Apathy killed my business

May 21 2013 07:33
A former entrepreneur has responded to Catherine Wijnberg's article The inefficiency scourge.

YOUR article The inefficiency scourge reflects my frustrations exactly and has resulted in my transition over the last eight years from a 30-employee business to a one-man show and I am now looking at retirement in Europe.

I have worked myself into a state of ill health trying to make a difference, with not even a hint of achievement.

The final straw was a break-in where all my business equipment was stolen and no insurance payout. I would have taken all this in my stride if I had had at least one person who took an interest in their job and a willingness to work.

The past 28 years as an employer can be summed up as me against everybody, I lost.

My life as an employer started out of necessity. I am a qualified tradesman and have an engineering diploma. In the early eighties I applied for 20+ jobs which got me 20+ letters of regret.

Most of the positions were for affirmative action candidates. It was apparently not PC to tell me this upfront, much easier to waste my time going to fruitless interviews and tell me there.

After a few mundane no skill, no experience jobs I started repairing and making furniture as a one-man business. This soon grew into a flourishing 32-employee business.

Finally, eight years from being unemployed, I thought I might be getting somewhere. I thought I was on the same page as all the employees, they all came to me for a job which I was glad to be able to give them as I knew what it was like being jobless.

My staff all joined a union, which I had no problem with. I promptly asked if there were problems that I needed to know about. I was told that they were happy but were convinced by the union representative that it was essential to join a union, whether you have problems or not.

Over the next few years the union demands just became ridiculous and the only solution for me was to close doors, which I did.

Looking back I should have probably played this a little differently but this was my first business with no business training or experience, and I took it personally.

I then moved to Mozambique where I started a similar busines,s but within five years could not deal with the level of corruption and sold up and moved back to SA in 2003.

We bought a smallholding in a tourist area where our plans were to have tourist accommodation on a working farm, farm produce and a small goat dairy.

We started employing people to implement these plans but found no level of commitment from any of them.

The general attitude seemed to be “we get paid for having the job, work is extra”. I never found a single person that I could rely on and never got to the level of service that I would put my name to and closed down before even opening to the public.

During this time I had to register with the South African Revenue Service (Sars) for PAYE for some of the employees.

We paid the PAYE for 9 months and then dismissed the employees for non-performance. Four months later we received our PAYE registration and demand for payment which we had already made.

We were asked for proof of payment which we provided; this was repeated every month for a year, all the while gaining penalties and interest.

We then decided to pay again just to stop the penalties and interest. This did not help as the left hand did not tell the right hand that it had received the money and we continued to receive bills for penalties and interest. This started in 2007 and has not been resolved to date, so for Sars inefficiency pays.

I continued running the farming enterprise but it was a continuous struggle just to get the minimum amount of work out of anyone.

That all came to an end after I had a break-in and all my tools and equipment were stolen with no insurance payout. I don't have the energy, money or interest to start over and now run the smallholding on a subsistence basis on my own.

I have no pension or savings to speak of and know that this government won't look after me so am in a bit of a pickle, to put it mildly. After 28 years of giving it everything, I have little to show for it.

I see Clem Sunter says we need 2 million new small enterprises by 2030. Well, if they get the same sort of support I got, I just don’t see it happening.

On the other side, if you take housebreaking, hijacking and mugging, we already have the 2 million enterprises, they are just not so easy to tax but they do have full government support.

The police have arrested one of the thieves that broke into my place but won't use him to arrest the others and get the equipment back, so one member 'might' do some jail time (and the rest get to keep the spoils); they can now show more for one night's work than I can for 28 years' work.

If I got half the protection these criminals are getting, I might still be in business.

The crux of this story is that I could be employing at least 30 people and contributing to the economy and creating my own pension, but have been reduced to a subsistence goat farmer.

For me the biggest reason to give up is government inefficiency (SARS and justice), worker apathy, lack of accountability and expectations.

Ex entrepreneur

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