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Putting People First (1)

Enterprise Issues

With Siaka Momoh

How John and Ingrid, South Africa producers and exporters of fruits and Obi Ezeude, Nigerian manufacturer of Beloxxi Biscuits, are putting the poor first in their business

The Wolfaardts are South African farmers who put people first in the running of their businesses. This piece was first written and published in 2004, after a journey to Cape Town, South Africa by this writer.

Put against the stand point of whites who in the apartheid days enjoyed the luxury of paying slavish wages to black and coloured labour hands, and still want such to continue now when there is a new dispensation, the Wolfaardts must be commended.

Julie Streicher, a white who witnessed the dehumanization of non-whites, the black man in particular, related the story in details. According to her, officially, now, an appropriate and meaningful minimum wage is being pushed but the whites are not comfortable with it.

They hold to the archaic view that at least they are providing means of livelihood for those they have hired and as such these ‘fortunate labour hands should be grateful. This is the view that is still being held over two decades after apartheid!

Profits for people
But at the Wolfaardts, it is a different picture altogether. The Wolfaardts are thinking ‘profits for people.’ Ingrid, one of the white farmers, said “our natural inclination is always to put people first, because we believe that people lead to profit.” She was quick to add that “there is however no guarantee that putting people first will give rise to financial success.

“In the current depression we have in the fruit industry, the advantage we have as a people’s company is that we have 200 people pulling together to make it work and get us through, as opposed to one or two key people in management who have to think up all the plans to make it happen.”

How sincere can an entrepreneur be in respect of this talk of people first when, generally speaking, the ultimate goal of the business person in a free market economy is to make money, make good money? Can the Wolfaardts’ remuneration system qualify as putting people first?

Julie said they “are a duo that always put themselves in the shoes of their employees. She quoted them as saying, “We ask ourselves if we are willing to live with that salary, in that house, doing that sort of job?”

And a gauge of the fairness of the Wolfaardts’ remuneration package is reflected in Ingrid’s reaction to meeting her staff in Ceres on a shopping Saturday: “It’s wonderful to see people radiating good health and confidence as they go about their business in town. I am proud to be associated with them. It’s an easy relaxed relationship – greeting Lea with a hug in front of the bank, saying: “How gaan dit (How are you). Gaandit goed met you? (Are you well?)” – That’s Afrikaans for you; there are 11 spoken languages in South Africa and by extension, 11 ethnic groups. I hope I am right? It has to do with normalising relationships.”

Perhaps, the scenario here will be clearer if you imagine Mike Adenuga of Globacom or humility epitomizing Aliko Dangote or late M.K.O. Abiola hugging and chattering away with his low cadre staff on Broad Street, Lagos!

 Beloxxi Industries

The Wolfaardts’ trait can be found in Beloxxi Industries Limited a biscuit manufacturing factory located in Agbara Estate, Ogun State, owned by Obi Ezeude.  Ezeude, whom this writer met a day before his ultra-modern factory was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan, was one of the largest importers of cream cracker in Nigeria, importing about 600 containers every year from Malaysia by the year 2000. Armed with this robust import business portfolio, he entered into discussion with his Malaysian suppliers to join him to set up shop in Nigeria but they backed out. When he found out they would not bulge, his business instinct made him decide  to work on his  plan B, which was to do it and go it alone. He applied to US Exim Bank and got $2.2 million facility, and got an Italian firm to supply him machineries.

 To be continued next week Thursday on these pages.

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