“Take political risks and trust in South Africa – there are great opportunities ahead.” This was the message delivered by John Copelyn, CEO of Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) Limited at a YAD business breakfast.

Copelyn told the audience that he had felt a “sense of great panic” when he saw the advertisement announcing his talk and warned them to lower their expectations of what they would learn from him. “I fear not much,” he said.

In the event, this was patently untrue as he inspired listeners with his positivity about the country’s future and also his company’s success through being prepared to take political risks in a “rather different and special” business.

Copelyn, an admitted attorney, worked in several roles in the trade union movement over 20 years, joking that he had became general secretary of his union after only a week as then-minister of police, Jimmy Kruger, had “banned and house arrested all my predecessors!”

A former ANC MP, he recalled how in 1993 he had seen the opportunity to build a large capital base for the trade union movement which until then had depended on donations, handouts and subscriptions from members. HCI now provides a base for all the social work the trade union does, including giving housing loans to members, operating a “massive” bursary scheme for their children studying ‘at tertiary institutions and providing mobile clinics and testing for HIV.

The first principle HCI had adopted was to “try to play to our strengths”, Copelyn noted, adding that it focused on political risk as a criterion in selecting businesses with which to become involved.

One of HCI’s social goals was to provide jobs, Copelyn added. Referring to job losses in the clothing and textile industry due to lack of competitiveness and inroads made by countries from the East, he said one could react in one of two ways.

“Either you can aspire to be a nation of shopkeepers and not produce anything or we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and compete on the same terms as the Chinese operate. We have to produce garments as good and as cheaply as the rest of the world – I believe it’s possible.”

A “key Issue” as far as Copelyn was concerned and a factor that distinguished HCI from other businesses, was its belief in the country’s future. “In the business community, I don’t think many people do,” he said.

“In South Africa, all the poor people love the place and all the rich people say, ‘This place is doomed – five years tops.’ This (attitude) has been there ever since I was born.

“If that’s your view of the country, it makes you behave in a way that you have to rip the guts out of everything, you can’t invest in anything. For me, that’s a disaster when the business community has that attitude.

“In 20 years’ time, we’ll have another breakfast – five years will have come and gone many times and we’ll all be here.”

HCI’s “simple” philosophy was to “take political risks and trust in South Africa – I’m sure there are great opportunities going forward”, Copelyn said, describing the country as “one of the last of the big untapped markets of the world”.

Source: SA Jewish reprot – Moira Schneider