Coal’s canary in a mine

The coal industry has a canary in its mines: tobacco.

It has not been a good few weeks for coal’s image in SA, and to a large degree the industry can blame itself — its arrogance, myopia and inability to adapt draws comparisons with another industry continually under fire: tobacco. It knows this, because I’ve said it before. 

In November 2017, I addressed the 25th International Coal, Coke and Carbon Forum in Budapest about the shifting scenarios the industry faces. I encouraged industry leaders to think about how they should adapt. I presented them with an unequivocal wake-up call: “You are the ‘new tobacco."

A tale of two centuries

Imagine you were asked in 1919 what the narrative might be for the rest of the 20th century in terms of major developments. You might well have said that cars and planes were going to revolutionise transport and change where and how we lived.  You could have anticipated the radio transforming the way we got our news and were entertained. 

Pushing the envelope, you might have added that pictures would accompany sound one day and captured the idea of television. Unless you had extraordinary powers of foresight, you would not have played a scenario of the rise of computers, the internet and cell phones in the

Fox Bytes 21 – the mad-about-sport issue

Not for sale!

Britain has a football problem. The Football Association (FA) - which oversees British football - has 91 000 affiliated clubs in 1 100 leagues. Most are ‘grassroots clubs’ in small towns and cities. Because of funding cuts to local authorities, pitches and facilities are becoming neglected. Last year, more than 147,000 grassroots matches were postponed because the pitches were unplayable. So in April this year, the FA announced it was selling Wembley Stadium - the ‘home’ of British football - to raise funds to invest in grassroots clubs.  It was as if the Queen were selling the

Fox Bytes 20 – the animal analogy issue

Flying cow art by the legendary Barry Downard. Used with permission. See more of his work here.


Like cattle to the slaughter

Nothing says you’re successful in business like a corner office with a view. For everyone else, there’s the bullpen. And you don’t want to be in the bullpen. Successful startups usually begin with everyone packed into a small office space. That’s not bad at first because everyone knows everyone else, and you’re all excited to be part of something new, agile, and exciting. But as companies grow, staff get bigger and a corporate culture takes hold, an ‘altogether’

Fox Bytes 19 – The spin issue

This is going to hurt. Saying “we need a turnaround strategy” is a little like saying, “we need some water”…because you’re on fire! It is a scream of panic wrapped in jargon whisper. It’s also the start of a game of pain. Essentially a turnaround strategy is an admission that the direction a company has gone is wrong, hence the need to turn it around. The ‘wrongness’ is normally shown in successive losses, declining market share, persistent negative cash flows, or loss of employees or clients to competitors. The possible causes are numerous, but usually point towards bad management, a muddled strategy, and a blindness

Fox Bytes 18 – The, like, seriously chilled issue

Icebreakers no longer needed. A dramatic and unfortunate game is playing north - way up north - and it’s pitting economics against the environment. Last month, the Arctic Ocean - normally a no-go area for all but the bravest of sailors in specially-constructed icebreakers - saw the first ever container ship slip alone, and somewhat gingerly, through its seas.  The Venta Maersk sailed from Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast to St Petersburg on the Baltic coast. So what made the Venta Maersk’s trip possible? In brief: global warming. The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice

Fox Bytes 17 – The make-believe issue

Funny money

Whereas some games have been around since humanoids dragged their knuckles across the plains of Africa, others have only emerged since those knuckles have wrapped around cellphones. Imaginary money is one of them. Standard (fiat) currencies such as pounds, dollars and rands are issued - and, importantly, backed - by central banks or governments. But they’re not the only way of paying for things.  Over the last couple of years, cryptocurrencies, also called digital currencies, have become increasingly accepted by people and merchants as a means of payment for goods or services. Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum are probably the best known. But there

Fox Bytes 16 – The extremely dangerous issue

A massacre in the wings

A cat-and-mouse game is about to become a massacre. For the last 7 years, forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria - backed by Iran and Russia - have been pursuing rebel forces holding out in towns around the country. The towns, and the civilians within them, have been mercilessly bombed into submission; those civilians left alive then flee to the next town.  Western countries, and Turkey, have provided patchy support for the rebels, and, at the same time, tried diplomatic means to negotiate a peace. They have failed. The rebels, now reduced to a ragtag bunch including

Fox Bytes 15 – The uh-oh issue

The deadly game

There’s been a nasty spike in measles in Europe. This shouldn’t be the case; there’s a safe and highly effective measles vaccine. So why is this happening? The overall effectiveness of any vaccine relies on ‘herd immunisation’. If sufficient numbers of a community are immunised, it prevents a disease taking hold in that community. Then it can’t strike those unable to be immunised, such as small children or those too ill to receive vaccines. This is why vaccination is known as a ‘positive-sum’ game - a conscious collaboration where the net outcome for everyone is positive: a