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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Saturday, 26 October 2013


"Yes, we have ethics, but we aren't fanatics."  The words of a corporate client of ours some years ago when asked if it had a Code of Ethics.  In the context of the Frankies debacle and the latest accusations against Woolworths by Euodia Roets, journalist William Sanderson-Meyer explores the integrity of Woolies' self-proclaimed ethics and values. (Reproduced with the kind permission of William Sanderson-Meyer.)

Jaundiced Eye
William Saunderson-Meyer
October 26, 2013

Woolies plunged into another Frankiestein nightmare

For the individual, strident public assertions of one’s unassailable virtue have few consequences beyond sceptical smirks and a possible shortage of dates for Saturday night. For corporations, though, it’s more complicated.

In a world where consumer distrust is increasingly the norm, if such self-proclaimed corporate virtue is believed genuine, it can deliver fanatical levels of customer loyalty. Think Apple, albeit the shine has diminished in recent years.

On the other hand, if consumers begin to suspect that the supposed virtue is a sham, the disillusionment can spark a disproportionate anger at this perceived betrayal. After all, no one likes to be taken for a ride. Think Woolworths, which is being roasted for allegedly ripping off the work of a young designer, Euodia Roets.

Woolworths, like it’s British alter ego Marks & Spencers, has built its brand around fair trade, fair dealing, supporting local small suppliers and encouraging local artisanal products. As it proclaims at every opportunity: ‘We take our values seriously. They aren't just words in an annual report; they're the foundation of our business.’

This has paid handsome dividends, with ‘Woolies’ carving a snug place in the hearts of middle-class shoppers. But following a couple of incidents – at best managerial blunders; at worst, cynically sharp practice – Woolworths’ values are being questioned.

Roets says Woolworths approached her to add a hummingbird design of hers to their product range. Following a protracted process during which she provided various completed fabric samples, the buyer abruptly decided not to proceed.

Then a week ago she found Woolworths had brought out a cushion bearing what she says is her hummingbird, with some minor modifications. Woolworths rejects Roets’ version, saying that long prior to Roets, it had concluded a deal with another designer for the hummingbird image.

This may well be true, although it seems odd, certainly unwise, to open negotiations with Roets for a hummingbird after having already signed elsewhere for another. In any case, Woolworths is seeking cover behind the letter of the law when its problem is not a legal one, but a perceptual one.

There have been hundreds of blog postings critical of Woolworths’ ethics, with tales from other designers of similar shenanigans by retailers, including allegedly by Woolworths. Many cite another Woolworths blunder, when last year the retailer got into a protracted public battle with Frankie’s Olde Soft Drinks, a KwaZulu-Natal micro-manufacturer with a cult following.

After years of building its brand of retro-softdrinks Frankie’s had tried to get onto Woolies’ shelves. As with Roets, after lengthy negotiations, Frankie’s was suddenly shown the door. A few months later Woolworths brought out its own nostalgia-brand that looked disconcertingly similar.

As is the case now, Woolworths professed innocence of wrongdoing. It claimed it coincidence that a product it had rejected as ‘out of character’ with its image, was suddenly being produced under the Woolworths label in similar bottles and flavours, as well as slogan, to that of Frankie’s.

It was only when the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Woolworths had deliberately copied Frankie’s and ordered the retailer to remove its the look-alike products from the shelves, that Woolies backed down. Meanwhile the retailer had taken a five-month online drubbing for what was perceived to be bullying and unethical behaviour.

Woolworths now admits that the Frankie’s incident was a ‘debacle’ for the company. Chief executive Ian Moir said at the time ‘Whilst we maintain that we have not copied … it is clear that public sentiment is against us. Customer opinion is much more important to us than the right or wrong of this issue.’ In similar vein, just a few months back, Woolies chair Simon Susman identified as key to the brand’s strength an adherence to ‘deep-seated values’, including integrity, which are ‘entrenched in the psyche of our organisation’.

Perhaps Woolworth’s managers and buyers should follow their executives’ bold proclamations of corporate virtue more carefully. Whether out of cupidity or naiveté, they’ve again put the Woolworth’s reputation up for public interrogation.

As for Roets, she’s made up her mind. ‘It's my belief that my designs were sent to another manufacturer and adapted. It seems the only thing that Woolworths learnt from the Frankie’s debacle was how to disguise their plagiarism,’ she writes on her website, Touchee Feelee.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Someone else having a red-faced outburst about the behaviour of Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and others, you might be thinking, having read the blog title.  Actually, no. Not so much an outburst as some musings on what drives people to behave outrageously rather than authentically.

All three artists have wonderful voices, great musicality and, for the most part, produce some good songs.  (Not necessarily all my taste in music, but I'll give them their due nonetheless.  I din't much like Michael Jackson's music either.) 

Having said that, I must immediately say that 'Wrecking Ball', as good a song as it may be, has been truly spoilt for me.  Every time I hear it I can't help myself from associating the song with a video of a naked waif riding a wrecking ball and simulating fellatio with a sledge-hammer.  It's hard to acknowledge Miley Cyrus' powerful voice and musical ability in the context of her overt sexploitation of her audience.  Her twerk-fest at the MTV VMA awards was likewise so far from appropriate that she lost the song on most everyone who had the misfortune to have to watch her antics.  In her misguided attempts to push up ratings and shed the good girl image, she's managed to confuse her audience about whether she's a good artist or just out to prove that she can simulate sex with the best of them.

Rihanna's thrusting around in 'Pour It Up' takes tasteless to a new level.  Her lip synching at the recent concert in Johannesburg was simply plain fraud on the paying public.  Justin Bieber's recent run of discourtesy to his fans and showing a middle finger to the world might appeal to some, but I know of plenty of ex-fans on account of his lack of discernment and jerk behaviour.

And yet artists like Michael Buble, Katie Melua and Barbara Streisand have apparently never felt the need to twerk, jerk or thrust in order to boost their album sales.  They just keep on showing up as their authentic, lovable selves and their fans appreciate and adore them for what they are: incredible musicians, thoroughly decent and relatively uncomplicated human beings.

The drive to prove oneself through dramatic, undiscerning and inauthentic behavior might be intended to impress, but the cynical part of me suspects that the true purpose might be to distract the fan with sensational stuff lest the artist be found out to be a bit of a fraud, perhaps not as good as she or he wants fans to think he/she is.  Miley's thought pattern might be something like this: "I got away with it as Hannah Montana and I've got away with it so far.  But I think I'm not really that great - a bit of a fraud - so let me hedge my popularity base with something outrageous which will make them think that I'm not only a good singer, but quite cool and risqué also."

The tragedy is that the artist, by behaving in a way which she thinks will guarantee her future audiences and pump up her album sales in fact loses a big chunk of fan base: she brings about the thing she most fears, rather than honoring herself for the incredible musical gifts she has.

It comes down to how she esteems herself: if it is by thinking that a wrecking ball-type scene will cause people to love her more, she might as well change her career to pole dancing.  That way she can at least guarantee the type of fan who follows her.  Disappointingly, whilst her reality might be that people will love her more that way, she has forgotten to credit her audience with the gift of discernment.

If you want to be known as a singer, or performer, or indeed anything, 
authenticity is the way to go.  That way you're less likely to lose yourself and your message to the vagaries of your own insecurity.

Monday, 14 October 2013


"Where is the spiritual value of rowing?...The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of crew as a whole."  GEORGE YEOMAN POCOCK, extracted from 'THE BOYS IN THE BOAT', Daniel James Brown

I spoke in an earlier blog about there being no room in a rowing boat for the ego.  It is simply not possible for a crew to achieve its ultimate potential for so long as any crew member fails to subsume him or herself to the greater good of the whole boat and crew.

This is surely one of our purposes on earth: to surrender ourselves to the greater good, to sacrifice our egos on the altar of wholeness.  Let us not forget the origin of the word 'sacrifice'.  It derives from two Latin words meaning 'to make holy'.  When the whole or greater good becomes holy for us, then and only then can we release the ego and take up our place in cooperation with like-minded souls.

In the same way that no lone ranger ever formed part of a great rowing crew, for as long as we remain unconscious to that greater force in our lives, we cannot fully participate in it and contribute to its greatness.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


"It would be useless to try to segregate outstanding members of [the crew], just as it would be impossible to try to pick a certain note in a beautifully composed song.  All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades."  extracted from 'THE BOYS IN THE BOAT', Daniel James Brown.

I have always rated rowing as the greatest team sport on earth.  Put together a crew of four or eight of the strongest, fittest individuals you can find and let them all row for themselves.  Despite their lesser physical prowess, a crew of lightweights -  15kg - 20 kg per man smaller - will  thrash the big guys if they are rowing together and for each other.

There is no room in a rowing boat for ego's or individuals.   It will not help the cause of the crew one iota if you pull with the hardest power, have the longest reach, but fail to stay in time and rhythm with everyone else.  And everyone knows when someone in the boat is out to prove something, or is not pulling his or her weight, or is focused anywhere other than 100% in the boat and on fellow crew members.

We see plenty of individualism on our planet and often marvel at individual achievements, but when we see teams and countries pulling for each other and subsuming their own interests for the good of the whole (think cycling teams on the Tour d'France, think England hosting the Olympics or South Africa the Football World Cup, think New Zealand rugby) ego's disappear and the teams achieve greatness.

The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts, when the parts all play their part for the good of the whole.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


"One of the first admonitions of a good rowing coach, after the fundamentals are over, is 'pull your own weight,' and the young oarsman does just that when he finds out that the boat goes better when he does..." GEORGE YEOMAN POCOCK, extracted from 'THE BOYS IN THE BOAT', Daniel James Brown (a great read, btw).

I know a lot of people who don't pull their own weight: children, husbands, wives, co-workers, team members.  Eventually the others on the team get tired of pulling more than their own weight, and the team starts to falter.  Sometimes it fails catastrophically.

In my rowing days there was something extraordinary about knowing that there were no passengers on board the boat.  As a crew, we knew with unwavering certainty that every one of our fellow crew members could be counted on totally to give his all every time we raced.  One of the principal reasons our boat went fast - very fast - was because every one of us committed to giving his very best all the time, so no one believed that he was being asked to do any more than his fair share. 

You can't ask much more in any team.  Whether it is a team of two in a relationship, or four or five in a family, nine in a rowing boat, eleven in a football team or forty in a workplace, if everyone simply gives to the best of his or her ability, the team will perform up to and beyond expectations.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


"It is hard to make that boat go as far as you want to.  The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend.  So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them." GEORGE YEOMAN POCOCK

We can apply this to almost every situation in which we find ourselves.  For instance, when a relationship comes under pressure, your significant other may appear to be the enemy, but he/she is truly your friend.  The relationship dynamic is also your friend.  

The relationship problem is as much about your as it is about your partner. Whilst you may hate the challenges presented by the relationship dynamic, it is those very challenges which evoke you to be your very best, to learn once again to connect and communicate, to learn to love and care and nurture, all the finest qualities of humanity.  The relationship challenges invite you to rediscover your humanity and loveability, and in that sense the enemy is actually your friend.

Let that which challenges you also support and grow you.