Thursday, 6 August 2015

The shortest post...

Having spent a day in Gauteng for the first time since my many trips earlier this year, I can say one thing for certain. Buy yourself property in the Western Cape ..... it is going to expand.

Monday, 3 August 2015

and so time passes ...

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything here ..... quite an understatement I know. Life went from quiet, peaceful and searching for business to busy, peaceful and "How am I going to get to all of this?" in less than 12 months!

How did it all happen .... to be honest, we have been blessed in ways we could never even have planned in our wildest dreams when we left Namibia almost a year ago. The plans we made have not all come to fruition, and the plans we certainly didn't make have flourished and continue to amaze us.

It hasn't all been easy and without sacrifice mind you. Working away from the family for 3 weeks at a time is certainly a new and challenging experience - to those of you doing rotations in excess of a month.... respect. But the 2 weeks I get to spend full time with them in Stilbaai is precious to say the least. It is like a family holiday once a month!!!

A word on the mining industry ....

Helena and I discussed a while back ... and I actually think I mentioned it somewhere on this blog, that working for a large corporate carries no more job security than working for yourself. Well, our words had not even cooled down (not to mention grown cold!) and the iron ore industry tumbled to new lows. The job losses have been terrible to watch and hear about. The Gold industry is under pressure and pretty much all other commodities as well. So, to those of you reading this (however few that is), being in control of your own business (under the guidance of the Almighty!) - do not fear - it can be done.

Friend of ours have also made the leap recently from corporate to self employed and I am overjoyed to say, that although they are very busy and swimming in the deep end, they are thriving in their new life!

Again, the more I look around and see people in 'small' business working together, forming JVs to tackle a job that may be daunting on your own, and setting up new ventures - the more I see the key to South Africa's success. It isn't going to come from a new president (although the Lord knows we need a good one soon!) - it is going to come from small business start ups and hard working individuals.

If I could change anything so far ..... I would have started a business sooner - even if it was small and on the side-line. There is so much to learn.

Thank you to all those that support true South African small businesses - including fellow start ups that support each other.

God bless and Go BIG!

Just a photo I snapped on the way home from Riversdale to Stilbaai - now that is a view I can get used to!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The power of choice

(Today's office - SLOW lounge @ ORTIA international departures)

It is a fact that different people lead different lives, and you don't need a degree from Harvard university to come up with that gem of wisdom. But what is amazing is how significantly different people's lifestyles can be and how they ended up in their particular situation.

Take for example, the career that you find yourself in. Or, for those of you that wouldn't call it a career, the thing that you do to bring home the bacon. How did you end up where you are now? What would you much rather be doing if you could make a living out of it?
Career possibilities are endless. You can make money doing the strangest things these days - not all of them fulfilling by any means, but none the less, weird jobs can make enough money to get by on. Ten years ago, a "Social media marketing expert" was unheard of and certainly not going to make enough money to keep the bailiff at bay. Then there are people making a killing out of simple blogs - do yourself a favour and google it. Online marketing has created a whole new industry that never existed when I was growing up. Then there is that guy that gets paid a fortune to manage some exotic island! (Seriaaaas)

The other day, I called around to try to find storage in Stillbay for some of our furniture, only to be told that at R600 per month, all the space was full and there was a waiting list. So, essentially, someone with a little foresight, built a couple of storage garages a few years back and now enjoys the fruits of this without too much hassle - how difficult is it to manage a couple of locked garages! Easy money, maybe, but somewhere along the line he took a measured risk and made a choice. It seems to have paid off.
With all the travelling that I have done around SA over the last month, I have come in contact with so many small business owners. From people developing software solutions, innovative guys starting out with little more than a good idea and a heap of faith, people selling a myriad of goods and even some clever marketing companies. What do they all have in common. Well, in my opinion, very little. Except that they all made a choice to do what they are doing. Some may have had less of a say in the matter than others due to circumstances, but still it was a choice to some degree.

The internet guru flavour of the day seems to be to tell people to follow their dreams. "If you can dream it, you can do it". Well, yes and no. Yes, you should be doing something that you truly enjoy and find fulfilling. But does that mean that just because I love watching old cars being rebuilt on the Discovery channel, that I should go and start buying a bunch of scrap Landrovers (leave the jokes) and rebuilding them. No, it doesn't. Allow me to digress for a while to explain...

About 5 years ago, I was working at Sishen Mine in the Northern Cape. The Discovery channel sent a film crew to the mine to do a story around the colossal mining trucks that one of our contractors was using at the time. Being one of the few English speaking miners, I was given the task of accompanying them for the 2 day shoot and assisting them to set up the shots that they needed. It was both an interesting and trying time! A cameraman, I discovered, will do almost anything to get the perfect shot - not a good thing when you have the worlds largest trucks running around the mine. None the less, the shoot went off without a hitch and I got to see a reality TV program in the making. The real lesson came a few months later when the program was aired on Discovery. The result ....... very little, if anything to do with the real situation that was filmed. The story was concocted and aimed solely at creating suspense and a good story for the viewers. I suppose I should have guessed that, but the extent that the story differed from reality was a real eye opener. Since then, I believe very little of what I see or read in the media.

So back to the point .... What you see on TV, Facebook, twitter, the Sunday papers etc is not always the reality and probably only reflects a small version of reality. The media dictate to an extent what you think you want to do. They have become the authorities on what the perfect life is supposed to be.

Think about Facebook. When I go on holiday to outer eastern Mongolia, in all likelihood I won't post the photos of me being subjected to a full cavity search at the airport. No, you get to see all the wonderful Instagram edited images and you think ... "Wow, I wish I was there". That's how most people portray their holidays and even everyday life - the happy times, and mostly they are, but you get the point. The media these days is more fantasy than reality.

What I have found is that so many people let the media shape who they are and what they do. I think that is why life was so much easier 50 years ago. If you were living in Pofadder you would never have heard about the crime in Hotazel, let alone Johannesburg.  You wouldn't know who Oscar Pistorius was and you would care even less what he got up to in his prison cell. Today, you get second by second updates on his daily routine. Think about it,  does it have any influence on your life whatsoever? Should it? I for one, feel pretty down after I read about a boat accident that killed 200 refugees trying to get out of some poor country in Asia and into the promised land of Australia. Yes, it is a terrible and tragic event, but just think about it. Should I really know about  this? Should it affect who I am? In my simple opinion, no. And before someone jumps on a high horse,  think about spending that time and energy on changing someone's situation a little closer to home, where you can make a difference. Do something positive instead of reading or watching something negative and see what a difference it makes in your life and others lives.

Am I saying bury your head in the sand? Perhaps a little. Switch the TV off. Forget about Facebook and Twitter for a month. Don't pick up a newspaper. Get involved in your local community projects. Work in your garden. I can guarantee you that you will find more peace. You will enjoy your job more, or maybe,  just maybe,  you will spend quality time thinking about what you really should be doing... If nothing else, your family will welcome the change.

So, enjoy what you do, or get moving on doing what you should be doing but, and here is the punch line... be sure to follow your own dream and not one concocted by the media.

I'm off to practice what I preach...

Ephesians 4:29 ESV
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kulula and progress

This time I get to write about Kulula while sitting in my seat (27F), high above the karoo in ZS-OAM, Kulula's 'Camo plane'. I won't be repeating my amateur traveller mistake of forgetting the tablets pin after dutifully switching off 'all electronic devices' for the take-off. Unfortunately, this time it is a far cry from the newer 737-800 airplane that I flew on in the opposite direction less than a week ago. Not that I am uncomfortable - it's just that you can see the progress that has been made in the 23 years between the manufacture of these two planes. Maybe it is just a paranoid sense that newer planes should be safer ways of doing what man was never designed to do?
Having said that, the end result is much the same for the passenger. A fairly large piece of steel that hurtles through the air at around 800km/hr that you get to call your chariot for around 2 hours. So is the progress all it is cracked up to be... well let's go back to the concept of the good old padstal (Farm stall). 
Yes, you can still buy some enterprising farmers wares directly from him and enjoy a tranquil shopping experience, but the experience has changed for good and for the good. Everything about popping into these wonderful gems in the Western Cape (I'm sure the other provinces have their own eye-popping, mouth-watering versions that I have yet to experience) is about making you want to come back and visit them all over again. Great rustic designs, comfortable and quiet spots to drink a quick coffee, super clean toilets to keep the ladies happy and a good piece of green grass for the short people to expel all the pent up energy that was gathered during the last 5 hours on the road.
So back to the plane .. and the point. The legroom today is slightly less. It may be a few inches, but we all know how much difference that can make? The seats are slightly less comfortable. I'm not sure if I am imagining it, but the aircon (or do these babies have climate control) just seems a notch less effective. Oh yes, and they don't have those cool curvy things at the end of the wing tips - that makes absolutely zero difference to me, but it shows I am observant...
Now, taking these lessons back to our business that tomorrow will officially be one month old, what can be learnt. Firstly, things need to improve, even if it happens slowly and  over a number of years. That's what makes us human I suppose - we always want to improve our lot in life. Not to be confused with not being happy with what you have, but just imagine where humanity would be if Orville had said to Wilbur, "No boet, lets rather walk to Sally's place". I for one would be just outside JHB with a 10 hour road trip ahead of me.
Secondly, no matter how we improve things, more often than not, the underlying principles still stay the same and if any change compromises that underlying principle, you are going to sit with a problem. Take as an example the phone. No longer the humble tool that Alex invented a couple of years ago. Now it is a tool that can entertain even a monkey for days on end ... You have all owned a phone that has made you want to visit Steve or Kim Jung the 55th (Samsung?) and tell them exactly what you think of them. Well, that's just it - when the battery dies after 1.24 hours, the underlying principle of having a phone not longer exists, and the tool in your hand becomes a useless but expensive piece of plastic. Get it?
That's it for now ... time to turn off 'all electronic devices' for the landing, before this plane ends up in a similar state to those that fly for a certain airline whose flight numbers all start with MH ...

Monday, 27 October 2014

What's wrong with SAA?

So after a brilliant weekend at home with the family, I find myself on the road again. Well, not quite on the road, there was a little bit of air involved too.

I'm wondering about the idea of more people commuting between George and Johannesburg. Let's put it this way. I left home at 07h00 this morning and was in Pretoria at 13h00 for my first meeting. The ticket and the car hire cost me less than it would to drive and I saved roughly half the time. If I hadn't forgotten the PIN for my tablet, I would also have done a few hours of work. (Amateur mistake)

Will more people start to do this as the Western Cape becomes more attractive to business people... I have little doubt if I look at the people that were on the plane with me today. It's a great recipe - golfers flying south for a week of golf and businessmen flying north for a week of work!

I digress.... back to the subject, this trip got me thinking. Kulula has been going for some years now and by all accounts is doing fairly well. Despite competing against a subsidised airline, they manage to make a profit.

So what is the catch? I mean surely it isn't rocket science to copy a winning recipe I hear you say... Perhaps, but why then did 1time and Nationwide see their tailpipes? (I guess an engine falling off a plane helped Nationwide along to the history books!) They all had the same playing fields and rules, but one made it and the others folded.

What is it that makes one player in a tough industry succeed where others fail. I mean look at SAA, every year the bailout seems to grow. Now I'm no aviation analyst, but I enjoy reading the SA Flyer magazine. They have done a fair number of articles on the subject and it seems that it boils down to certain routes that the government forces SAA to fly (direct to Beijing being one) and also the older aircraft that they use.

Kulula fly all the very popular routes and I have never seen an empty seat on one of their flights. I have done a number of flights with SA express (in the same crisis as SAA) and there are often open seats.

Kulula also have cool, innovative ideas. Look at their principle of paying for on-board snacks and for pre-booking your seats. It's 70 bucks for your seat - not bad if you get to book an emergency exit seat with heaps of leg room. I'll pay that any day rather than hoping one is available at SAA when I check in. Their website also combines pretty awesome deals that are relevant to the traveller. I booked my air ticket and car hire through them and got an incredible deal. Everything about them shouts "Innovation". They are original ..... fresh. People like that. And everyone likes a good bargain too.

I'm pretty outspoken in my criticism of the media being incredibly negative and being a major player in the negative mindset that seems to pervade South Africa at the moment, so I'm not going to go further down that route. I'll focus on the positive - there must be something.

Well, Kulula is a success story. That's positive. Invest in Postnet .... that will certainly be positive in the not too distant future. Generate your own energy and get off the grid if you can. Plough energy back into the grid and you will be making a killing in the future. Esentially whatever is a parastatal organisation at the moment .... invest in the privatised version.... it's positive growth is inevitable.

What are your thoughts? Privatise SAA, simply close it down or keep bailing it out?

Do yourself a favour and Google "SAA financial crisis" - you will see articles almost every 6 months to a year.

On the other hand Darren (said with a Naas Botha accent), it would seem that this is not uniquely South African. See the article on Quantus airline in Australia making a huge loss. Malaysian airlines .... well, the less said the better. A run of bad fortune?

Read this article in the engineering news to see that Kulula are doing well. It seems that they are an organization that has a strong focus on improvement. I have always said, if the mining industry handled accident investigations like the airline industry, there would be even more significant improvements. Perhaps this should extend to focusing on productivity in the same way that Kulula seem to.

Do I have the answer? Clearly not, but one thing is clear. I'm going to support Kulula as long as I can. It's nice to back a winner .... or what do the Western Province rugby supporters say to that?

Proverbs 4:6-7 “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Life on the run - episode two!

Life on the run ... episode two.

So in my previous post, "Life on the run", it was all doom and gloom about the challenges of making use of the 'mobile office' as opposed to the fixed office and facilities that are the 'corporate office'. So why do so many people do it and what has been the upside for me so far?

"5 things that are great about the modern mobile office"

1) Your time is your own
I have never been an advocate of fixed office hours. We are all different and have different times when we do our best work. For some people, it is at night, for others it is early in the morning. Some of us have families, others don't. So why all work the same hours?

Having said this, there are places that don't have the luxury of this choice for obvious reasons, but in my line of work, I must say, I find this a refreshing change. If you plan your work, you can avoid most rush hours - both on the road and the dreaded visitors reception!

2)  Learning on the road
I have managed to get into the habit of downloading books for the long hauls between home and clients and listening to them via my phone. I don't have shares in (unfortunately), but it is a great site for audiobooks. You can get almost anything and the membership plan means that the books are pretty affordable - even with the Rand tanking against the US Dollar! Sometimes, I listen to books that I think I'll learn something from. Other times I listen to adventure books, just to switch off and relax. It makes a 12 hour trip from Stilbaai to Kathu feel like a morning milk run (well almost!).

3) The inexplicable draw of the "Padstal"
On this one, I'm like my mother. A good "Padstal" cannot be passed without stopping for a coffee and a quick look-see! For anyone that doesn't know what a "Padstal" is, loosely translated, it is a farm store, but the Western Cape in South Africa has perfected the concept! It is not longer Oom Koos trying to peddle his wares to the passing traveller, they have become rustic shops away from the mad rush of the city. I try to avoid stopping in towns and make use of these places as much as possible. Now I just need to find one with a petrol pump!

4) Airports are horrible... but interesting.
I am privileged to call George airport my home base. Google it and see the awesome pictures that describe the sleepy town of George in the Western Cape. It is a gem.

Having a yet unfulfilled desire to learn to fly, watching the small planes buzzing around the airport while waiting for my flight is a pretty good way to pass the time.

ORTIA in Johannesburg is not quite the same in terms of scenic value, although having worked there for a while, it is always great to pass through the bowels of this intuition once in a while to see if the peristaltic movements are improving or if constipation is setting in!

5) Choosing your office every day
Mostly, where I have been so far has been dictated by the people that I need to meet with and the companies that I need to see. But these meetings only make up a portion of the day. For the rest of the time, I need to find a place where I can get some work done. This is more complex than you could imagine - small things like plugs and background music become life changing decisions! Come to think of it, I could open a pretty cool restaurant geared at mobile office workers - you will be surprised how many people in the Spur at the moment are on their laptops, alone, getting work done.

My advice to places trying to attract this clientele:
  • Free wifi is a big draw card, and don't use a site like "Always On" - I don't know about the rest, but I don't want to log into your site every time I need wifi.
  • Bottomless coffee .... now we are talking.
  • Background music is just that - background. DJ Ossewa at 08h00 in the morning at 82 decibels is not going to keep me there that long!
  • TV is cool - stick to sport and news - no volume required - I enjoy reading the news bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • What's the chance of a boardroom in one of these places - now there is a novel idea.

The best mobile office in Kathu ....

So who gets the vote? It's pretty tough to beat this view. Sishen Golf Club is a marvel in the Kalahari and very welcoming towards the mobile office seeker. And who knows, maybe you can even squeeze in a round after work...

James 4:13-17 New International Version (NIV)

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Life on the run ... the mobile office

Commuting - long distance style!

Other than a 2 year stint working for a small engineering firm where I was the project engineer / sales rep / 24 hour response technician, I have largely been based in a fixed office.

A fixed place of work is great and certainly has it's advantages, namely;

1) You know the wifi password...
2) You have a fixed plug that you use to charge your phone / notebook / tablet...
2) You don't pay for tea and coffee... (Unless it's budget cut time!)
3) Printing is easy...
4) You have an access card and get to avoid the poor beggars standing in the visitors queue... (Industrial engineers - hope you are looking for improvement opportunities!)
5) You have a parking spot...

So for those of you considering a life of commuting .... get used to the opposite of the above and make a plan...

I now have wifi passwords for a myriad of places - I just hope that they don't change too often.

I know where the best spots are in most restaurants to get access to a plug and out of view if you need to get some work done.

Postnet has become a close ally in the printing war ... I think we are winning, but it's a close call. It is one of those things that when you pay for it you feel it is extortion, but you realise that it is the classic principle of supply and demand.

I have become a parking vulture, swooping on any unsuspecting vacant spot with a dash of shade and within walking distance of the visitors reception or the coffee spot. In the murderous sun of the Kalahari, I have also learnt the value of a windshield cover to reflect the sun...

Visitors reception is a thing to be ...well.... feared! Make a point of getting an access card where possible. The cost will most certainly be worth it...

Watch this space for the next update ... The upside of the mobile office...