An Interview with Alan Winde MEC

Minister Winde
Minister Winde

21st December 2015

Alan Winde is the Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities for the province of the Western Cape in South Africa, and is responsible for the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Economic Development and Tourism. He is a a member of the province’s eleven member ruling committee, the Executive Council.

Q: How do you think Zuma’s failures in the last six months have increased your chances in the regional elections next year?
A: I think they absolutely have. Zuma’s failure from day one has really given us the growth we’ve been looking for over time. But lately, we’ve seen him mess up more and more often, and he has now gone past a tipping point. Initially, we went into next year’s elections knowing that Port Elizabeth and Pretoria were going to be close but possibilities, and that Johannesburg might just be a bit too far. But in only the last couple of weeks, I can see that Johannesburg might be a reality. The Western Cape has always been our stronghold, and I now think that we’ll win various municipalities dotted around the country, which is exactly what we need to be doing because 2019 is the next big year for us. Unless something really drastic happens and we see the general election come forward, 2019 is the next stage where we want to be in government. Like any political party, we want to get 51%.

Q: How do you think the DA has showcased their wider strategies for South Africa with their governance of the Western Cape?
A: In our first term, we were determined to get the basics right: it’s about good governance, so we cut out the wastage and made sure we put the right systems in place. We had to take the taxpayers’ money and make sure we spent it efficiently and effectively. And I think at the end of the first term, we wrote what we called the Western Cape Story, and really that was about good governance and getting good audit outcomes, making sure our budgets were spent without large spikes and without dumping money, making sure that corruption was cut out by passing legislation which said no official in government is allowed to do business with government. In a 52 billion rand business, you never know whether you get it all cut out, but I think in general, we’ve been a very creative, slick machine, and you can definitely see in all the national ratings that we’re always number one. And now we’re starting to see brand recognition coming through, so even those small brand surveys, if they ask you to give an example of good governance, the Western Cape starts coming up as a recognised brand of good governance. Now we’ve moved into our second term, and it’s really about upping the game. It’s about service delivery, we’ve been a democracy for 21 years and there are still so many people in South Africa saying ‘What about me? Have I got a future? Have I got a job?’ We’ve just seen a big uprising from our university students. They wanted their fees to fall and to have a cheaper education, but it was blown up in other places and I think frustration was felt by the general society. So it was the students themselves worrying about their fees, but it was also about relatives not being able to get jobs, families not having futures, and people being disgruntled with the quality of government provided services. It was a bigger movement, likened to the start of our own Arab Spring. That was quite interesting, and if you bring those two together, I think you can see that we are on the right path, and people are saying that it can actually work, and that’s going to be our next challenge: over the next three and a half years to build enough delivery that people can feel it.

A Selfie of Me with Minister Winde
A Selfie of Me with Minister Winde

Q: Do you think that a weaker rand will be a benefit or be a detriment to the Western Cape?
A: It’s a complex question. The rand has weakened since Zuma came to power. When he came to power, it was about 8 rand to the dollar [at the time of writing, it is almost 17]. The rand has recently weakened further due to him picking different Ministers of Finance. If I look at the Western Cape’s economy, a lot of it is agricultural process exports (such as wines) and tourism. A weaker rand does benefit both of those, but in the short term. In the long term, a steady and stable rand is what we need, and to achieve this, we need good economic policy and strong leadership.

Q: With the recent climate change agreement having been reached at the Conference of Parties earlier this month, how do you think reducing droughts in the Western Cape could improve its agricultural performance?
A: South Africa is now in its second year of drought, but in this province, it is only the first year. However, we also know that through climate change, this coast will get drier and the Pacific coast will get even more tropical over the next 20 to 30 years. Droughts, as they are now, are seasonal and linked to the El Nino effect. We still don’t know if we’re going to get out of it next year, but I think the message across the west coast is that we need to start farming differently, and I think we already are. If I go and visit all of the farms on the west coast, I don’t find farms which are farming in the traditional way where they plough everything up and plant every year; they’re all using conservation agriculture, they’re all water wise. This year, we’ve only had 47% of the normal rainfall, yet we’re only losing 25%-27% of crop output, so the conservation agriculture is working well. I think that everyone understands what is happening; we just have to make sure that we continue to manage in this way. I also think that the commodity types are changing, so agricultural activities are happening in places where we never thought they would. Things are changing, it’s not all doom and gloom, and I think the smart guys are the ones who realise that change is happening and farming must adapt to what nature is going to deliver to us over the next fifty years.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: During the first part of my career, I was an entrepreneur. I had ten companies, and then I got into politics, although I still don’t really know why. I’ve never had a dull moment. I think being in business was a good grounding for politics, where I now have a portfolio that deals with the economy. If I had to choose one important lesson, it would be to embrace innovation, because through innovation, we are going to be able to compete globally.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years that you think has influenced your success?
A: Even prior to my teenage years, I grew up on a farm, and both my parents had multiple careers. My mother was actually the farmer and my father had a factory, so I had the two sides of a business environment. I think that growing up in that environment and listening to the dinner conversation around the table about bank managers and debtors and creditors made me think differently and about what I really wanted to be a part of. And if you link that to the South African context, we’ve got so many micro-enterprises in our country which are there because of necessity, because there are no jobs and the economy is not growing fast enough to absorb the number of people, and so people become entrepreneurs out of necessity. Children growing up in households where that happens will be inspired to become the entrepreneurs of the future. Our entrepreneurship levels are currently too low, but I think my parents’ example helped me. Also, my father liked to give responsibility, rather than hold it, so from a young age, he would give me the responsibility for various things, and that was a big lesson. I think that too often, people don’t assume responsibility.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I suppose if I did it again, I’d do exactly the same, although if I had to do it again I’d like to know what I know now and then do it again – obviously, that’s not possible. I’d do everything the same and follow the same path.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: I’ve met so many interesting people and they all bring such different things to your life as you’re moving forward. I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one. Just last week, I met an investor from India called Analjit Singh. He had the most amazing vision, and I am certain that getting to know him better would really enrich my life. The way he sees things, I think, will have an influence on me over time. People I haven’t met have also had an impact, sometimes through reading their autobiographies. For example, I loved Steve Jobs’s book. Another is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an amazing guy to talk to. Also, Trevor Manuel or Angela Merkel. There are so many people I come across in the life I lead at the moment: meeting people from around the world, meeting influential people who have done many things. I think that you pull little pieces from each person and each experience that you have.

An Interview with Tom Albanese

Tom Albanese
Tom Albanese

15th December 2015

Tom Albanese was CEO of Rio Tinto between 2007 and 2013, having been at the company since 1993. Since 2014 he has served the position of the CEO of Vedanta Resources.

Q: What is your current outlook on India? Do you think that India can compete against China?
A: My outlook for India is continued GDP growth averaging 7% or more per year, for the next ten years or so. This GDP growth will lead to a doubling of the Indian economy sometime between 2025 and 2030, and will lead to more urbanisation. It will require more infrastructure, and will certainly put a strain on all of the services, both at a state and on a central political level. In my view, India will not follow the same path of development as China. First and foremost, because it does not have the solidarity of the Chinese Communist Party, and the control and determination that comes with that central party. The democratic institution itself will lead to less control from the centre as India continues to grow. India’s growth will, in my view, be consumption led, whereas China’s growth was investment led. In India, people will begin to consume first. They will begin to construct buildings, and then the government will scramble to add roads, whereas in China, they built the roads first, and then everyone followed with buildings. Because India is a democracy, and because you have the power of the vote which acts as a release valve for poor people who may be dissatisfied, the Indian government will not be as concerned as the Chinese Communist Party has been regarding revolts from large masses of the poor. So India’s economy will not need to lift all boats in the same fashion that we saw over the past ten years in China. That means you’ll see again a lower level of overall urbanisation, and a lower intensity of infrastructure development between the two countries. India will always take a different path of development to China. India will not have the same speed of growth, and it may never grow as large as the Chinese economy. However, it will probably be more resilient, although possibly also more chaotic, in that the nature of democracy means that governments will change. You will see policies change abruptly as governments and political parties change, but you have less risk of the kind of social destabilisation that China’s history has seen from time to time, when large masses of their population became dissatisfied.

Q: Are there any other developing countries which you are optimistic about at the moment?
A: I’m optimistic about many of the developing nations in south-east Asia where you have, like India, a youthful population who have energy and want to live better. But I would also say on a case-by-case basis you can see emerging stars in Africa, in those countries where the governance is good, and they are receptive to foreign direct investment which can help them develop their infrastructure, and potentially lead them in the future to be low cost manufacturing centres, ie the next Bangladesh.

Q: How long do you think the downturn in mining will last for?
A: In many ways this downturn is as bad as the downturn we saw in 2009. However, in 2009, the entire global economy was in shambles, whereas now the general global economy outside the commodities sector is in good shape. There’s good news and bad news from that: the good news is that we don’t need to worry about the world’s economy falling off a cliff, which was very much the case in 2009. The bad news is that as a consequence of not having to worry about the world’s economy falling off a cliff, governments do not have to force upon themselves the same type of aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus, so you won’t see that spurt of demand which will take the current surplus we see in most of the mining sectors, and turn them into deficits.

Q: Are there any specific commodities which are you most positive about?
A: I think that you have to look at the individual supply and demand characteristics of the different metals and commodities to take a view. Based upon that, I would be most optimistic in the next 12-18 months about the prospects for zinc, as many of the world’s largest mines are exhausting as we speak. I’m probably least optimistic about the prospects for aluminium, because the Chinese continue to develop new aluminium capacities, and although aluminium demand is strong globally, the supply seems to keep growing in excess of that demand growth. I would put copper, iron ore, and oil somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Q: If you were looking to start your career today as a 16 year old, would you still go into mining?
A: When I was your age, I wasn’t thinking about what career I wanted to go into. I wanted to go to Alaska. So I packed a duffel bag of camping and climbing gear, and went to Alaska. My love of the outdoors led me to geology, which led me to start working for mining companies, which got me into the mining business. I think my message to a student of your age would be to find out what you’re interested in doing, find out what you’re passionate about, find out where your passion can lead to your career path. Don’t plan it too hard, but make sure that whatever you do, you enjoy it, because that way you’re more likely to do well, you’re more likely to learn harder, and you’re more likely to show enthusiasm to those around you. For young leaders, it’s those who show enthusiasm for what they do that generally get picked out by their bosses for the next big role.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Most of the time it’s been good news: it’s been about working hard and it’s about inspiring others and always being part of a team, rather than being an individual. Occasionally, in anyone’s career you have periods of uncertainty or setbacks, and it’s critical for someone anticipating that they’ll be successful over 40 years of a career to be ready to persevere, to have a thick skin, and to be able to see through those valleys that are inevitable in a career cycle. Stay an optimist.

Q: What did you learn during your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: You’re going to be surprised by this, but the one class in high school which I most remember helping me get where I am now, aside from the core curriculum, was when I took typing. In those days, people didn’t learn to speed type unless you were going to be a secretary. Now in the world of computers, everyone has to speed type. On the more serious side, I would say that I found the sciences and maths were what I always did best at in high school. I made this discovery because of the broad range of subjects you had to do at US high schools and universities, and I’d say that if someone has the chance to take a broad curriculum, that is well served.

Q: Is there anything else you wish you had done during your teenage years that you didn’t do?
A: I never went to rock concerts. I was working too hard.

Q: Who is the most interesting person that you’ve met, and why?
A: I have had the privilege of meeting many corporate leaders and many heads of states, people who are distinguished during their lifetime and after their lifetime. I would say that the ones I have been most impressed with were those who reminded themselves and others all the time that they’re still human, and they’re still individuals. This taught me that humility and being humble generates the greatest mutual respect and admiration.