White Man’s Numbers by Sunil Shah
I READ a business book every week (which I review in this column), and reserve the December break for novels.
If you are passionate about business, you might choose for your December reading a novel with a business theme set in the financial arena. If you believe South Africa is at least as interesting as any other country and more interesting than most, you might choose a business novel with South Africa as its setting.
If you can’t get your mind away from South African current affairs, it might add to the mix to toss in racial and political issues as well. Perhaps some complex relational issues just to finish it off?
And there you have White Man’s Numbers by Sunil Shah.
The four principal characters, Christopher, Margaret, Ravi and Jacob, are seconded by their firm, Pluto Asset Management, to open an office in Cape Town as part of the drive into emerging markets. The office is headed by Christopher, with the services to be marketed by Margaret.
Ravi is a young analyst of Indian descent with a keen numerical facility and a superior intellect. Jacob, Ravi’s counterpart, is an Oxford graduate and the son of a well-connected ANC member.
The book opens pretty much where it ends - with the disintegration of Ravi’s world starting with his relationship with Anjali, the girl who left London to be with him in Cape Town.
Then the narrative reveals the events that led to the breakdown of their relationship. In the process we learn more about Christopher, Margaret and Jacob who are plausible and recognisable people who populate so many companies.
We are also exposed to the worst aspects of an industry where money can be earned by making correct decisions about the success or failure of those who generate wealth. The story touches on the worst aspects of South African business practice, and a set of problems that feel very familiar.
It is a light holiday read, not a business book, but the story that unfolds will hold your attention to the end.
Tell us about your best business holiday read and you could win one of two copies of White Man’s Numbers.
* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.