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AstroTech Conference Centre
Finding Greatness

Liza van Wyk, 23 May 2008

It is with great pride that I welcome you here today to our new home, the AstroTech conference centre. The property was previously the Liberty Life Conference Centre. We have now been operating here since the beginning of May. We believe that by having our own conference centre we will not only streamline our own operations but also ensure that the environment and level of service received by our delegates is of the highest standard. Our aim is for our course delegates to develop the skills necessary to achieve great things once back in the workplace. We believe that providing a comfortable and professional learning environment as offered by the AstroTech Conference Centre contributes to the achievement of this goal.

I’d like to share with you some of the building’s interesting history. It was designed in 1924 as a home for a Mr Simpson and his family.

It is two doors away from the Oppenheimer family home, Little Brenthurst.

In 1930, multi-millionaire insurance company owner, Isidor Schlesinger became its new owner. Schlesinger was a colourful figure who had already managed to become a very wealthy man at the young age of 20. He later founded African Life Assurance Association and African Consolidated Theatres Group. African Consolidated Theatres Group was the parent of the now well-known companies of Ster-Kinekor and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

In the late 1940s, the Yugoslav government bought this homestead for their consul and then sold it in the early 1960s to the father of US billionaire, Donald Trump. His time in South Africa was apparently marred by a series of questionable multi-million rand property deals and he had to flee the country in a hurry leaving the property in the hands of his bankers.

After that the property had a brief life as a gentleman’s club and the less said about that is probably the better!

In 1989, the property was bought by Liberty Life which turned it into a state of the art, upmarket business conference centre and functions venue. It became known as the Liberty Life Conference Centre. We aim to build on what Liberty has done and turn it into one of the premier convention and training centres in Johannesburg. We’ve already made improvements. The whole centre now has a generator and we’re in the process of installing wireless access. We are convinced this will further enhance the positive training experience of our delegates.

We’ve had a busy and fulfilling year so far. We took part in the Financial Mail’s Rally to Read which is a great way to contribute to a culture of learning in South Africa while at the same time having fun and meeting new people. It is a charity event where you deliver reading materials to rural schools by 4x4. Twelve of us went by 4x4 to the Free State, to the very picturesque, Clarens area and delivered classroom materials to three needy schools there. The reception that we received from the schools was incredible. All of the schoolchildren were in attendance in their school uniforms and large numbers of parents and community members were present as well. We delivered a range of educational materials including books, science kits, teacher toolkits and netball & soccer balls. The programme is not a once off event but continues over a number of years and as such we believe it will go a long way to helping these children stand a chance of one day achieving their dreams. AstroTech & BizTech intend to be involved in future years too.

BizTech has introduced several new courses such as Practical Personal Finance. This was introduced after a number of requests from clients who said they were experiencing problems such as their staff overspending so badly that at times they couldn’t afford the taxi fare to work.

AstroTech has re-introduced our South African & International Taxation course. Other new courses are Corporate Budgeting and the National Credit Act both of which are 3 days in duration. There has been a marked increase in attendance of our 3-day programmes Emotional Intelligence, Technical Person to Successful Sales Person and Train the Trainer. The exceptional feedback we have received from delegates attending these programmes has contributed to their popularity. Other established programmes that continue to do well are Finance for Non-Financial Managers, People Management for New Managers, Project Management for Non-Project Managers, the Best Team Secretary or administrator and Mastering Minute Taking & Meeting Protocol.

I would like to introduce you to our new customer relationship managers who will look after any in-house training course enquiries you may have. As I introduce you, please stand up.: Firstly we have Leigh Caunter. Leigh is dealing with the needs of AstroTech & BizTech clients with names starting with the letters A-K. And then we have Clivia Martin. Clivia is dealing with those clients with names starting with L to Z. If you don’t get an opportunity to speak to them this morning they can be contacted at our office and would be more than happy to come out and see you.

Being in a historic place like this, one reflects on the challenges life brings. At this demanding economic period in South African and global history I believe we need to re-evaluate the imperatives of greatness.

Time magazine said the greatest person of the 20th century was Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, was way up on their list and so were people like Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Mother Theresa.

Each of those people had weaknesses, but it was their singular desire to respect the individual that made them people we admire and learn from. Greatness does not have to mean self sacrifice or political crusading.

It is difficult to identify precisely what makes an individual great, but great people are always good listeners, they are consultative and empathetic, they take calculated risks and put the interests of their organisation before their own.

John F Kennedy said greatness was found in those who had the courage to follow their conscience without fear, and to face the consequences.

Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general suggested that “the greatest test of leadership comes when a leader needs to go against the passions of the day.“

Bill Venter of Altron last month reported R22bn in earnings for 2007. He built Altron into a multi-billion rand global empire from a small enterprise. He began after getting a second mortgage on his house and selling his wife’s car. He suggests that to be an effective leader you need to:

• motivate by setting a superb example.
• Pay attention to detail, especially those details that make the experience of your clients or workforce more pleasant.
• Make people feel that they want to be part of your success.
• Have plenty of substance, be knowledgeable and a good listener.
• Attract and keep highly efficient people.
• Give something back to the community and the world you live in.

I would add that networking is important. Today, get to know those at your table because in business it is often who you know and whether they respect you, that propels you to the top ranks. It is important to acknowledge challenges, look at them frankly, then strategise how to use them to your advantage or manage them effectively.

Greatness comes in acknowledging when and if we are wrong. True courage is displayed when we recognise our error, acknowledge it and work to remedy it.

And with greatness comes responsibility to those who care the most about us.

A recent Gallup Youth Survey of American teens aged 13 to 17 found that the person young people most admire is their mothers with 11% of the tally while 7% of teens mentioned their fathers as the man they admire most. Gallup noted that: “though the greatest number of teens name their mothers or fathers, a far greater proportion didn’t name anyone… it’s disconcerting to consider that young people cannot name any role model or person who they admire.”

In this new world narrowed by the internet, where borders disappear as in Europe, people can traverse the continent without passports. Here common interests are more important than narrow prejudices and, therefore, it is important to learn from the positive examples set by great leaders. US political scientist Robert Rotberg tells this story that illustrates a lesson from Nelson Mandela: “my wheelchair-bound wife and I were among 1 000 Rhodes scholars at the House of Lords waiting to hear Mandela, Blair and Clinton speak. Mandela came in with Graca. They walked slowly up a long aisle and my wife, who he has never met, was in a wheelchair at the end. He stopped and said, “Oh my dear, thank you so much for coming.” It warmed the cockles of all hearts. After his speech, Blair and Clinton walked him up the aisle. He again stopped to say a few words to my wife, Blair and Clinton paid no attention to her and kept on walking.

From this story we can see that Mandela always pays attention to the people around him.

This is what we all need to do more of. Pay attention: to our lives, our businesses and those around us. AstroTech & BizTech communicate this message through our courses. Self-management & inter-personal skills are highlighted to assist our delegates achieve personal happiness & success in life.

Thank you for sharing this morning with us. We hope to assist you in training your staff to become the best they can be for the benefit of both themselves & your companies. Thank you.