No Sacred Cows – November 2015

I’M  GOING TO BE A CURMUDGEON *

gary crawford

It  rather  surprised  my  mother. Not the sort of thing expected from  an  eight  year  old.  “Mom, I’m going to be a curmudgeon,” I stated with conviction. The fact that I used an uncommon word didn’t faze her at all. Not since Mrs White took me in hand.

In Standard One at Kloof Government School,  with  spelling  bees  the  flavour of the day, I discovered (or, rather, the teachers did) that I trailed everyone else in reading and writing ability. At home, my  attention  was  much  more  devoted to helping my father overhaul racing engines than reading books about boring Jim and Jane and their dog, Spot. Nursery rhymes like Humpty Dumpty were no attraction. I simply didn’t connect with the character typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg.

After all, my father ’s take on rhymes was much more colourful. “Jack and Jill fell down the hill, an act that’s very risky. If water made them act like that, I think I’ll stick to whisky.”

Cut a long story short, Mrs White took pity on me and suggested that she would devote  four  after-school  hours  a  week to help me get up to speed. I’ve no idea what magic powers she possessed, but it worked. Within three months, I was able to hold my own in spelling. Three months more and I was ahead of the pack, with a robust vocabulary (including words like ‘curmudgeon’, ‘avuncular ’, ‘misogynist’, and ‘belonephobia’). The next year winning the top English and Afrikaans language prizes.

I even took languages at university and became a journalist.

general profilingMy heart-felt gratitude, Mrs White. Thanks  for  ‘curmudgeon.’  Thanks  also to Mr George Cato, a neighbour who brought the word to life. A successful man, then in his nineties, who seemed to spend his days muttering to himself or chasing dogs out of his property. Often crusty  and  ill-tempered,  but  a  mentor to a ten-year old neighbour, he spent many hours in his workshop creating amazing things. I learned wood-working (especially turning) and many other crafts from this intolerant man who, when I was not yet a teenager, became a benefactor. He died and left me a significant part of his estate.

Those who know me well, understand that I’m a glass half-full sort of person and not at all a curmudgeon.

I can’t stand the ‘spreaders’ of doom and gloom, especially, the British who seem genetically designed to cause ‘double-dip’  recessions. According  to Paul  Krugman  (Nobel  Prize-winning NY   Times   columnist   and   economist), the growth in the UK economy was achieved despite rather than because of the austerity programmes they pursued to  cut  debt,  the  upturn  coming  when the programmes were halted. “If you repeatedly and gratuitously hit yourself in the head and then stop, you’ll start to feel better again,” said Krugman.

I recently became close to curmudgeonly when I read the World Bank Group’s Global Economic Prospects report (June 2015). The work of more than fifty staffers, the report is couched in the most politically-correct manner. Take an excerpt from the Foreword: “Risks to the outlook  remain  tilted  to  the  downside, as  new  challenges  have  emerged  even as pre-existing ones have become more balanced. In particular, tighter global financial conditions could combine with deteriorating growth prospects, especially in commodity-exporting countries, to raise the possibility of greater financial stress.  The  strengthening  dollar  could also slow the U.S. economy more than expected earlier, leading to some global strain.”

Cutting to the chase, there’s simply not enough demand for commodities. Crude oil is down from US $93/bbl  in October 2014 to US $50.32/bbl.  Fifteen years ago, it was at US $20 with the highest level being reached in 2008 at about US $140/ bbl. Copper was at about US $1/lb  ten years ago, its highest approaching US $5/ lb in 2011, now at US $2.42/lb. Nickel LME Warehouse levels have been pretty static year on year 1998 – 2008, then increasing to current highs of 439 Kt. Nickel prices have been stable for fifteen years, then bouncing to US $23/lb, and now down to US $4.8/lb.

Even my favourite, Uranium Oxide, is not performing. From around US $45/lb in 2010, up to US $72 in 2011, to a low of US $28/lb  in 2014, it is now at US $38/lb.

In  his Perspective,   John   correctly says  that  it’s  been  a  difficult  time  for our  industry.  Next  year  may  also  be no   performer,   but   I’ve   seen   enough project interest developing to not be too pessimistic about 2017 and beyond.

The   previously   insatiable   demand by  China  for  natural  resources  “made it the world’s swing consumer,” says JP Morgan’s David Kelly. I’ve no doubt that the ‘middle-classing’ and urbanisation of the Chinese population will again become a demand restorer.

Something a lot closer to home and heart is this column.

I receive phone calls from a small number  of  people  who  enjoy  it.  But, not enough feedback to say it’s really worthwhile.

So, I’m now asking a direct question. If you have read this far, please email me (gary@sassda.co.za). Let me know what you think of my columns. Good or bad. Of course I care. I’d rather have rave reviews. But, if you don’t like them or they don’t make you think, I’d rather know. Then, I can make a decision. Change the column or stop writing.

I never intended writing a regular column for STAINLESS STEEL. It kinda’ crept up on me. As chairperson of the Import Sector, I tried to explain how the Import Levy worked (4th Quarter 2011); followed by a call for responsibility and involvement (1st Quarter 2012); then, the purpose of the Import Sector (2nd Quarter 2012). By then, my presumptuousness allowed  the slipping in of personal details like my New York-style loft and the anticipation of building an eco-house.

I skipped the 3rd Quarter 2012 column, writing, instead, on the NEW pressure equipment standard (SANS 347:2012 – Standard or Hurdle?).

Back to my hobby-horse for the 1st Quarter 2013: Disparate Thoughts – The Making of a Sector. The 2nd Quarter 2013 column discussed levy collections (with a liberal sprinkling of family anecdotes) – Straight Talk: Import Levy Collections.

The 3rd Quarter 2013 column showed how Import Sector members “pay their way,” and my penultimate Import Sector column alluded to the non-competitiveness of South Africa and the lack of an entrepreneurship. In my last Import Sector column (1st Quarter 2014), I stressed the need for the correct POSITIONING of an organisation. This is a concept sassda has now taken to heart, as evidenced by its focus on ‘engagement’ of members and all important, concerned parties.

BOLTFAST ADVERT

At that time, I vacated my chairpersonship of the Import   Sector and  took  over  as  chairperson  of  the Fabrication Sector and of the Pressure Equipment   Manufacturers’  Association of South Africa (PEMA).

I continued my column under a new banner, NO SACRED COWS and in the 2nd   Quarter   2014   questioned   why   a so potentially well-positioned product type as duplex stainless steel was not making it in the market. I suggested that the pricing strategy for duplex stainless steels did not “take advantage of nickel’s shenanigans.”

I expected comment from Outokumpu or Sandvik. Maybe others. Nothing.

My 3rd Quarter 2014 column criticised South Africans for being lazy. Again, no comment.

Either everyone agreed with me, or couldn’t  bother  to  comment.  It  crossed my mind; maybe my column had no readers!

The 1st Quarter 2015 column touched on the importance of “belonging” to sassda. The  2nd  Quarter  2015  column  was written after twenty days of “immersion” at sassda, in preparation for the drafting of the sassda Marketing Plan 2015+. I noted that the plan called for “increasing the awareness of stainless steel” and of “increased perception of sassda as THE stainless steel knowledge base.” The ultimate objective is to increase the “real value” of sassda “to members”.

Comment? Once again, deathly silence.

My    latest    column    (3rd    Quarter 2015) dealt with the “evolutionary” re- branding of sassda, of the need for strong and consistent branding, an ethos of engagement and the resultant increased sassda visibility.

No reader comment expected. None received.

If the consensus is that my column is not wanted, I won’t have a ‘hissy fit’. A little rejection never killed!

In any event, I feel blessed.

On the sassda front, an evolutionary Corporate Identity exercise is virtually completed.

A new advertising campaign will be launched this week.

We’re engaging top executives of project houses and will soon commence lunchtime sessions to demystify stainless steel for engineers.

We’ll be speaking at industry conferences.

We’re ‘getting closer ’ to publications, resulting in improved stainless steel coverage.

We’re building alliances with important groups

We’re engaging more with members. And,  our  ‘outside-in’  approach  will help  ensure  that  sassda  products  and services are aligned to member needs.

Despite having Parkinson’s disease (which I diagnosed myself), I don’t regard myself as handicapped in any way. My brain is sharp and my sense of humour is probably even more ‘acue’ (urban lingo for ‘awesome’). Sure, I sometimes have difficulty perambulating (thanks, Mrs White), but I won’t use ‘handicapped’ parking spaces.

In fact, most of the time, I’d prefer to see myself as a ‘Michael J. Fox Method Actor ’ rather than PD sufferer.

But,  there  are  times  that  could  see the beginnings of muttering under one’s breath. Like, when I fell recently, severing my ‘longhead biceps tendon.’

Anyway, I’ve just spent a wonderful weekend with my best friend … celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary (and forty two and a half years of being together)!

The verdict on me becoming a curmudgeon  is  still  out.  If  need  be,  I could still pretend.

So, take my muttering for real. Or, I could just be having a gas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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