SUCCESS is not ensured by 51%. There are some outstanding examples of extraordinary success in minority-controlled businesses — where the shareholder of reference does not retain de facto control.

Capital is only part of the equation. If the only way you can guide a business strategy is to control it outright, then either you, the business or management is without sustainable substance. Business can support a democracy, but it can’t be one — the lowest common denominator can’t compete with best of breed.

It is important for owners of a business to have their way, or at least hold sway — but not stubbornly so, not in the face of recurring error, in the face of impending demise. If you’d like to attract long-term capital it’ll seldom be about you, the controlling shareholder — it’ll most often be about the business model, the economic right to existence, the long-term ambition, the execution mandate, the people in the team, and, of course, the leader.

You need to show how your business got to the front of the queue in the first place, and what you intend doing to keep it there. A pioneer concept lasts only as long as it takes the competition to figure it out. As they eat away at the edges, the core must be strong. Inherited business models cannot be taken for granted.

Management is key, leadership is key — experience, fortitude, merit, a clear understanding of purpose — all that stuff, not complacency.

Over decades we have stood by, as the shareholders in SA Inc, and watched our state-owned entities decay to the point that some approach the cliff of demise. Some have to be fixed or maintained as a matter of national interest — justice, defence, policing; some may present wonderful partnership opportunities — education, healthcare, transport, water, energy, communication, banking?

It is time to call up, Nene. It is time to be bold. It is time to build to share. We had better muck in together, we need more than 5% gross domestic product growth, not less than 3%, and we sure as hell aren’t going to get there apart.

In his first medium-term budget policy statement, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene reopened the debate on the possibility of funding certain state-owned assets through the sale of stakes in "nonstrategic" others. Selling and funding are two entirely different, separate issues; linking them creates a zero-sum game instead of building value. If all we’re going to do is sell the best to fund the worst, we may as well not bother. Selling good to fund bad certainly isn’t progress. No wealth is created, no jobs are created, it is just a transfer within a system. Worthless. Resigned. Devoid of energy.

Merit. The merit of the people, the merit of the plan. Let’s reach consensus on which state assets are nonstrategic, make an objective rule, apply it, make a list and do it — create private-public partnerships.

We can’t expect to drink more from the same fountain, either. We’re emptying storerooms, not building barns — you cannot preach a harvest and save the economy without a growth-and-replenish strategy. We have to fix everything, not cross-subsidise. We have to expand the revenue base, not transfer from one pocket to another. You cannot build a business by cutting costs. And while I’m at it, taxing the rich to subsidise the poor won’t work either — it creates weight, not energy.

The reason that we’ve been unable to escape the dysfunctional triangle of government, labour and business is because there just isn’t enough to go around. Our natural resource saviours of the past will no longer carry us into the future.

However, if we configure our state-owned assets properly we’ll be able to attract investors and build, rather than give up and sell. We have to send out invitations to purchase, not offers for sale. We have to raise new capital, not spread the old stuff around.

If we want to get this done right, in the open capital markets of the world, I’m afraid we may have to break with local worst practice.

Find the best people and capital for the job, engage with them, find the deal and cut it. No prequalified (or predealt) tenders, no nepotism, no racial prejudice or favour, no corruption — business principles, nothing but business principles.

Merit. The merit of the people, the merit of the plan. Let’s reach consensus on which state assets are nonstrategic, make an objective rule, apply it, make a list and do it — create private-public partnerships.

There isn’t a template, there can’t be. But on shareholding let’s start with, say, the state retaining 25%-35%, foreign ownership limited to 30%, and management able to get up to 10%, something like that. Nothing else can be dictated really. The providers of capital will present their terms: price, required returns on capital employed, internal rate of return (IRR), debt-equity ratios. The stuff of business, that’s our bread and butter.

It may be difficult to find price on a distressed asset. But that has been solved before and can be solved again through financial instruments — earn-outs and earn-ins.

Appoint a minister of private-public partnerships — go on, do it. Get a team together to execute the mandate. The mix of skills will be critical, as will autonomy. Parliament can sign off on deals, I doubt it can design them.

Imagine South African Airways properly capitalised and skilled, competing among the many successful airline models (not like ours) in the US, Europe and Africa, tailored, as these successes are, to the specific conditions of their regions. No encumbrances, no political overrides.

Imagine the Post Office — a vast but redundant infrastructure, a bankrupt business model, morphed into an efficient distribution company. An integrated supply management giant, land and buildings in place, in the books at a carrying value surely way below replacement cost. In the right hands, with the right minds.

Imagine Postbank transformed into the national centre for the fight against inequality — funding the under-banked in a mixture of state subsidy, employer credit enhancement, widespread access. Affordable funding for the masses, just down the road. Central co-ordination, local deployment, that’ll work.

Hell, I’d like to be given a shot at putting the deal together myself. Imagine, imagine, imagine — the list goes on.

Why will this work, then, if it is not working now? Because there will be no wastage (the IRR won’t tolerate it), because there’ll be no jobs for pals (because the good guys won’t tolerate it), because there will be no political interference (it costs money and undermines competitive edge).

Most of all, though, it’ll be because we’ll be playing as a team, instead of being on opposite sides, taking pot shots at each other. It’ll just be business, business as it should be, business as usual.

This is not rocket science.

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