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Challenges for 2009

AstroTech Client Breakfast Speech – 6 March 2009
Liza van Wyk, AstroTech Conference Centre


Good morning everybody and welcome to our first client breakfast for 2009.

2009 poses to be a challenging year for all of us both in business and our personal lives as we face what is widely expected to be the biggest economic downturn that many of us have yet to experience.

It means as business we, more than ever, need to focus on client service, delivering excellence and increased productivity and efficiency. The issue of productivity and efficiency reminds me of a little story I heard recently.

There are three young boys in the schoolyard bragging about how great their fathers are.

The first one says: “Well, my father runs the fastest. He can shoot an arrow, and start to run and gets there before the arrow does.”

The second one says: “You think that’s fast! My father is a hunter. He can shoot his gun and be there before the bullet!”

The third one listens to the other two and shakes his head. He then says: “You two know nothing about fast. My father works for Telkom. He stops working at 4h30 in the afternoon and he gets home by 3h45!”

We find ourselves in a completely new business environment and, therefore, we all need to be on top of our game more than ever before.

Last month Trevor Manuel tabled his 2009 budget speech to parliament and spoke of the global economic downturn. He quoted Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri saying: “If the things we face are greater and more important than the things we refuse to face, then at least we have begun the re-evaluation of our world. At least we have begun to learn to see and live again.”

Manuel said “Our task is to see through the challenges of economic vulnerability today to the construction of the new South Africa that is our passion and our pride.” He then went on to outline five enduring principles which he said had guided the framing of the budget. We were heartened to hear that “Sustaining growth and expanding training opportunities” was second on his list.

It is during tough times like these that many companies will recognise the benefit derived from their investment in training in the past and the value of training going forward.

I joked about productivity and efficiency earlier but in times like this it is the companies whose staff are the best trained that will outperform their competitors.

Our response to the downturn is in line with a quote by author and mentor to Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou who says: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

As a training company, we have had to take stock and reassess what we can do to provide the biggest benefit to our clients in these times. We have identified as key:
• Maintaining & increasing our extensive range of course topics available.
• Focusing on ensuring the delivery of excellence in our management training courses.
• Ensuring our topics offered are relevant to the times

Through maintaining & increasing the range of course topics that we offer, we believe we can assist business in fulfilling the anticipated increase in requirements for multi-skilling. Business can no longer afford to replace everyone that leaves and those remaining will be expected to take on more responsibilities and undertake new tasks. For this to be cost effective and efficient, training will be required.

We believe management & leadership training will become ever more important. With difficult times ahead and budgets tight, companies can increase the impact of their training spend through training their managers. A high-performing manager with a cohesive and well-motivated team can deliver substantially more than a poorly led unmotivated group with no shared goal.

Our intention is summed up by well-known businessman Lee Iacocca who says: “Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”

With regard to ensuring that our topics are relevant to the times, we are paying attention to a number of our courses that we feel will have higher demand in our current business climate.

Our 2-day course, Secrets of Debt Collection Success has been very popular. Ensuring you get your money in from your debtors and that you receive it in good time has never been more important. This course is presented by our facilitator Leigh Allardyce, a qualified attorney, who is able to present dynamically as well as convey all the technical information and legal implications.

When times are tough it is how we differentiate ourselves that becomes ever more important and this is usually best done through improved customer service. We have, therefore, paid special attention to our BizTech 2-day course, Becoming the Best Customer Service Professional. Here we ensure that not only are you saying the right thing to your customers but you are also delivering on your promises.

We have also focused on our three sales related courses:
On the AstroTech side, the 3-day courses:
• The Ultimate Sales Manager.
•Bridging the Gap: From Technical Person to Successful Sales Person.

And on the BizTech side, the 2-day course:

• Ensuring our topics offered are relevant to the times.

These courses are presented by one of our senior facilitators, Bev Riemer, who has facilitated training for AstroTech for over 4 years now. If you haven’t yet met Bev, you will soon, as she is doing our main presentation for us this morning.

Without sales there is no business and when the market is down, it’s more important than ever to ensure that you’re a step ahead of your competitors.

These courses have proven to be very successful. On one occasion we received a photograph from a client of ours and in the photograph was a picture of a brand new shiny, silver Porsche with a big red bow on the top of it. Alongside the Porsche, there was a guy standing and the guy had a really, really big smile on his face. Contrary to what you might think, No, this was not the proud new owner of the Porsche. So who was the smiley guy and why did our client send us a photo of him? The person in the photo was in fact Saul Marks, a sales executive from Porsche Centre South Africa who had just sold the car, and the reason that it was a special Kodak moment, was that this was Saul’s very first sale of a Porsche. We received the photograph from David McCann from the training department of Porsche Centre South Africa, who wanted to share the good news with us since Saul had recently attended our training programme “Bridging the Gap: From Technical Person to Successful Sales Person”.

It's feedback like this that keep us assured that the pursuit of knowledge through continuous learning is one of life’s keys to success. A continuing education is even more important in times of uncertainty and change. I’d like to leave you with a statement from Eric Hoffer, the American social writer and philosopher, who said “In times of change learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

I'd like to thank you all for joining us this morning and I'd now like to handover to Bev Riemer who is going to talk to us about "Thriving in a Rapidly Changing Environment".
Thank you.