Bob Skinstad’s strategy for South Africa

Bob Skinstad with recipient of Bobs4Good shoes
Bob Skinstad with recipient of Bobs4Good shoes
Bob Skinstad is best known for his rugby prowess on the field and his informed commentary on Supersport. But lately he has turned his attention to making a real difference in South Africa.

This evening I attended the Cape Town 27dinner at The Wild Fig. It was a great evening with 100 of Cape Town’s top technology, media and business people.

Bob Skinstad spoke about the Social Enterprise he has created with his business partners and how it is, with the help of people like you and me, changing the lives of young South Africans.

The bobsforgood foundation is born out of the need to challenge the detrimental social consequences of the 7 million children in South Africa with no shoes. The bobsforgood foundation creates hope, fosters pride and ensures dignity by providing free school shoes to impoverished children.

There are many ways to support creating a better life for South African children. I like the strategy Bob has taken as it is so much more than just a charity. By creating a business that offers children in need a pair of shoes with every shoe purchase, they have created a sustainable enterprise that can really change lives.

I’ve just bought my pair online at the Bobs4Good website and challenge you to do the same. They ship internationally and it offers you an opportunity to get some stylish shoes while putting a sole under the feet of a South African child who will think of you every time he walks to school.

The Barack Obama strategy

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

It is fair to say that Barack Obama took the world by storm, not only with his message of hope for America but also the way that he went about his campaign. In addition to the execution of his campaign strategy, he stepped into the forefront at exactly the right time. America and the world had reached the tipping point in their tolerance of the Bush government and he offered something which was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

This was certainly not the only reason that his strategy got himself elected. In order to get into the game he needed to defeat Hilary Clinton in the primaries which was possibly more difficult that beating John McCain to the White House.

In this short video David Plouffe. Barack’s campaign manager gives an overview of their campaign strategy in June 2008, 5 months before the election. Not only do you get a strong sense of clarity around their approach, but also of the many challenges, money being one of them, which they needed to overcome.

What Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common

If you were to start a business tomorrow how would you approach your strategy? Would you follow the traditional analytical approach? Analyzing environments? Analyze customers’ needs and competitors to see what they are doing?

This all seems to make sense and it misses a key component. Good taste.

The strategy that satisfies potential customers, finds a niche with the competitors and will work in the current environment is often so watered down and lowest common denominator by the time it gets out the door that it goes nowhere.

Asked about choosing strategy, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs says*, “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple’s retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.

“When we created the iTunes Music Store, we did that because we thought it would be great to be able to buy music electronically, not because we had plans to redefine the music industry.”

This struck me as very similar to the conversation I had with Rui Esteves who along with Brad Armitage founded the very successful Vida e Caffè coffee chain in South Africa. “We wanted to build a place that we would like to visit to have coffee”, he said, “Good quality coffee and food in a special environment.”

They did no research, no environmental analysis and no picture of the competitive landscape. They built something using their best taste and worked hard.

Both Vida e Caffè and Apple stand as beacons of success proving that there is at least one alternative to following the text book approach when strategizing a new business.

The lesson, follow your own sense of taste about what would make an incredible product.

When I spoke with Rui, we were sitting in his new venture &Union, a beer salon which is the retail face of of he and Brad’s new business Cervejas São Gabriel. The design of the beers and the salon? “Made of the type of healthy things we think are important,” says Rui.

Switching back to Apple, I’ve included a video where Steve Jobs walks us through the first Apple Store before it opened showing what he thinks is important in a retail computer store. How many companies the size of Apple have a CEO who dictates as much of their own taste into their products (and in this case store)?

So the thing that Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common, is the founders good taste, which I happen to agree is, well, good taste.

What other examples do you have of companies with good taste?

* Fortune magazine March 2008

Leonard Chuene’s real mistake

Athletics South Africa (ASA) president Leonard Chuene fell into the classic trap of not thinking far enough ahead when he made the fateful decision not to withdraw Caster Semenya from the Berlin competition.

Most of the criticism and calls for his resignation have been from the emotional/human level, his failure as a CEO of athletics SA.and the misplaced racism calls lodged by the government without first finding out the facts (more on that another day).

I think the problem is much simpler. He suffered from something we all do at times which is, in the heat of the moment, to not think strategically. This is not rocket science.

If he had played out the scenarios in his mind at the point when team doctor Harold Adams gave him the results of the tests and recommended he withdraw Semenya, he would have come up with 3 scenarios.

The three scenarios are based on the two biggest uncertainties that he faced; whether or not Caster won and if the gender issue which he was sitting on was found out or not.

Leonard Chuene’s real mistake

The lucky break scenario, in professional athletics, is so unlikely that it is not even worth considering, unless as one of my students astutely pointed out, Caster only won by a narrow margin in which case there might not have been so much controversy. Either way I don’t think any thinking person would have taken that risk.

If she didn’t win then the ‘Doesn’t matter scenario’ is unlikely to have caused much controversy. Then again, why enter someone in the athletics world champs unless you are going for a win.

Which brings us to scenario number one, the most likely and the one whose story has been written all over the world over the past weeks.

This five minute exercise could have prevented all the commotion and embarrassment. A few minutes thinking about how the situation could have played out would have shown clearly what the right decision was. Then again the inability to think a little bit strategically is the nub of the problem.