Those of you with an interest in global financial news no doubt heard the news of the virtual collapse this week of the UK chain British Home Stores. The firm has been put into administration, a prelude to formerly going bankrupt, a little over a year after a last-minute reprieve and sale saved it from suffering the identical fate.
To try and explain the significance of this loss to the British retail scene, think of the former regional OK Bazaars that was founded in 1927, a year before British Home Stores or BHS. Both stores began life as discount retailers offering a wide range of clothing, furniture, appliances, toys and home hardware. Both later expanded their range to include food and both were publicly listed, OK in 1929, BHS in 1928 and by the late 1960s both chains were about the same size, OK boasting about 100 stores, BHS 94. Both were household names and both offered a one-stop shopping experience.
British Home Stores was also well-known for their budget restaurants in all their larger urban outlets. It’s fair to say that like the also-defunct Woolworths group, BHS was part of the British psyche as well as an expected, familiar sight on the high street. And just as with the demise of Woolworths, some quintessential part of the retail scene in the UK is now to be lost forever.
Media pundits have given much space and airtime this week in analysing what exactly went wrong for the company. After last year’s bailout by the newly-formed Retail Acquisition group for the sum of â‚¤1 (about 15 Pula), it was hoped that its flagging position could be revived, despite carrying with it pension debts of â‚¤100 million (about P15,000,000) but as has been seen, it never recovered any of its former glory. The sad truth is probably that BHS still carried an old-fashioned slightly dowdy image, despite merging with the trendy Habitat furniture empire founded by Sir Terence Conran and the infants and children’s chain Mothercare. It was regarded as a store for older people and thus neglected by younger shoppers, added to which every high street in Britain and elsewhere is now having to compete with on-line shopping and a revolution in shopping habits which has exploded in a very short time frame. Simply put, it was out of time and out of sync.
But the question that has most pundits up in arms this week has been the asset-stripping exercise undertaken by former owner Sir Philip Green prior to his selling off the business, leading many to question whether it might never have come to grief had the monies remained. Green bought the chain, known as Stonehouse PLC in 2000 and before selling last year to Retail Acquisitions, he is known to have salted away some â‚¤586m (P8790,000,000) paid to himself and his family in dividends, rental payments and interest before off-loading to RA for that nominal sum. And there is no doubt that Green is the King of Bling, owner of no less than 3 super-yachts and enjoying a jet-set lifestyle.
Contrast that to the fate of the almost 12,000 former employees who now face a very uncertain future, not only whether they will be able to find alternative employment but even whether a proportion of their pension pot will survive the bankruptcy. The press has been full of pictures of Green and his wife sunning themselves on one or other of the yachts, one of which is moored more or less permanently in Monaco, sipping champagne, frolicking with celebrities and generally enjoying their lavish lifestyle. Their greed has been widely condemned, there have been calls for Sir Philip to be stripped of his knighthood and many have asked if he should not be made to pay back some of the money, at least to bail out the pension fund.
Others, however, have pointed out one salient but crucial fact. Sir Philip may be in the moral low ground but what he did was not illegal. It was his company and he was entitled to his dividends and other payments. He sold a sinking ship, to be sure, but that was well-known to the new owners who bought it for a nominal sum in the full knowledge that they were taking on a failing enterprise with a massive pension debt and they went ahead in that knowledge. That they failed is unfortunate, though city analysts point out that the failure might have been predicted since they had no retail experience and little financial track record. This final nail in the BHS coffin might be said to be theirs and theirs alone, as uncomfortable as the contemporary pictures of the super-rich Greens might seem. The fact is that as of January 2015, Sir Philip and his family no longer owned or controlled the group of stores and its fate was ultimately brought about by its new owners and current retail conditions.
There is a tradition at sea that the captain always goes down with his ship – that if the vessel is in trouble, he is the last crew member to leave. So is there a case for a captain of industry doing the same thing, staying aboard his metaphorical sinking boat and going down with it, after seeing as many of his crew or employees possibly off to safety? Of course there is, and undoubtedly when an owner’s heart and soul is in the business, that is what happens. A committed owner will move heaven and earth to salvage their life’s work and passion and if push does have to come to shove, they will take what little they can and suffer the loss of their company and lifestyle, along with their staff. But Sir Philip Green was a businessman first and foremost. He bought the BHC group to make money and he sold it when he realised that was no longer the case. He had a head for business and his head told him it was time to leave. He may have been knighted by the queen and clearly he’ll never be sainted but the bottom line is that technically he’s no sinner either.
Now according to the Bible it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven – a small crumb of comfort for any committed Christians amongst the 12,000 unemployed workers who right now all really need some manna from heaven themselves. And without a loaf of bread, where’s that crumb going to come from? As for Sir Philip, he may be an utter cad, but he’s a very wealthy cad who also happens to have given huge sums of money to various charities. It’s just a pity no-one reminded him that charity begins at home before he moved out!
Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.
The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.
Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.
At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.
Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.
Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).
This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.
In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.
Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?
Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.
POSITIVITY Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.
“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)
We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”
Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.
Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be. You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”
Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.
When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.
Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.
However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.” “Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)
COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT
Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.
It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.
Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.
Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.
The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.
It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.