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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Money can be everything after all – and books too

Publication Date: 7/10/2008

MANY YEARS AGO, THERE used  to be an advertisement by the sports wear maker, Nike, which said something like “only those who have never won anything say winning isn’t everything”.
We can say the same thing about money. Only those who don’t have it say money isn’t everything.

The difference with money is that you have a few people like billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who also suggest that money isn’t everything, and give lots of their fortunes away to charity.

So, there are two types of people who claim money isn’t everything; those who are broke, and those who are filthy rich. The rest of us in the middle could sure use some money.

That’s why your columnist has totally unrealistic dreams of becoming very wealthy one day. To keep motivated, I read quite a bit about successful managers and companies, hoping some of it will rub off.

Perhaps they never come better than the issue of Fortune (usually published in May) on America’s 500 largest corporations (the so-called ‘‘Fortune 500’’).

It’s many months since I read this year’s issue, but every day is like I read it only yesterday. Nothing refreshes like the story of, especially, Nucor, America’s leading steel company.

In 1965, Nucor was a tiny company on the verge of bankruptcy. With their backs to the wall, the board of directors made a desperate call. It turned the company over to a division manager named Ken Iverson, then just 39. As Fortune put it, the board seemed to say; “Here, you’re too young to know any better. Take it.”

Iverson began to slowly build up the company. Step by step, year by year, Fortune reports, Iverson added capacity, eventually breaking into the ‘‘Fortune 500’’ in 1980.

This year, in the ruthlessly competitive steel industry, Nucor retained a solid 151 on the ‘‘Fortune 500’’ list, with 40 years of consecutive profitability.

There are not too many secrets to Nucor’s success, but we would like to dare any East African company to try and match this one: As proof of the durability of Nucor’s corporate culture, the company’s annual report continues a long-held tradition of  naming every Nucor employee – more than 18,000 of them!

If that is what it takes, then I will never be a billionaire.

And from long-suffering Zimbabwe comes a story about money of a very different type than the 3 million per cent inflation that Comrade Bob Mugabe has wrought.

If you want to read some of the best writing on South Africa and Zimbabwe – indeed Southern Africa and Africa in general – the place to go is http://www.thoughtleader.co.za, a blog on the website of the quality South African Weekly Mail & Guardian (owned by the astute and solemn-faced Zimbabwean former editor Trevor Ncube).

‘‘THOUGHTLEADER’’ IS THOUGHT  to be the leading and among the most financially lucrative blogs on the continent. There you will find a piece by one Jeremiah Zure.

Zure throws up some surprises. Zimbabwe might look like a basket-case now, but it also has the second largest known reserves of platinum in the world. And, Zure argues, it will always attract foreign investment come democracy, dictatorship, rain or sunshine.

Need proof? Well, the giant Anglo- American company recently announced that it was  investing US$400m (Sh26bn) in Unki mine, amidst heightened talk of sanctions to punish Mugabe and his cronies for their rogue ways.

That proves, yet again, that I will never be a billionaire. If I had any money to invest, I would look for a place as far away as possible from Zimbabwe to put it.

Being smart and brave, Thomas Pilaar, a 34-year-old American man tried taking a shortcut to Fortune’s rich list.

The Associated Press reports that Pilaar, who was accused of checking out hundreds of books and DVDs from libraries around the Denver area and then trying to sell them, will be doing all his library borrowing from now on behind bars.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $53,549 (Sh3.5m) in restitution.

Of an estimated 1,400 books and DVDs that were taken from Denver Public Library, about 500 have been recovered.

While not condoning theft, in this age when not too many people read books, I tend to be sympathetic towards people like Pilaar who steal books — as long as they are not mine.

Now talk about books, and it brings us to that marvellous Italian author and philosopher, Umberto Eco. Recently a friend and I shared our private guilt about buying so many books that we have never got round to reading. At least one book I am currently reading is Nassim Nicholas Tales’s The Black Swan (highly recommended).

Tales writes that whenever people visit Eco and see his awesome library that has thousands of books, they always ask him if he has read them all.

Eco is usually puzzled because, says Tales, the important thing about a collection of books is not whether one has read them all. Rather, it is a store of knowledge. I have slept soundly since reading that.

Write to the author

About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.


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