achievement barriers to entry competition policy entrepreneurship Rhodes Scholarship

Reflections on success: fighting the world’s fight

Part 3/3 of remarks made at UCT Young Women Professionals Dinner

I have touched briefly on the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. It continues to be one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. About a week ago, we were in Oxford celebrating the 110th anniversary of the Rhodes Trust.  Some of you may be aware of the criteria that the Rhodes Trust uses in selecting Rhodes Scholars. I went through that process twice so I have had to think hard about those criteria.

In crafting his will, Rhodes came up with an interesting framework for evaluating potential, and in a way, success. I find myself coming back to his formulation even as I think of my life now.

In his will, Rhodes made it clear that his scholarship was not meant for ‘bookworms’; he wanted all-rounders. The qualities he sought in a potential scholar were: 1) literary and scholastic attainment; 2) fondness and success in manly outdoor sports (I think of this as a symbol for vitality and teamwork), 3) qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak etc. and 4) moral force of character, an instinct to lead and likely to esteem to performance of public duties. In modern and general terms, one can think of these as academic and later professional success, vitality and teamwork, compassion and leadership skills. In approaching any stage of life, I think these are important axes to plot one’s life against.

I implore you to ask yourselves these questions as you conduct your lives: am I achieving as much I can? And am I achieving it through respectable methods, in community with others, and taking care of my health and wellness? Am I taking the honest and courageous path? Am I compassionate? Am I exercising the leadership that is required of me, and also beyond that?
Rhodes Scholars are encouraged to fight the world’s fight. As talented women, I urge you to do the same.

I also implore you to equip yourself psychologically and spiritually for your career. We often approach our careers with a very academic model in our minds. You work hard, you are acknowledged, you get your gold stars and move on to the next level on the hierarchy.  No-one talks about screaming matches in boardrooms, protests and manifestos, failed projects and constant daily struggle to get things done. For example, unless you are an industrial relations major, there is little in a conventional education that can prepare you for the type of discourse and emotion that has seeped into our industrial relations even in professional settings. You have to be resilient whichever side of the placard you find yourself on.

I would now like to address the future entrepreneurs in the room. We are told that feminine qualities are becoming highly valued in the business world, and that this will be the woman’s century. I hope that’s true. But however welcoming the climate, as an innovator, as a risk taker, you will start off as a David amidst Goliaths.  Speaking as a competition practitioner, I will caution that in many industries, you will need to be prepared to blow stuff up, as Cindy Gallop, a phenomenal US-based entrepreneur often says. Blow stuff up. She uses a more colourful word for stuff of course.

Because in South Africa, and in many other emerging markets on the continent and elsewhere, you will quite likely confront many barriers to entry. Never mind gender and race. You will find supply chains tied up by former state monopolies. You will find menacing cartels that either shut you out completely or try to co-opt you, sometimes using the threat of force. You will also find those seeking to acquire your business, not to develop it, but to take out a maverick.

Nine months into 2013, the Competition Commission has scored some crucial successes in its endeavour to achieve the ideal of fair and efficient markets. We concluded a ground-breaking industry-wide settlement in the construction industry, which saw 15 companies come forward to disclose and settle cases related to bid-rigging in that industry. Bid-rigging distorts competition as companies create the illusion of rivalry, whilst dividing contracts amongst themselves behind the scenes. Instead of the best company winning a contract, a sham process has already occurred and the client is none the wiser. Projects that were rigged ranged from World Cup stadia to roads, shopping malls, industrial plants and apartment blocks. This behaviour hurts the government department that is seeking to develop infrastructure for a community or the entrepreneur trying to build a factory.

We also settled a long-running case with Telkom. This was a case of abuse of dominance as Telkom’s behaviour excluded value added network service providers from competing in the market. This R200m settlement, which also came with some pricing and behavioural commitments, followed a R449m penalty imposed on the company last year, for similar behaviour spanning a different time period.

Finally, I would like to remind us all that public service is something worth aspiring to. It’s not all gloom and doom. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report of 2013-2014, South Africa is ranked 8 out of 148 countries for the effectiveness of its anti-monopoly policy.

South Africa’s competitiveness was ranked 53 overall. Commissioner Shan Ramburuth has remarked that this is an acknowledgement of the enforcement record of the competition authorities.

The Global Competition Review (GCR) 12th annual survey of the world’s competition authorities rates the Commission at three stars, in the same league as Switzerland, Norway, Ireland and Russia amongst other countries. Our institutions need talented individuals to take them forward.

We cannot claim that we have rid the economy of anti-competitive behaviour. But I would like to think that the work of the competition authorities, modest as it might be in the face of the challenge, has opened up fields for you to cultivate.

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