A lesson from a stranger in the platteland

‘It’s government’s task to worry about the creation of jobs. Not yours. Your job as a manager is to keep your head down and make a profit.’
Issue date : 22 August 2008

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The TV images we’ve been seeing of xenophobia victims fleeing their homes and losing their meagre possessions has been unsettling to say the least. Pictures of this sort have been coming out of Africa for as long as we can remember, but they’ve always been from places far away. All countries of the world, even the most highly developed, have their share of vagrants, beggars and the homeless, but the scale on which this occurs in Africa and now in SA, is what sets us apart.

Watching the news last night, wondering what impact it was going to have on our lives in SA and how we are going to create jobs for all these people, a management lesson from the past came back to me. In our wisdom, we’d decided to mechanise cane cutting and had imported two chopper harvesters from Australia and were under the guidance of Aussie technicians.

 It was an exciting time. We were proud to be, at that time, the pioneers of this new revolutionary technology in the sugar industry. At the local pub, the evening after having given the machines their initial run, flushed with the success of the day and not to mention a few beers, the wife of a local farmer came over. She fixed me with a malevolent stare and said, “What you have done is disgraceful! How many people are these machines going to put out of work?” can’t remember how responded.

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All know is that the jovial mood died instantly. Having made her point, the lady left us and we all sat staring moodily into our beers. There was an elegant stranger on the other side of the bar, who got up and joined us. “Please forgive me,” he said, “but couldn’t help overhearing the conversation you were having and what that lady said.” He went on to introduce himself as a senior executive from a leading JSE-listed company which was widely recognised as one of the most progressive employers in SA.

He was passing through the area and had stopped over for the night. “can see you guys are shaken by the lady, but can assure you, she was talking complete rubbish. Sure, by mechanising you might be putting some people out of jobs, but unless you stay competitive and profitable, your whole business will fold and all the jobs will be lost. So forget what she said. Do what’s best for business and it automatically follows that it will be best for maintaining and creating employment.” H e cheered us up no end and he was absolutely right.

Our job as business managers is to run good, sustainable businesses which make a profit. They must, of course, be managed in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. If they’re not, they will in any case not be around for too long. t’s government’s task to worry about job creation, not yours. Government must create an environment where business flourishes and jobs will follow. As a manager you need to keep your head down and make a profit. I’ve never forgotten this lesson from the stranger in the platteland. – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303). |fw