Archive for the ‘Business Matters’ Category

Human Desire: What’s the Point(s)?

September 1, 2008

Wilko instigated this whole affair. He is a lanky fellow, with glasses and a cheerful attitude.  At breakfast one morning, he asked me how many Starwood Points I had. His guess was as good as mine, I replied. Ah, the nonchalance! The innocence! Prior to this, I had been receiving monthly emails from SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) for the past year or so, but not engaging with the contents.

It turns outs, upon closer inspection, that the emails contain updates of my accumulated points due to my stayovers at the Hotel Le Meridien, Stuttgart. A few days later I had the opportunity to discuss this with Whatshisname-from-the-US-via-Bulgaria-now-on-an-internship-in-Germany-during-his-MBA (believe me, this is easier than trying to remember his first name),

who told me that he had had to check-out during his months-long stay so that he could move
up to Gold Status. I was intrigued. I checked my mails again, and saw that I was merely a “Preferred Guest”: 8 Stays or 7 nights away from Gold Status.

I quickly checked with the Concierge whether I had to check out to upgrade and then check back in. He reckoned it was not necessary. I wondered, though, if I was missing out. What privileges might accrue to me if I reached the elevated levels of Gold, and then, onwards to Platinum?

I had, in other words, triggered my human desire for more! These previously pointless points, latent for a year at least, had suddenly acquired a deeper meaning. They had acquired a value. From then on, I became involved in ever more detailed discussions with the other consultants concerning this minutiae. What a wonderful scheme to occupy the minds of these highly intelligent people (Not quite The Glass Bead Game, but we’re headed there:).

We are privileged enough in having our client pay for our stays at the best hotel money can buy, but we additionally get to gather the points in our own names. That’s like having your cake and eating it, with extra ice-cream.

I heard stories of three week holidays in Barbados with “free” accommodation at a luxury hotel (‘paid’ with these SPG points). Wow! One can even trade these points for a round-the-world trip with the SPG partnering airline. Is there no end to the joy that only points can bring?

I naturally felt envy towards the others, and, I admit, a slight shade of shame, at my meagre rating of points. My mind feasted on fantasies of how I would get the necessary points and then, what I would do once I got them: stacks and stacks of points. In the end, perhaps nothing; perhaps all I wanted was the points. Or would the chase, as in so many cases, turn out to be more thrilling than the capture?

After a while, I began to hallucinate: endless stays at exotic locations; points falling like the snow I had first encountered only last year (one at a time, to be sure, but countless beyond measure, each one to be treasured); “It’s raining points, Hallelujah!” began to play at one ‘point’.

Aaagghh!!! I couldn’t get away from it, from them, my mind reeling from the effort of comprehending my life hanging by these points. The effect was somewhat allayed by the image of me swinging in a hammock, suspended by these same points nailed into the nearest coconut tree.

I had found a new purpose. I became determined to accumulate more. In short, I became human.

I even wondered, in an existential crisis over coffee, whether there was, in fact, A Point.

I leave the last word to the great Kafka who understood such things, a true visionary.
He wrote: “Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.”


Sex, Trucks and GLM…

July 30, 2008

well, it’s what we do here in Germany. Hee hee. It’s a coinage by my colleague, Herbert Blaschke.

I guess you gotta laugh at something. Or maybe it shows a high degree of intelligence to be able to get some laughs out of this work. Yesterday, we giggled at seeing Daimler A-Class vehicles with Coupe`!!! Apparently, you also get A-Class AMGs. Yikes! Some skanky soccer moms out there:)

A Cure for Consulting

December 14, 2007

Now remember this for future ventures.

When the brain is tired from working for 12-14 hours three or four or five days in a row, but it cannot rest because the whirring continues, then the following cure may come in handy: goto Bravo Charlie, or a similar establishment. Drink several beers. Dance.

My feeling is that this switches brain hemispheres, somehow.  I’ve known it, but really felt it yesterday, especially after the mental sloping. I have also mentioned the establishment elsewhere ( Even though one feels tired, it is possible to feel rejuvenated by doing this brain switching.

Now, is it possible to avoid sleep in this way? Perhaps not entirely, but it helps to explain why I sometimes feel less tired after being out till the early hours than if I had gone to bed after working hard.

Know your mind. Know your brain.

I finished my last day of work here in Germany today. I do not know when I will return.  Tomorrow I undergo climate change when I fly from winter to summer in 1 day!

Auf wiedersien iAfrika! iDeutschland ich bedeuten. Bis später.

More of the Sane

June 14, 2006

Margaret Legum 

This article was published in the Business Report on Wednesday, 6 June 2006. Follow the link below.

My friend Grace recently engaged a security firm to send one guard to her home from 6 pm to 6 am each night. She paid the firm R14,000 a month. We all now know that the guard himself was paid between R1,050 and R1,300 a month, regardless of hours worked. Nice profit.

The security company, or at least its interests , were represented at the World Economic Forum (WEF) which inhabited the high luxury of the Convention Centre last week.  The government was there in force – the WEF brings governments and business together.  But the security guard was neither present nor represented.

Does that matter? Poverty was high on the agenda even though poor people were not there.

It matters because there is no such thing as impartial advise to governments. The security company's profits are in direct opposition to the interests of its employees. It can get away with paying such wages for the simple reason that high unemployment creates a buyers market for workers: destitute people will accept anything. The fact of different power levels makes nonsense of the free marketeers' slogan that wages are a bargain freely entered into by both sides.

This obvious point is, strangely, often ignored by economic analysts and reporters. Thus our media routinely calls upon economists who work for large business, especially the financial sector, to comment on events and situations in which they have a direct interest. As though the manager of the Springboks were asked to comment impartially on the conditions in which a match should be played in which his team was involved.

Who gets what for doing what is the core of economics.  Economics is essentially about the outcome of differential power. It is about the strength that different interests in an economy can exert. A Forum representing business is perfectly legitimate, as are the interests it represents. But it is not impartial in advising governments how they should create policy.

For example, the WEF concluded, as reported in the media, that aid had little or no role to play in the elimination of poverty.  What should take its place is more investment by the large sources of capital. Countries seeking to end poverty should create easy and profitable conditions for business. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?  (As Mandy Rice-Jones famously said when an adulterous lover denied his involvement with her)  

Their position sounds fine, although it is hardly new. It is based on a number of falsehoods.  The first is that easier conditions for business – less regulation, more profit, flexible labour conditions – diminish poverty. They do not; they systematically expand the amount and proportion of wealth at the top.

That business advice has been applied worldwide for three decades, during which inequality has expanded relentlessly, profits have soared, and poverty has widened and deepened. Destitute people apart, more people who used to earn well have now become working poor, earning less than they need for basics; more have resorted to the informal economy including crime; educational and health standards have fallen worldwide; and the rich have expanded their wealth exponentially.
China and
India are quoted as exceptions – as the 'Asian Tigers' were before they crashed – but although they have more employment they also have more destitute people.

The reason is simple, and goes back to relative power. If you apply this prescription to all countries, you play them off against each other, obliging them to give you (business) larger and larger slices of the cake. And if you give business profits larger slices, you reduce the slices for everyone else. It seems amazing that we still believe this prescription.

The second is that only private business can address unemployment. Again that prescription is contradicted by both theory and evidence on the ground. Business stays in business only while it makes profits; that means reducing labour in favour of capital. Worldwide, business's success has been in proportion to its use of technology. The fact is that only governments can seriously address unemployment.

Try to imagine the effect of the following. After the business news in the media – giving details of the share prices and profits of listed companies, and leaving an impression of rising prosperity – an equal time were given to statistics about poor people: how many without work and/or without income, the wages paid to casual labourers, numbers of people living on the streets and children going to school without eating, the average temperature in shacks, the population that day of street children, the length of queues and extent of crowding in public services, including hospitals and clinics, buses and trains, prisons and offices of social workers, how many people has their services cut off; and how many died that day from what causes and in what conditions.

Would such a daily dose of detail change our attitude to the poverty we all know is around us? Would we insist that the WEF be balanced by an equally well financed and publicized shindig in which government took the advise of poor people and those who represent them?  Poor people are now so numerous that their only hope of equalizing their power as employees is through force or if government comes down on their side. Instead, business gets a much bigger hearing from government than people offering pro-poor prescriptions.

Business Day

May 18, 2006

No, not the newspaper. But there is some news. It has been very busy business wise.
Thanks to Neil Horne, who helped put our electrifying solution onto the website. Put this in your browser and read all about it:

We interrupt this blog for some advertising…

April 25, 2006

BreakThru Consulting will be presenting its solution for the electricity distribution industry at the African Utility Week, 8-12 May 2006 at the International Convention Centre, Cape Town.

The topic is 'Beyond On-Line Vending', to be held on 10 May, Track 3, 09h30-10h00.