Saturday, September 25, 2021

A speech by Ndaba Gaolathe, CEO, Photon PEMC at the occasion of prize-giving at Maikano CJSS

From the days I queued for malutu and dinawa at Lesedi Primary School – through my experiences at Daukome sandveld cattle-post where my father dumped my brother and I over the holidays, the cold nights at two American universities where I studied as well as through my professional stints in New York, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia – I am able to suggest that sense of purpose, a thirst for knowledge, creative instinct, team spirit and sound character are consistently the attributes with which most great global entrepreneurs are imbued. I hope I have already answered your theme for this year “Quality education: A window to entrepreneurial global competitiveness”. The education process ÔÇô academic instruction and non-academic guidance – must instill among our young these attributes.

Sense of purpose
Henry Ford believed that it was possible to find ways of manufacturing an affordable, personal and robust mode of travel (the modern car or van) and dedicated much of life towards realizing this purpose or vision. He is largely regarded as the father of the modern car assembly line technology. Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew was adamant on creating the world’s most successful airliner, picking the most talented but unknown managers to run Singapore Airlines and threatening to close the airliner if it lost money. When he was a student, Bill gates envisaged a world in which every child had access to a personal computer. He believed that the personal computer would significantly enhance people’s lives.
Ratsie Setlhako sought, restlessly, to find a medium to express to, and sometimes celebrate with, a wider population his deeply held convictions about heroes, villains and issues that mattered to him and his nation. President Festus Mogae and some of his contemporaries, in the early days of their professional carriers, were determined to build viable and robust Government institutions able to deliver the nation of Botswana from its then desperate state of economic and social welfare. President Mogae has accomplished his purpose with distinction and the question to you is whether you have found a purpose worth pursuing. Do you intend to build companies that will establish office in Hong Kong? Or do you aspire to be part of a new political order that will focus on a particular ideal? Are you headed for world championships? Are you going to sell mageu in Russia? Are you aiming to head Toyota Motor in Japan? These are the questions that confront you. It is wasteful to dwell on the performance of other people of and in the past. I promise you that if you work towards answering these questions, it marks the beginning of remarkable achievements to come, for you and your nation.

It is often believed that if you wish to pursue a professional carrier in finance, you must study finance or that a professional career in politics requires the pursuit of studies in political science or a professional career in management means one must enroll for a degree in management. Gilbertson, the CEO of one of the largest steel companies, Sual, studied physics, not management. Former President Mandela studied law, not politics. Some of the best bankers in the world studied English Literature, not banking. What is more important is for you to continuously learn or accumulate knowledge, directing your energy towards your passion, striving to master those fields that you immerse yourself in and developing the tools that hone your ideas. Even if your wish is to be a businessman, pursue a challenging discipline about which you are passionate (possibly engineering or even English literature), at the same time keeping a keen interest on business and exploring what new angles you could bring to business practice.

Team Spirit
Many of you I know hold that Brazil is the best football team in the world. Some even say no other team is as star-studded; others fondly refer to the on-field theatrics of the so called “magic quartet” of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano. Yet Brazil lost to a team regarded as old and waning, whose stars were hardly known beyond France. The side that played and beat France displayed a rare team spirit, eager to share in blame and credit; each member keen to offer something valuable, each player respecting the others whole-heartedly, trusting in one-another, pushing others other themselves for the limelight, exploiting each others’ strengths, compensating for each others’ weaknesses and wishing each other success. Brazil, despite its abundance of stars failed to win, some players displaying frustration with each other, some players reluctant to share opportunity for credit with others, failing to respect each other completely, some believing not in the team but in themselves and sometimes blaming one another and making allegations each other after the match.
For those of you with entrepreneurial aspirations, you will find that to elevate your ideas and practice to the international platform, you will need much more than raw talent. Sometimes you will need to surround yourselves with individuals that you may “not like” but that display a respect for each other and are willing to trust in each other, ready to push each other to acclaim, keen to accept when they are overlooked and always. Sometimes the only people that make a great team with you are those you don’t like, those you don’t know but you have heard of, those who are not your friends. Some are those who are diametrically different from you. In the company that I have the privilege of leading, a company that requires knowledge of finance and strategy, I picked, for the position of chief operations, a gentleman who didn’t know what the word finance meant, a physicist who studied physics and electronic engineering at the California Institute of Technology, arguably the best engineering university in the world. In my view, he was the best person for the job, not just in the context of Botswana; he would have been best even if I was sitting in Beijing, China. His influence in the company and valuable contribution to the vision of the company has been instrumental to our strides within and beyond Botswana. I think the effective pay of some of my team-members exceeds mine, although my title appears to be more prestigious than theirs.

Still, they deserve what they are paid, and deserve even more. I encourage all of you understand that ÔÇô alone- you will never be able to achieve much. I am raising these examples to dramatize the importance, when you rise to be leaders, of bringing out the best in you and those around you.

Creative mind

The people who make the difference in our lives are those that are able to do things differently, in ways not imagined; they are the people who are basic, yet inventive and innovative. It is not creative to sell fat-cakes but it is creative so sell special fat-cakes “magwinya a pop-in”; it is not creative to sell fat-cakes but if you traveled from Botswana and set up a fat-cake shop in Tokyo, Japan, I regard that as creativity or innovation. The Americans are able to mix water, sugar and a few unhealthy chemicals, then call it a fancy name “Coke” and then sell it to every corner of the world creating one of the largest and most revered companies, the Coca Cola Company. And we, in Botswana, possessing the tasty mageu, morula, segwapa, our African- art and phane are not able to create greatness out of our basics. The ones among you that will one day work around a basic idea and bring the world’s attention to it are the creative ones. You must start now.
Indeed some of the greatest inventions and initiatives emanate from Africa, but not enough of them; Africa deserves more out of its people. To name a few through history: heart surgery and its feasibility came out of Africa, the world’s first plant and largest oil-from-coal refinery is in South Africa; it is the Egyptians that “invented” paper, black ink, the 365 day calendar with a leap year and organized labour.
Africa is also breeding companies that are able to compete in America, Europe and Asia, some of them small and some of them large.

Soundness of character

The question that your headmaster asked me is one that seeks to unearth the character complexion (or set of attributes) that often inspire success of a global dimension. I wish I knew the exact nature of the character demanded by such success. What I am able to share with you though, are the character attributes that are shared among high achievers, men and women who have consistently risen above expectations. While many of us look far for heroes in politics, business, academia, sports, entertainment and art, I often look up to those that are close for inspiration. Often, we doubt the potential and achievements of our own. The attributes that are common to these men and women are found in their remarkable tenacity and self-discipline; they also possess immense inner strength and are often at peace with themselves ÔÇô they consistently exercise good judgment for their context. These individuals combine their tenacity and discipline with creative flair and team-power to build high impact institutions and legacies. Such legacies and institutions though, are not always readily embraced by immediate generations.
Like many of you, I have a father who is still alive today ÔÇô it does not matter what his first name is or what he does now. I think students who thirst for high achievement (including entrepreneurial achievement) will find the story about the person he is ( or his character) to be a truly moving experience: A man of extraordinary work-ethic, persistent on his vision and noble goals, unwavering on principle ÔÇô indeed, a tenacious man; A man with an impeccable sense of right and wrong, insular to insults and to unfair criticism, gracious to detractors, always focused on the big picture, reluctant to accept credit, a rare capacity for responsibility, incorruptible, never dwelling on the faults of others and clearly never in a rush to win pubic approval ÔÇô indeed a man of immense self-discipline. I am raising the example of this old man, my old man, to remind you that, along your journey, false friends with laugh and discourage you, you must endure; temptations to adopt short and convenient paths will emerge, you must resist; false praise, you must ignore; temporal opportunity for the limelight, you must pass; provocation to retaliate with anger, you must be calm; temptation to expose your detractors, you must exercise restraint.
A fallacy exists that entrepreneurs seek only worldly riches and that civil servants seek only to serve the nation. There is an abundance of wealth-seekers in both Government and the private sector. It is not wrong to pursue wealth, if it accumulated legitimately. However, my point is that true entrepreneurs actually sacrifice their lives in pursuit of a purpose larger than their personal gain. In many cases entrepreneurs sustain their drive even under the harshest ridicule and unbearable conditions; they go on for many years without pay (my team and I lived this way). It is important to understand that roles in Government, business, entertainment, art and farming, all, could be acts of entrepreneurship.


My students, my nephews, my nieces and my friends, you have asked me to share with you some thoughts about the relationship between quality education and global competitiveness. I have done so. Quality education is only quality if it cultivates in all of you, a sense of purpose, a creative bent, a team conscience and a sound character. With these attributes, you will stride across the globe, not just as the great entrepreneurs, but as great statesmen, great scientists and great people. Unless and until our own nation inculcates these ideals at all levels, we will circulate around the same station. I am convinced we are destined for higher station given some of the high achievements of your school and some of students ÔÇô the trophies from the SADC essay competitions, science fare, chess tournament, the 40th anniversary competitions and other achievements. Congratulations to you Maikano CJSS students, to your parents, to your head teacher Mr Thapedi, to the deputy headteacher Mr Selogelo and to your wonderful team of dedicated teachers ÔÇô You can be the best in the world, and you will.
Finally, my family has asked that I present an award, in memory of my sister Ms. Zingisa Gaolathe (who was a teacher and passed away last year), to the best overall student. She will fly to Durban where she will spend sometime at the side of a CEO in one of the South African companies, experiencing the challenges that CEOs of global companies confront. It was a real treat to be with you today.


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