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A New World

Speech by Liza van Wyk, CEO AstroTech Conference Centre, AstroTech & BizTech 22 August 2008

Good morning everybody. Welcome to today’s breakfast on this beautiful, soon to be spring, morning.
I hope you enjoyed the food that our chefs prepared.

It’s better than what you’d get if you were a shareholder of Irish company Fyffe's’ – which has an annual turnover of 500-million Euro a year. At their recent AGM, the Irish Times reported, “Just minutes before the end, a handful of shareholders of advancing years quietly made their entry.“They thought they'd timed their arrival to perfection, just in time for the food.
“The door had no sooner closed behind them than the chairman told the gathering that the slimmed-down company had decided to dispense with the usual slap-up lunch for shareholders.
“Instead, wilting investors were offered a free pineapple and a corer to help them eat it.”
I’m pleased that you were able to eat somewhat more heartily here.

There is something about Spring that gives us new energy, vitality and a desire to look at life and work anew.
It’s a new world and it can no longer be business as usual as economist Milton Friedman suggested. “As usual” is a term for those practising dinosaur economics, the sort of people who say, this is the way it’s always been done. The pace of change today is the most dramatic humankind has experienced. We at AstroTech see it as more people come onto our courses thirsty for new knowledge, not only to stay ahead but at times to just stay in the game. Existing courses of ours that continue to be popular are:

On the AstroTech side, the 3-Day programmes:
Finance for Non-Financial Managers
The Ultimate Sales Manager
Emotional Intelligence

The popular 2-day BizTech programmes include:
Mastering Confidence, Influence & Assertiveness
Mastering Minutes & Meeting Protocol
The Total Team Leader

Every few months we add new courses to our repertoire and revise some of our existing courses.

Some recent new courses that we are very excited about introducing are:
Graphs, Statistics and Numerical Reporting for PA’s and Administrators
Corporate Budgeting for Managers
Difficult Discussions: the Right Way, the Right Time, the Right Results

The Difficult Discussions course is a 3-day course. It addresses the interpersonal skills required to approach difficult workplace discussions in a way that is non-threatening, achieves the desired result and preserves the relationship. Difficult discussions are all around us in business. They can be anything from being candid in a performance review, asking a co-worker to start pulling their weight or plucking up the courage to address unacceptable behavior with an emotionally charged colleague.

Management guru Stephen Covey says, “There are a few defining moments in our lives and careers that come from crucial or breakthrough conversations where the decisions made take us down one of several roads, each of which leads to an entirely different destination.” He says that such conversations succeed if it is not about ‘my way’ or ‘your way’ but finding ‘our way.’

The course was partly inspired by the book ”Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson & three other co-authors. They note a wise and self-aware prayer as: “Lord help me forgive those who sin differently than I.”
The internet, email and sms are encouraging greater debate and scrutiny of all leaders; public annoyance toward those who think ‘business as usual’ is a suitable phrase, is increasing.
Let’s look at some indicators of our changing world and how it will force us to think in new ways.
US presidential hopeful, Barack Obama in his book The Audacity of Hope tells us that by 2050, the United States of America will no longer be a white majority country. Already Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia "are majority minority”. Twelve other states have populations that are more than a third Latino, black and/or Asian. Latino Americans are the fastest growing demographic group accounting for almost half the nation's population growth between 2004 and 2005.

Obama suggests too, that while affirmative action has advanced blacks, “we should consider spending a lot more of our political capital convincing America to make the investments needed to ensure that all children perform at grade level and graduate from high school – a goal that would do more than affirmative action to help those children who need it most.”
It is a message we in South Africa need to pay more attention to as half of our children fail matric and only 7% of those who pass matric are likely to find work according to government statistics. Furthermore, according to research conducted by the World Bank’s Investment Climate Survey, South Africa only trains 44.6% of skilled workers. This is compared to 77.3% of skilled workers receiving training in Brazil and 78.9% in Poland.

In the hard world of the workplace and with globalisation a reality, excellence has to prevail.
Obama asked a businessman why many employers hire immigrants over US workers if their salaries are the same? The response: “Let’s face it Barack, these Mexicans work harder than Americans do.”

Chinese and Indian workers earn substantially less than those in the Americas, Europe or Africa and work longer hours with less complaint and little or no work stoppages. It’s a new world and no one cares about old gripes, dusty ideologies and those who aren’t prepared to deliver more than two thousand percent.

Economist and author, Parag Khanna, suggests that America’s influence is declining, he says the new world includes Brazil, Turkey, India, China and Venezuela.

He says national interests are less important than global interests. It is no more "us" versus "them," but only "we."
What does that mean for South Africa? It means that we need to adapt or die. At AstroTech our business is about assisting individuals & companies to prepare themselves to face the challenges that the world demands of us. With the necessary skills and knowledge on hand, we can not only overcome the obstacles thrown in our paths but we can also set our goals and ambitions higher than ever before.

Let’s look at possibly the greatest challenge of our lifetime: climate change.
Every hour, three endangered species disappear. The destruction of flora and fauna costs the world six per cent of the planet's total income. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity says the destruction of natural habitats and pollution has created the worst rate of species extinction - three an hour - since dinosaurs died 65 million years ago.
The endangered list includes one in four mammal species, one in eight bird types, and a third of amphibian varieties.
Last year a California-sized piece of the Antarctic melted.

India—with over a billion people to feed—may lose 50% of its crop production in our lifetime because of global warming.
Polar bears could be extinct within less than a decade because the ice cap is melting so fast.
Ernst & Young have expressed the view that: “Going green is expensive but could pay dividends if consumer tastes and regulation shift quickly. Carbon trading is a reality in Europe and will almost certainly happen in the US.” Companies will more and more be expected to know and reveal their carbon footprint.

South Africa’s Dr Wayne Visser who edited The A to Z of Corporate Responsibility which was released in July says corporate sustainability and responsibility have replaced corporate social responsibility.

He says that in the past CSR was about image and brand. No longer. It’s about business sense. Multi-million dollar retailer, Wal-Mart, as an example, now sells only organic cotton and sustainable fish. Locally, Woolworths are reducing their products containing genetically modified ingredients and clearly labeling where they do exist, their wood products are now sourced from sustainably managed forests and more and more organic food & clothing is being offered to consumers.

In future, Visser suggests, companies won’t be ranked, they will be rated. There is no point in having great profits, if you’re a major polluter or a bad employer – those aspects will increasingly count in a company or a nation’s favour, or against it.

At AstroTech we can see the wisdom of those words. The world is moving extremely fast, never before has it been as necessary to have ongoing skills development and life-long learning as it is today.

AstroTech prides itself on having excellent facilitators, all of whom have extensive hands-on business experience and who encourage the sharing of knowledge and practical applications in our courses.

To conclude I quote from the words of successful South African corporate leader, Norbert Claussen who heads Powertech, he says: “You have to have a dream, to put the dream in place you have to have a plan, and you can only win when you know the odds.” To that I’d like to add, you can only accurately assess the odds if your management training has given you the tools to look beyond that which is immediately apparent and if you do this your chances of achieving your dream are so much greater.

I’d like to thank you all for joining us here this morning and thank you for all your support throughout the year. I’m now going to handover to Celeste Allan who will be talking to us about “Labour Law and the Real World”. Thank you.