5 things you need to know in SA business today and the remarkable life of Jack Ma, who is in Joburg today
1. A cabinet lekgotla concludes today amid mounting pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to salvage the economy. Yesterday, manufacturing data showed that SA factories actually produced less in the second quarter of this year than in the first. A scathing Wall Street Journal editorial slated Ramaphosa.“South Africa needs another enlightened leader like Nelson Mandela, but it keeps electing imitations of Robert Mugabe.”
2. Still, the rand managed to stand strong amid an almighty meltdown in the Turkish lira, which fell to a record low after the US said it was reviewing Turkey’s duty-free access to its market. The rand was trading at R13.30/$ this morning.
3. MTN reported its results this morning, with half-year profit down 7% as a slump in its business in Iran – due to US sanctions - hit the company. MTN cut its dividend by 30%.
Mtn results. Nigeria looking much better in local currency. Battling in Iran and south Africa. But taking into account Nigerian currency weakness the actual earnings are down. This is a terrible industry squeezed on all sides and must be the big player to just survive— Wayne McCurrie (@WayneMcCurrie) August 8, 2018
4. Nedbank reported strong interim results yesterday thanks to a good performance from Ecobank. Nedbank owns a 20% stake in the large West African bank. Nedbank’s headline earnings jumped 26%.
5. Treasury warned yesterday that civil servants in provincial and local governments are forcing contractors to pay 30% of government contracts in cash – in lieu of having 30% subcontracted, as provided for in preferential procurement regulations, reports Business Day.
The remarkable life of Jack Ma
Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma is at Wits today to launch a new initiative to boost African entrepreneurs. The Netpreneur Prize will give 100 young African entrepreneurs grants totalling $10 million.
A former English teacher, Ma chairs Alibaba, one of the world's largest e-commerce businesses. According to Forbes, he is worth $39.1 billion.
He has a true rags-to-riches story. He grew up poor in communist China, failed his university-entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including one at KFC, before finding success with his third internet company, Alibaba.
Jack Ma — born Ma Yun — was born on October 15, 1964, in Hangzhou, located in the southeastern part of China. He has an older brother and a younger sister. He and his siblings grew up at a time when communist China was increasingly isolated from the West, and his family didn't have much money when they were young.
Ma was scrawny and often got into fights with classmates. "I was never afraid of opponents who were bigger than I," he recalls in "Alibaba," a book by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery. Still, Ma had hobbies just like any other kid. He liked collecting crickets and making them fight, and was able to distinguish the size and type of cricket just by the sound it made.
After President Nixon visited Hangzhou in 1972, Ma's hometown became a tourist mecca. As a teenager, Ma started waking up early to visit the city's main hotel, offering visitors tours of the city in exchange for English lessons. The nickname "Jack" was given to him by a tourist he befriended.
Without money or connections, the only way Ma could get ahead was through education. After high school, he applied to go to college — but failed the entrance exam twice. After a great deal of studying, he finally passed on the third try, going on to attend Hangzhou Teachers Institute. He graduated in 1988 and started applying to as many jobs as he could.
He received more than a dozen rejections — including from KFC — before being hired as an English teacher. Ma was a natural with his students and loved his job — though he only made $12 a month at a local university.
At the World Economic Forum in 2016, Jack Ma revealed he has even been rejected from Harvard — 10 times.
Ma had no experience with computers or coding, but he was captivated by the internet when he used it for the first time during a trip to the US in 1995. He had recently started a translation business and made the trip to help a Chinese firm recover a payment. Ma's first online search was "beer", but he was surprised to find that no Chinese beers turned up in the results. It was then that he decided to found an internet company for China.
Though his first two ventures failed, four years later he gathered 17 of his friends in his apartment and convinced them to invest in his vision for an online marketplace he called "Alibaba." The site allowed exporters to post product listings that customers could buy directly.
Soon, the service started to attract members from all over the world. By October 1999, the company had raised $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $20 million from SoftBank, a Japanese telecom company that also invests in technology companies. The team remained close-knit and scrappy. "We will make it because we are young and we never, never give up," Ma said to a gathering of employees.
He has always maintained a sense of fun at Alibaba. When the company first became profitable, Ma gave each employee a can of Silly String to go wild with. In the early 2000s, when the company decided to start Taobao, its eBay competitor, he had his team do handstands during breaks to keep their energy levels up.
In 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion in Alibaba in exchange for about a 40% stake in the company. This was huge for Alibaba — at the time it was trying to beat eBay in China — and it would eventually be an enormous win for Yahoo too, netting it $10 billion in Alibaba's IPO alone.
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