Do you find that as a South African business with global aspirations that your South African roots are a liability when doing business internationally?
There are two ways of looking at this. If you’re in the wine industry, mine platinum or you work at Naspers, then being a South African business is probably of value when meeting foreign counterparts. But should your business be trying to break into a market where traditionally there isn’t an automatic perception that a South African brand can offer any value in that field – then perhaps your South African roots are better left unannounced. So if you’re trying to convince a global audience that you know a thing or two about space flight or that your incubator is producing some of the best 3D printers on the planet – adding your country of origin to the list of accomplishments may end up being a negative, rather than a positive thing.
Perception-wise, would Elon Musk have achieved as much if he’d operated out of Johannesburg, would Charlize Theron be a Hollywood star if her base was still in Benoni?
Earlier this year, whilst on an overseas business excursion, we were mildly irritated by the sheer number of foreigners that, when hearing that we were from South Africa, couldn’t stop referring to Jacob Zuma [with a wry smile] and asking about Oscar Pistorius [wincing as they said the name]. South Africa for them was a world of violence and corruption – a place beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil men. It didn’t really matter that their perception was unfounded and incorrect, perception is of course 100% of reality. So what they thought was the truth for them and as a result, business emerging from the region was tainted with inherit risk.
In the last 20 years, South Africa has achieved a remarkable transformation. It’s a transformation in progress, but one which we are mostly very proud of, and rightly so. But although South Africa has achieved much in the past 20 years, when competing on a global stage much of that success is overlooked in favour of the sensationalist headlines that we have now become known for. Our image has been tarnished. If we were Cell C – we’d be suing someone.
It feels sacrilegious to even be thinking about not brandishing our proudly South African roots everywhere we go, but when it comes to eliminating reasons for others to decline doing business with us – it might not be a bad idea to keep your South African-ness hush hush for now.