Billionaire English business man, bestselling author, philanthropist, founder and Chairman of a conglomerate of multinational companies, Virgin Group, Richard Branson graced the 2017 Global Expo organized by the BITC. He specifically gave a talk at a special event dubbed ‘Conversations with Sir Richard Branson’.
Before sharing his entrepreneurial experiences to an audience of captains of industries, expo exhibitors, senior government officials and young entrepreneurs, Branson paid a courtesy call on President Lt Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama and Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the office of the President. Branson who has been in Botswana before on private visit commended Botswana for its sound environmental conservation and natural resources preservation policy and management system.
Of his various exploits around the world Sir Branson maintains that his best African holiday trip was in Botswana. “The Okavango Delta, according to me, is amongst the top 10 best things to have happened to planet earth, the place is so incredible.” The filthy rich diverse entrepreneur showered Botswana with praises for its good ratings by the international oversight bodies on good governance and busting corruption.
However he cautioned against the high unemployment rate among young people who constitute the majority of Botswana population. He said this was a sad reality that must be addressed. “It is a sad because young people are the most vibrant and active. In order for jobs to be created people need to take deliberate steps of entering into entrepreneurship and starting sustainable businesses,” Sir Branson said.
Sir Branson who started his first business after dropping out of school at the age of 16 explained that to become a successful entrepreneur one has to be a good listener who can always observe existing opportunities and must be ready to learn. ”You have to ask yourself a question on how you can do something better than other people who have done it before, because entrepreneurship is not always about what hasn’t been done, if there is an opportunity to complement or do something better, that is a gap for a business,” he said.
Sir Richard Branson advised that Botswana should venture into clean energy: “You have a lot of coal, that is wrong timing as the world is shifting to green energy, but for jobs and GDP’s sake you can extract the coal and export to more industrial countries overseas; but for sustainability, start taking a leap into green energy,” he said. The over $5 billion worth English tycoon lectured Botswana on the unexplored diamond this country is sitting on – the natural hot climate conditions. Sir Branson said solar energy can be Botswana‘s multimillion Dollar sector that can create jobs.
“You can even import the chips, cells, the solar silicon cells from China and assemble them here and someone can set up a solar power station,” he said. According to Sir Richard Branson, people must start thinking big business ideas and implement them at a young age while they still have no commitments. “To run a sustainable business is highly dependent on among other things the people you have hired and how you treat them. Good business leaders are always looking at getting the best out of people they lead.”
Sir Branson further shared that people must be comfortable at the workplace in order for them to carry out their mandate fully. He stated that the workspace must not dictate to workers what to wear and how long to work as long as the job is done. Sir Richard Branson who has various charity projects around the world which are aimed at humanitarian work in undeveloped countries and unstable nations believes that people must be given a chance in life.
“At Virgin Active we hire ex-convicts fresh from prison and none of them has ever reoffended.” He also shared his thoughts on drugs: “People who sell drugs are entrepreneurs, they possess a skill, it is just that they are using it in an illegal dealership which also has negative health consequences. We just need to give people another chance in life.” According to Sir Branson drug dealers and offenders can become great entrepreneurs if they are rehabilitated and given another chance to follow the right path in pursuit of their dreams.
HOW HE MADE IT TO THE TOP
Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, born 18 July 1950, founded Virgin Group in 1966 when he left school to run a business and lifestyle magazine called Student. In 1970, he set up a mail-order record business which was followed by a chain of recording stores under the label Virgin Records.
His fast growing business Group expanded rapidly in the 1980’s. One of his major business segments is Virgin Atlantic, a multinational airline that fought brutally with British Airways to gain establishment. When answering a question from Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Bogolo Kenewendo, Sir Branson said that startups must do whatever it takes to survive the wrath of already established business.
He shared that when British Airlines wanted to swallow his startup Airline and pushed his brand out of the game, he exposed their ill intension with the help of the media. He advised local media to support startups in order to realize significant growth of the economy. Sir Richard Branson also runs an entrepreneurship program termed Branson entrepreneurship school headquartered in London with outreaches worldwide. In March 2000 Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for "services to entrepreneurship”, particularly for his work in retail, music and transport as well his humanitarian work. He has partnered with Desmond Tutu, Koffi Anan, and the late Nelson Mandela on a number humanitarian undertakings aimed at bringing peace worldwide.
Botswana has recorded its first trade surplus for 2021 since the only one for the year in January.
The country’s exports for the month of July surpassed the value of imports, Statistics Botswana’s July International Merchandise Trade data reveals.
Released last Friday, the monthly trade digest reports a positive jump in the trade balance graph against the backdrop of a series of trade deficits in the preceding months since January this year.
According to the country’s significant data body, imports for the month were valued at P7.232 billion, reflecting a decline of 6.6 percent from the revised June 2021 value of P7.739 billion.
Total exports during the same month amounted to P7.605 billion, showing an increase of 6.1 percent over the revised June 2021 value of P7.170 billion.
A trade surplus of P373.2 million was recorded in July 2021. This follows a revised trade deficit of P568.7 million for June 2021.
For the total exports value of P7.605 billion, the Diamonds group accounted for 91.2 percent (P6.936 billion), followed by Machinery & Electrical Equipment and Salt & Soda Ash with 2.2 percent (P169.7 million) and 1.3 percent (P100.9 million) respectively.
Asia was the leading destination for Botswana exports, receiving 65.2 percent (P4.96 billion) of total exports during July 2021.
These exports mostly went to the UAE and India, having received 26.3 percent (P1. 99 billion) and 18.7 percent (P1.422 billion) of total exports, respectively. The top most exported commodity to the regional block was Diamonds.
Exports destined to the European Union amounted to P1.64 billion, accounting for 21.6 percent of total exports.
Belgium received almost all exports destined to the regional union, acquiring 21.5 percent (P1.6337 billion) of total exports during the reporting period.
The Diamonds group was the leading commodity group exported to the EU. The SACU region received exports valued at P790.7 million, representing 10.4 percent of total exports.
Diamonds and Salt & Soda Ash commodity groups accounted for 37.8 percent (P298.6 million) and 6.2 percent (P48.7 million) of total exports to the customs union.
South Africa received 9.8 percent (P745.0 million) of total exports during the month under review. The Diamonds group contributed 39.9 percent (P297.4 million) to all goods destined for the country.
In terms of imports, the SACU region contributed 62.7 percent (P4.534 billion) to total imports during July.
The topmost imported commodity groups from the SACU region were Fuel; Food, Beverages & Tobacco, and Machinery & Electrical Equipment with contributions of 33.3 percent (P1.510 billion), 17.4 percent (P789.4 million) and 12.7 percent (P576.7 million) to total imports from the region, respectively.
South Africa contributed 60.1 percent (P4.3497 billion) to total imports during July 2021.
Fuel accounted for 32.1 percent (P1.394 billion) of imports from that country. Food, Beverages & Tobacco contributed 17.7 percent (P772.0 million) to imports from South Africa.
Namibia contributed 2.0 percent (P141.1 million) to the overall imports during the period under review. Fuel was the main commodity imported from that country at 82.1 percent (P115.8 million).
During the months, imports representing 63.5 percent (P4.5904 billion) were transported into the country by Road.
Transportation of imports by Rail and Air accounted for 22.7 percent (P1.645 billion) and 13.8 percent (P996.2 million), respectively.
During the month, goods exported by Air amounted to P6, 999.2 million, accounting for 92.0 percent of total exports, while those leaving the country by Road were valued at P594.2 million (7.8 percent).
Founders from twenty companies have been accepted into the program from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa
The 4th Cohort of the Stanford Seed Transformation Program – Southern Africa (STP), a collaboration between Stanford Graduate School of Business and De Beers Group commenced classes on 20 September 2021. According to Otsile Mabeo, Vice President Corporate Affairs, De Beers Global Sightholder Sales: “We are excited to confirm that 20 companies have been accepted into the 4th Seed Transformation Programme from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The STP is an important part of the De Beers Group Building Forever sustainability strategy and demonstrates our commitment to the ‘Partnering for Thriving Communities’ pillar that aims at enhancing enterprise development in countries where we operate in the Southern African region”. Jeffrey Prickett, Global Director of Stanford Seed: “Business owners and their key management team members undertake a 12-month intensive leadership program that includes sessions on strategy and finance, business ethics, and design thinking, all taught by world-renowned Stanford faculty and local business practitioners. The program is exclusively for business owners and teams of for-profit companies or for-profit social enterprises with annual company revenues of US$300,000 – US$15million.” The programme will be delivered fully virtually to comply with COVID 19 protocols. Out of the 20 companies, 6 are from Botswana, 1 Namibia, and 13 South Africa. Since the partnership’s inception, De Beers Group and Stanford Seed have supported 74 companies, 89 founders/CEOs, and approximately 750 senior-level managers to undertake the program in Southern Africa.
Minergy, the coal mining and trading company with the Masama coal mine, this week released results for the year ended 30 June 2021. The company achieved revenue of P193 million (2020: P81 million) with significant improvement in sales volumes surpassing 415 000 tonnes sold for the year.
The performance was divided into two distinct periods with very different operating environments. The first eight-month period (July 2020 – February 2021), was negatively impacted by delayed funding, COVID-19 impacts and excessive rain; and the last four-month period (March – June 2021), was a more stable production environment moving toward nameplate capacity.
According to Minergy CEO, Morné du Plessis, production and sales initially recovered in July and August 2020 with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and recoveries were further bolstered by the successful launch of the rail siding. Delays experienced in concluding the funding contributed to contractors limiting operations to manage arrears.
“However, the heavy rains we experienced from December 2020 through February 2021 flooded the mine pit making access difficult and impacting both production and sales. Fortunately, the rain subsided in March 2021, and we entered a more stable environment, with a positive impact on operations. Good recoveries in production and sales were experienced during the last four-month period of the year, with the mine moving closer toward a breakeven position.”
“Despite these operational constraints, including the effects of COVID-19 on logistics and manning of shifts, we expect to reach consistent nameplate capacity in the 2022 financial year,” du Plessis added.
In addition to the revenue reported above, the company incurred costs of sales of P256 million (2020: P150 million) with operating costs of P23 million (2020: P31 million). This effectively resulted in an operating loss of P86 million (2020: P100 million). Finance costs of P51 million (2020: P17 million) were incurred, bringing the net loss before taxation to P136 million (2020: P117 million).
Du Plessis explains that the adverse conditions in the first eight-month period contributed to 86% of the gross loss, while the more stable four-month period alone contributed to 50% of total sales value, helping to decrease monthly gross losses, albeit below breakeven levels.
The company benefited from a strengthening in the South African Rand (“ZAR”) supporting higher back-on- mine sales prices.
“As announced, we’re pleased to have secured P125 million of additional convertible debt funding through the Minerals Development Company Botswana (Proprietary) Limited (“MDCB”). Minergy remains grateful for this support.”
He added that the first tranche of additional funding provided by the MDCB had been received in December 2020, which allowed Minergy to settle the majority of the contractor’s arrears and allowed their teams to be remobilised. The second and final tranche was paid post the financial year-end and will allow the business to reach nameplate capacity in the new financial year.”
COAL SALES AND MINE PERFORMANCE
Sales volumes increased by 110%, supported by increased sales in Botswana and internationally in South Africa and Namibia. Sales for June 2021 exceeded 56 000 tonnes, a record since the inception of the mine, with pricing increasing late in the financial year on the back of buoyant international prices and a strengthening ZAR.
Minergy also concluded a further 12-month off-take agreement to the existing off-take agreement, with a further agreement finalised post year end.
Overburden moved during the reporting period increased by 86% and extracted coal by 50%. Coal mined in June 2021 alone exceeded 100 000 tonnes. “This is a good performance considering the challenges faced such as sacrificing pre-stripping activities for a period to manage arrears, excessive rain and COVID-19,” du Plessis indicated.
“The wash plant was initially starved of coal due to the factors noted already. Despite this, overall plant throughput performance was 37% higher than 2020. Consistent output was supported by the completion of the Stage 2 rigid crushing section as well as the water saving dewatering screen with filter press contributing to a reduction in water usage of 60% per tonne of coal. A record throughput of more than 84 000 tonnes was achieved in March 2021 and this consistency has been maintained.”
According to du Plessis, the completion of Stage 4 of the Processing Plant, the rigid screening and stock handling section, remains a key optimisation step, which has associated benefits. “The completion was unfortunately delayed by a southern African wide shortage of structural steel but was commissioned post year-end.”
Minergy expects the positive momentum in international coal pricing for southern African coal to remain in place. Higher coal prices have resulted in coal being withdrawn from the inland market in favour of lucrative international markets. Du Plessis added that the regional market is currently under- supplied with sized coal, which supports higher pricing and new customer opportunities for Minergy.
“Our objective for the 2022 financial year is to achieve nameplate capacity by completing final ramp-up of operations. This will enable the company to generate sufficient cash flow to stabilise the business at breakeven or better. The bullish coal market is also providing support. COVID-19 will still be closely managed, and we look forward to the lifting of the State of Emergency, as announced, and trust that vaccination programmes will achieve herd immunity in Botswana during the next 12 months.”
Du Plessis expressed his excitement on prospects stating that, “The Eskom due diligence process is continuing, and we are hopeful of receiving feedback during the current financial year. In addition to this opportunity, Minergy is also investigating participation in the request by the Government of Botswana to provide a 300MW power station for which the company has been shortlisted.”
The approved process to issue shares for cash is showing positive leads and he concluded by saying that a listing in London is still being investigated.