Taking inspiration from my South African surroundings

With a working break in South Africa, Nigel Toplis reflects on why there's some synergy between the country post-apartheid and his time in franchising, in that they both have a similar length of experience

Taking inspiration from my South African surroundings

For the last seven years I’ve taken an extended break to work abroad in South Africa. Some would call it a holiday but actually I spend time writing articles, penning the odd business book and of course keeping in touch with the office.

Like many before me, Africa absolutely enchants, fascinates and frustrates me but more than anything it continuously beckons. Why? Well, the people are warm and welcoming, the landscape stunning, the food superb and the weather a consistent 33 degrees celsius or thereabouts throughout December to February.

Africa is also misunderstood and often relegated to the third division of news coverage. I’m reminded by a local hotelier as I write this that in the September week while Hurricane Florence killed 53 people in the US, floods in Nigeria killed several hundred people. One made the international news, the other didn’t.

Where many Americans simply failed to follow advice, the Nigerians were failed by poverty and a lack of infrastructure. When Hurricane Michael killed a few dozen people it was classed one of the worst such events on record. On the same day a landslide in Uganda killed more than 500 people without anyone outside Africa even hearing about it.

It is what it is but maybe because of my Britishness I always favour the underdog. I fell in love with South Africa 20 odd years ago when I felt the raw emotion of a country emerging from a dark past but with conflicting emotions of hope, fear, ambition, trepidation and desire.

There are still conflicting emotions between the African traditionalists and African radicals – but when you look around the world, where is there no conflict be it between Brexiteers and remainers, Trump supporters and Trump haters, #MeToo campaigners and misogynists.

So what has Africa taught me that you can apply to franchising? The most striking lesson comes from nature and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by trees, lakes and rivers that house over 70 species of birds, plus hippos and crocodiles too numerous to count.

It’s interesting watching the hippos arriving at school every morning to learn from their elders who seek to pass on their experience as best practice, just as we franchisors would to our franchisees. Franchisees benefit hugely by having the experience, knowledge, intellect and ongoing support of the franchisor to ensure a robust foundation is built from day one.

Working together is so much more beneficial than working in conflict. Conflict can only succeed in the short term. In the long term, building a business or indeed a new country is all about relationships. The stronger the relationships between the key players – be it politicians, landowners, businesses or franchisees and franchisors – then the greater the opportunity for development.

Similarly, if you’re playing golf and come across a crocodile simply sunning himself then etiquette suggests that you take a free drop and leave the croc to enjoy its day. Now of course the reptile could have taken exception to my presence, so it’s prudent to remember that in life and in business not everything goes smoothly all the time and you need to be prepared to confront issues.

There is a saying out here in Africa: “It is what it is. We are where we are. And we are going where we are going.” With the right franchisor, that journey will be greatly rewarding.”

Nigel Toplis
Nigel Toplis