which is how i posted this entry.

The photo is of a drenched toddler at mandela square. I watched him being continuously retrieved by his dad. When his mom took over supervision, she was much more relaxed... Much to the bemusement of the father when he ran straight into the fountain!

How do you put a video on your blog?

If the video does not display properly
click here to upgrade to Flash 8

So I've been getting to grips with my cell phone - bloody amazing, the Nokia 6680.

Seeing as I am likely to be more and more mobile soon, I wondered how to blog from the road.

Flickr is great for pictures, but what about video?

I found these guys at VideoEgg - if this post works then the publishing to Blogger through their platform works great.

This post gives you your first glimpse of IITQ too - good thing cell-phone video is so grainy - anonymity intact?

UPDATE 1: I've just got to figure out how to post HTML - it didn't parse that correctly.

UPDATE 2: I've also noticed that the RSS feed does not contain the video. So only those actually going to your site will be able to see it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What would you do if you won the lottery?

Perhaps it should be, "I'd need to win the lottery in order to do this."

 21st April 2006
Draw #115

For years my previous employer tried to get me to do an MBA. It was in fact a international requirement for promotion beyond a certain level. I protested that I did not feel that I would learn enough after my undergraduate business education and my work experience to justify the cost. I also felt that the experience would cost me in terms of promotion and experience while I was away studying.

Some years later, I walked the campus of Harvard in Cambridge and thought, "Mmm, I could come here - just for the experience."

My opinions on an MBA have not changed, but recently I have considered whether any further post-graduate study would be worth it. These thoughts have intensified as I have taken a 5 month sabbatical and am studying for my third major, economics, which I did not have room for when I originally studied - 10 years ago.

Getting back into studying has been difficult. Especially since I registered for a whole year's worth of subjects to be completed in 4 months. I write exams in a weeks time.

Anyway, the reason I chose to study again is that economics has emerged as my favourite subject and if I chose to study further it would be in this field.

In particular I am interested in combining the fields of strategy, finance and economics to provide greater quantitative guidance to strategic decision-making.

I'd love to study in Boston or New York. If they'd have me, Harvard Business School, NYU Stern, Columbia and MIT Sloan offer PhDs with specialisations close to my interest area.

Harvard Business School's PhD in Business Economics a joint degree offered by HBS and the Department of Economics and allows specialisation in business strategy and industrial organization.

Stern offers a specialisation in strategy economics (probably the best match to my interest area). Stern is known for its practical approach given its proximity to Wall Street.

Columbia Graduate School of Business offers a specialisation in finance and economics. The focus seems to be on quantitative finance though.

MIT Sloan offers a PhD specialising in Financial Economics - again though, it seems to be focused on quantitative finance.

While the courses seem attractive (especially the structure of the Harvard PhD - it includes much of the Harvard MBA), they all require 5 years of full time study. Good grief. Anybody who does the numbers will know that this would have to be for the love of academia rather than any hope of financial reward.

Costs of study include:
  • The course fees

  • The cost of living in Boston or New York

  • The differential of promotion you would have achieved during the study period and the level you might reenter at after study

  • Lost earnings during the study period

  • Lost contributions to retirement savings including their compound interest

Those are in order of ascending cost. Those of you who know how to do a present value calculation, try working out the value of your lost pension contributions and their compound interest (at say a real rate of 2% to 5%) over a thirty year period. It will make your eyes water.

So if I studied, I'd have to win the lottery. Would I study if I won the lottery? Not sure. I'm not the kind of person to lie on the beach for 5 years. I am intellectually curious and money is not my primary motivator, so perhaps.

But for now, the PhD is on ice. I won't benefit from it in terms of a career jump, and it's not holding me back.


See this article from The Observer showing that UK graduates only catch up to non-graduates' earnings at the age of 33. Now imagine taking time off from 30 - 35 - some of the most profitable earning years of your life (typically debts are being paid down and kids are not yet a major expense).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

So any answers to the sexuality question, IITQ?

I've been going through a journey of self discovery and recently come out of my first gay relationship.

I'm still confused and decided to go to therapy to provide some structure to my thinking.

I know I need to figure things out for myself and am OK with things turning out either way. I just want to know that whoever I settle with is the right person and not because I'm desperately seeking acceptance from the guys I once was at school with (which is a long time ago and really pathetic).

For me, accepting myself is key to being able to see the real attractiveness of the other person and not being blinded by an attraction to something that somehow makes me feel better about myself.

I worry that I am dealing with the trophy wife syndrome - except that because of my issues it needs to be a trophy guy. Which is pretty fucked up. Basically, I believe that many people look for a wife, a car, a house that says something about them. I wonder if Lolly Jackson's wife has big tits, blonde hair...
Because I wasn't the kid I wanted to be at school, I think I might be looking for a guy that was that person.

Sexuality is a funny thing. So much of how we see the world is framed by how we want other people to perceive us. Most of the time we're not aware of that. And given that sexuality is driven by our most unconscious desires, lots of screwed up underlying thoughts can interfere there.

So my shrink (who I think is very gay - and therefore a somewhat partisan cheerleader) has suggested we try some radical acceptance therapy. Which I have used with clients in business and I think is a good idea. The premise is that you cannot move on with something until you accept the status quo (example: screaming and shouting because a wall in a house is purple. You can scream and shout, but the wall stays purple. Only when you calm down and say, "The wall is purple," can you go out and buy some white paint). Which when applied to oneself says, this is who I am. This isn't necessarily aimed at sexuality, but some of the other issues.

Ultimately, once I've done a bit of work at giving myself a break, I know I've got to go with what makes me happy. I might not have reversed the moments in my life that have made me turn out who I am. I may not even understand them. And who I am is a pretty good guy. Maybe I'll finally just think that I was born confused and go with what feels most comfortable.

How many good policemen like this are there?

In all the shock, anger and sadness regarding crime in South Africa and most recently surrounding the Goldin and Bloom murders, it is heartening to hear more about the fantastic policework that has already brought 8 accused to court.

Well done to Camps Bay patrolmen Lekoba Seanego and Samkelo Mapolisa, and Detective Inspector Fourie.
Court appearance: Police lead one of the six men suspected of murdering actor Brett Goldin and designer Richard Bloom from the Wynberg magistrate's court. Photo: Ian Landsberg, Cape Times

From IoL

Police praised for work in double murder case

April 20 2006 at 05:57AM

By Caryn Dolley

Police arrested two more men in Cape Town's CBD on Wednesday for the slaying of actor Brett Goldin and designer Richard Bloom, and six men stood in the dock in Wynberg facing murder charges.

At the same time, the trio of Camps Bay policemen whose outstanding investigative work resulted in the slew of arrests, described to the Cape Times exactly how they did it.

The latest suspects are aged 20 and 25 and have not yet appeared in court. Police seized a pistol during the arrests.

This brings to eight the number of young men in custody for the Easter weekend murders, and according to investigating officer Stephen Fourie, more might be imminent.

In the dock in Wynberg's Court 4 on Wednesday were Jade Wyngaard, 19, Nurshad Davids, 20, Travino Cairncross, 22, Shavaan Marlie, 25, Rameez Zaeed, 23, and Clinton Davids, 23.

They each appeared on two charges of murder and one of robbery. Clinton Davids is the brother of alleged Americans gang boss Igshaan Davids, nicknamed "Sanie American".

Police are not yet sure if Nurshad Davids is also related to him.

As they entered the courtroom, they all looked towards the packed public gallery, then faced the front with their hands held behind their backs.

As magistrate Marietjie van Eeden addressed them, they all turned to look back at their friends and family members.

Van Eeden said the matter would be postponed until April 26 for information regarding bail to be obtained.

She told them murder was "a very serious offence".

"You run the risk of being sentenced to long periods of imprisonment if convicted," she warned them, before asking if they would appoint their own attorneys, apply for a legal aid lawyer or conduct their own defence.

All six opted for appointing their own attorneys.

When they exited the court, all six looked towards the gallery and Clinton Davids winked and smiled.

Outside the court, their tearful mothers were consoled by relatives.

Marlie, Zaeed and Clinton Davids had appeared in court on Tuesday on charges of being in possession of stolen property. Their case was postponed to Friday.

Earlier in the day, police followed a tip-off and found Bloom's missing charcoal VW Polo Playa outside a shopping centre in Athlone. The car's exterior was undamaged and it was whisked away for forensic examination.

Goldin, 27, and Bloom, 28, were found dead next to the M5 in Mowbray on Monday morning. Each had a single bullet wound in the back of his head.

They disappeared on Saturday night after leaving a dinner party in Camps Bay.

The men who were instrumental in bringing so many suspects to court are Camps Bay patrolmen Lekoba Seanego and Samkelo Mapolisa, and Detective Inspector Fourie.

They were among the essential services personnel who were honoured by Premier Ebrahim Rasool at his home on Wednesday for their outstanding work over the Easter weekend.

They related their tale to the Cape Times and their proud MEC, Leonard Ramatlakane.

Seanego was the senior policeman in the patrol vehicle when they pulled a "recklessly driven" blue Peugeot off the road in the early hours of the morning. Mapolisa is a trainee policeman.

"I thought it strange that they were driving very fast in a road which was a cul de sac.

"They went down it and I waited for them to drive back up towards us and that's when we stopped them," said Seanego.

He said they searched the three occupants of the vehicle and found one of them with Goldin's credit card, R1 040 in cash and a single bullet.

"I checked (the driver's) licence, asked him his name and realised it didn't match the one on the credit card.

"He didn't give clarity where he got the card from. They co-operated. They didn't go against us and did everything we asked."

The three were taken to the Camps Bay police station where they were questioned.

Fourie takes up the story: "As they were questioned, they started giving out information, naming names and streets.

"Cairncross (who was one of those named) was fetched from his Crawford home by an investigative team for questioning, and was then arrested."

"We followed up with the information and afterwards two (men) were arrested there. Items of (Bloom and Goldin's) clothing and parts of Bloom's car were recovered at the house."

Those two men were Wyngaard and Nurshad Davids.

Fourie said the one unknown part of the puzzle was whether there had been a gang connection to the murders. He said at this stage, the motive was robbery.

This article was originally published on page 1 of Cape Times on April 20, 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Can this death make a difference?

I've debated adding this post to what has become a bit of a theme to my previous few posts (here and here). I am committed to South Africa and love this country.

So was Brett Goldin and presumably Richard Bloom. Both young and successful, they were executed by what appear to be some crazed hoodlums.
Brett Goldin's tribute from the Crazy Monkey website Picture: Crazy Monkey

Despite their likely terror in facing their final moments, their pain was brief. They leave behind families and friends who will feel the sorrow for the rest of their lives. And their deaths have robbed South Africa of yet more productive committed young prospects.

It is good to see that excellent police work led to the arrest of the suspects in the murder, before it was even known that Bloom and Goldin were missing.

Let's hope that some of these high profile deaths (here, here and here) spur our safety, security and justice officials into action. In the words of Goldin's sister, these murderers are 'Soulless, heartless and root of all evil'.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Update to a question...

With all the sad news about crime - particularly farm attacks, it was heartening to read this.

Hijackings take a nosedive

Thembisile Makgalemele
April 15 2006 at 06:38PM

From IoL

Hijackings are steadily declining, the police's Anti-Hijacking Unit as well as at least three vehicle tracking companies have all claimed recently.

National police spokesperson Ronnie Naidoo says that according to recent statistics there has been a decrease of 27 percent nationwide since 2001.

Some of the reasons for the decline, says Naidoo, include the fact that vehicles are becoming more technologically advanced and are more difficult to steal, and the re-registering of stolen vehicles is harder since the identification and prosecution of corrupt officials.

Other reasons given are more efficient border controls, successful recoveries by tracking companies and an increased awareness by drivers of their surroundings.

More technologically advanced
Gauteng police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mary Martins-Engelbrecht adds that there has been a 36 percent decrease in hijackings in the province since 2001.

"We have seven task teams who deal specifically with hijackings and syndicates.

"The National Director of Public Prosecutions also established seven specialised courts. This resulted in a conviction rate of 76 percent, with an average sentence of 12 years' imprisonment. Several people have also received life sentences," says Martins-Engelbrecht.

Tracking company Tracker says that, based on its customer base of some 360 000 vehicles, hijacking in South Africa is down by 43% since 1999.

Says Tracker's communications manager, Gareth Crocker: "Our statistics are not a direct reflection of the climate of hijacking in South Africa, but they provide a reasonable indication. We are very encouraged by this trend but are well aware that the war is far from won.

'The war is far from won'
"Interestingly, our statistics also show that despite our increasing subscriber base, our activations have reached a plateau. As our customer base grows, our activations have not increased in proportion. In fact, they have stabilised. This is again an indication, certainly from our base, that vehicle theft is on the decline." Crocker adds that Tracker feel the main reason for the decline is better collaboration between them and the police.

"We would like to think that, in partnership with the SAPS, our more than 28 000 vehicle recoveries, some 6 000 arrests and the shutting down of more than 280 chop-shops and crime syndicates over the past nine years have played a significant role in bringing down both vehicle theft and hijacking. This, together with the contribution of the rest of the stolen vehicle recovery industry, is certainly making a difference," says Crocker.

David Shipton, divisional manager: operations at Netstar, also attributes the decline to a successful partnership with the police.

"Our dedicated recovery teams work closely with the SAPS when a hijacking occurs. Should there be a syndicate involved or arrests, we hand it over to the SAPS, who are with our teams at the busts.

"To date we have been instrumental in exposing and closing 93 chop0shops and syndicates, with about 121 arrests during these operations," says Shipton.

Brent Grüng, communications officer for Matrix, says that although they have noticed a sharp decline in vehicle hijackings in the past five years, there has been an increase in intelligent vehicle theft.

"Intelligent vehicle theft is crime where the criminal follows and records the driver's movements. For example: the criminal knows that they are in the gym between 6am and 7am every day. Therefore, this is the perfect time to obtain the keys from the locker and make a clean getaway. And this is just one example of many methods being used," says Grüng.

This article was originally published on page 5 of The Star on April 15, 2006

So I wonder: are increased farm attacks, cash heists and store robberies a result of the increased difficulty attached to hijacking? Are they just a softer target?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What do you do when deep in shit?

I had to copy this from Bosbefok's blog!


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Can South Africa stop the crime?

Charles and Joey Botha, who were found murdered on their farm. He had been hamstrung and her face was crushed with a brick. Photo: News24
It seems as though crime in South Africa is on a rapid rise again.

This is not a negative post. I remain committed to this country. Part of that commitment is being concerned about the negative things that jeopardise its future.

Every day we read horrendous stories of crime in the news. Many stories tell of sheer brutality on behalf of the perpetrators.

We have seen the unbelievable stories of:

I am a realist. We live in a miracle transformation of a country. We are lucky that the vast majority of poor disenfranchised people are as patient and peaceful as they are. We are a developing country with one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Other countries with similar issues have similar crime problems (e.g. Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico).

I am an optimist too. I have convinced friends to move back to South Africa - the latest moves to Johannesburg from London in a few weeks time. Our economic growth is fantastic and holds the possible solution to many of our problems. I even thought that perhaps it was possibly acceptable for the government to hide crime statistics from the public - so as to improve confidence in the country as a precursor to economic growth.

But while I am a realist and an optimist, I don't believe in excuses for unacceptable behaviour or performance (ask anyone who has worked for me!). There is no excuse for crime. Ask the guy at the traffic light who is trying to make a buck by washing windscreens. Or a hawker who sells less than a hundred rands worth of sweets each day.

There is also no excuse for the shoddy police work and corruption that sees criminals evade capture or go free. There is no excuse for underspending budgets and then blaming massive court backlogs on lack of funds (imagine if you were an awaiting trial prisoner - possibly innocent - for two years). There is no excuse for overcrowded jails that sees 100 prisoners in a cell and early releases for dangerous offenders.

Crime is threatening to ruin the miracle of South Africa's transformation.

I don't doubt that the problems our criminal justice system faces are difficult. But progress needs to be seen to be occurring. Preparedness to consider new alternatives is critical.

What about:
  • "three strikes and you're out" - the Californian legislation that enforces an automatic life sentence with no parole after three (any three) convictions

  • reevaluating the death penalty

  • involving the army to support increased numbers of police raids and roadblocks

  • intolerance of poor performance and crime in the police force

Of course there are problems with every possible solution - witness the problems with the three strikes legislation in the US. However, progress starts with an intolerance of the status quo.

I am in a position where I am considering my next job. There are many overseas opportunities. I am committed to this country and unlikely to move at this stage. But if I woke up with an intruder in my bedroom and shot him (hypothetically - I don't own a gun) to defend my family, as my cousin did, I would have to consider leaving - as my cousin did. I do not blame anybody for seeking greater security when they or their family are haunted by crime. When your kids wake up from crime-induced nightmares, I believe your perspective changes.

Perhaps most sadly, I am fortunate in that I have choices and I am fairly well protected in a security village. Most of South Africa live in townships and are subject to daily crime - being robbed of their wages or pensions by taunting youths or even their own families. You can be sure that if the wealthy are seeing increased crime, life for the majority of our population is becoming more difficult too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Is it time for a new national sport?

It would seem that way. One has to concede that we're just not as good as the best in cricket, rugby and soccer. We might console ourselves that we have the innate talent and that it is just a matter of execution, but results are what count.
Top guns: Ryk Neethling, Slovenia's Peter Mankoc, left, and Sweden's Stefan Nystrand, right, show their medals during the award ceremony for the Men's 100m Individual Medley. Photo: IoL

So I vote we adopt athletics (look at the outstanding Commonwealth Games performance - and this with minimal cash investment compared to rugby, cricket and soccer), swimming (Viva Ryk and Roland, Viva!) and golf (look at the number of contenders we have for our size).

Well done to Ryk Neethling for another stellar performance at the FINA world Championships in Shanghai - three golds and a championship record!
Splashing out: South African swim star Ryk Neethling celebrates after winning the Men's 100m Individual Medley at the World Short Course Swimming Championships in Shanghai, China. Neethling later won the 100m medley in record time. Photo: IoL

Well done to Tim Clark (2nd) and Retief Goosen (joint 3rd) in the US Masters. Tim Clark blew a -7 lead in the third round, dropping back to -2 going into the fourth. After that, he did well to steady himself and post a -5 for the tournament on the trickiest greens on the circuit.
Good showing: South Africa's Tim Clark acknowledges the applause from the gallery after making a birdie on the eighth hole during final round of the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia. Photo: IoL
I wonder if we shouldn't be having a ticker-tape parade for these guys (especially the swimmers) as a way of kicking things off. Considering their achievements, it would not be out of place.
The only problem with our new national sports is that it is going to be bloody difficult to build a pub / spectator culture around them.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How much is an MBA worth?

In South Africa, we have had an unhealthy fascination with the Chartered Accountancy (CA) qualification for many years. It is certainly an excellent qualification, but it became a testament to business knowledge when companies sought to appoint managers.

Elsewhere in the world, MBAs held the equivalent allure. During the 1990s MBAs gradually gained respect and popularity in South Africa.

So how valuable is an MBA? Value is typically measured by scarcity, and so the following statistic from Fast Company blew me away:

"More than 100 000 MBAs graduated from business schools across the country this spring, and while many of them walked away with a sheepskin - some graduated without a job or internship."

100 000 per year!

Of course, all of this means any of three things:
  • Employers will look to other scarcer qualifications as a measure of value

  • Employers will only employ the top graduates in an MBA class

  • Employers will attach far more value to MBAs from some schools than others.

Frankly, when I hire people, I look at performance and applicability as the entrance requirement to an interview. From then on, I forget about the past and judge the person on their performance in the interview and later on the job. That's why multiple testing interviews are important.

And now that I am interviewing, the boot is most surely on the other foot!