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Ensuring Success
Launch of AstroTech Conference Centre to Suppliers and Media, Johannesburg

Liza van Wyk, 26 June 2008

Good evening everybody.

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you here tonight to the official opening of the AstroTech Conference Centre. It is a very exciting time for us as a company at the moment and we are fortunate to share it with all of you. Some of you here are friends who we have worked with in Training for many years while others are new conference centre service providers who we are looking forward to working with for many years to come. We are very pleased to be spending the evening with you and sharing some food & wine together.

Owning a conference centre comes with some surprising quirks. We’ve been on a very fast learning curve since we bought the AstroTech conference centre.

I’m a qualified electrical engineer and owner of a training organisation but have discovered that learning new skills is essential to running a conference centre. I’ve become quite a pro at changing soap dispensers and am fast becoming an expert on good Halaal suppliers.

Our finance manager, Mike Punnett can now add pest control guru and fish pond renovator to his extensive resume, Tracy Botha, our facilitator liaison, has become a signage specialist and Dawnia Leibrandt our IT whizz has had to overnight master the complexities of sound engineering. It’s been both a challenging and exciting time for all of us.
Studying the history of this beautiful building has been very interesting. It’s 85 years old. Issy Schlesinger, the founder of South African Broadcasting and Ster-Kinekor once owned it, so did Donald Trump’s father who had to flee South Africa after a series of questionable property deals. Then there was the time it was a gentleman’s club, but I’ll leave the details of that era to your imagination.

Liberty Life essentially saved this historic building, by turning it into the state of art conference venue you see now. We’ll slowly add to that. We’ve already installed generators to ensure that power failures don’t trouble us, and we’re currently adding wireless to enhance convenience for delegates.

This is a very challenging time to be making multi-million rand commitments in southern Africa. Tomorrow Zimbabweans were supposed to have gone to the polls for the second time this year and as recent xenophobic violence showed us, what happens there has an impact on what happens here. We’ve seen this all too well with the recent unrest in our townships.

The economy is posing challenges to all of us. If you ask any individual, any company or government department to spend today, they are going to think about it for longer and think more carefully about how and why they are going to spend. They want increased outcomes for their money in comparison to what they wanted a year ago. And this poses new challenges for us at AstroTech & BizTech.

So why did we choose to invite you out on a chilly winter’s evening to raise our glasses to new beginnings?
Because these truly are new beginnings for all of us in South Africa. Endings are often marked by discomfort & uncertainty. The very nature of change demands some chaos with lots of apprehension and that is precisely where we are in South Africa at present.

We are at the end of the Mbeki era. We’re reaching the end of an international era; George Bush will leave the White House in January next year, possibly to make way for America’s first black president. The global superpower axis has shifted; Europe politically and economically now dominates the world. China and India are racing ahead. With food prices, oil prices and the impact of sub-prime lending, global economies are experiencing enormous shifts.
Everything is telling us – whether in finance or politics, training or our personal lives that it’s time to reflect, analyse, and grow.

We have choices in South Africa we can sit and wait while the world moves past us, or we can seize these challenging times to come up with new visions & fresh approaches … Yesterday’s answers do not always give us today’s solutions.
This is why we are celebrating tonight. In the work that each one of us does in training, in imparting knowledge and in encouraging the facilitation of new ideas we are working on building tomorrow. Our work is not just about dictating set lessons and PowerPoint's, our work is about encouraging people to think in new ways, to trust their judgement & to come up with fresh solutions.

Management today is completely different from the authoritarian hierarchical structures that prevailed when this conference centre was built. Then it was believed that the men at the top – and they were all men in those days – had the answers. Today in this high tech fast moving world, there is no single truth, no absolute answers, we approach challenges from many directions. We know that failure carries benefits because it alerts us to difficulties and obstacles.
Some of the most gifted people in the world today were young university drop outs – Richard Branson, Bill Gates, the Google boys – Larry Page and Sergey Brin & Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

These are all people who saw obstacles as opportunity. They believe in themselves. They built teams around them of clever, courageous people who are excited by hard work. They’ve all set higher goals this year.

We at AstroTech and BizTech are excited by the future. We realise that those who lose are those who fail to move. The depressed will always see bleak futures, they don’t look up long enough to see opportunity standing before them.
We have seen excellent bookings of the facilities at this conference centre since opening at the beginning of May. We had given ourselves a year to fill the conference centre but after only a month of operation, our facilities are already almost fully booked until the end of the year for all different types of functions

In this challenging year, the year of opportunity and new directions, we have to work harder & smarter. This country has a massive skills shortage – our work is in boosting skills. Inside this gracious old building, we are the designers of South Africa’s new future. The more we can inspire, the better we motivate, the greater tomorrow will be.
It’s up to us.

Parag Khana in his book The Second World tells us the “the world’s most compelling ideology is neither democracy nor capitalism nor any other ism, but success.”

That is what your job and my job is about: ensuring success. To do that we have to walk, talk and live success.
When you step outside tonight I’d like you to look up – it’s not darkness you should focus on, but stars. It’s not the cold you should think of, but the fact that we’ve had the shortest day of the year, and that means summer is coming.

Tonight we dedicate the AstroTech Conference Centre to the pursuit of success. Yours, ours and everyone who walks through these doors.

To quote Bill Cosby on Success, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” And always remember these wise words of an unknown writer “If at first you do Succeed – try to hide your astonishment.”

I sincerely hope that you enjoy the evening with us and once again thank you for joining us here tonight.