Someone’s Changed the Rules

by Peter Cheales  

The Pursuit of Wealth
The rise of ‘middle class’ values since World War Two (1946 – 1986)

Business growth and expansion:

  • An abundance of natural resources; the ability to turn them into wealth and prosperity.
  • Business seeks growth, rising profits: mass-production techniques, refined during the war, look to consumerism.
  • The (SA) Government support efforts to improve white living standards.
  • Businesses grow and expand: after starting off as a small general dealer in Johannesburg before the war. The OK Bazaars become a post-war giant with hundreds of branches throughout the country.
  • Vast resources of cheap, unskilled black labour keep the wheels of industry turning, particularly in the construction, mining and manufacturing sectors.
  • Business takes a paternal interest in employees: defines benefits for mostly white workers (non-contributory pension funds, company subsidized medical aid, company cars or car allowances).
  • A university degree or college diploma virtually guarantees a well-paid career for life.
  • Employee loyalty prized and rewarded. Pay packet sizes often based on the length of service.
  • Near full employment leads to stability in the workplace.
  • Large corporations provide job and social security for their employees.
  • As demands generally exceeds supply, customer service levels dip to abysmal lows. Employees adopt a ‘like-it-or-lump-it’ attitude towards customers.

The economic juggernaut.

Excesses of the 1980’s

  • Business uses advertising to develop a culture of consumerism to acquire rising manufactured outputs as an endless stream of new products arrive on the market. Shopping mall development makes shopping more convenient, more fun and more comfortable.
  • Pop music, the cinema and TV give impetus to the ‘must have’ syndrome.
  • People abandon high-density central city living for suburban (one family, one home standing on its own grounds) lifestyle.
  • Two-car families become the norm in white suburbia.
  • High-priced designer clothes and heavily branded products fuel consumer elitism.
  • People become obsesses with expanding personal wealth.
  • Widespread belief that hard work and loyalty to employers brings financial security, a satisfactory level of affluence and comfortable retirement.

Personality cult.

  • Madonna, ‘The Material Girl’, shrugs off conventions of good taste by wearing lingerie on stage. She brags: ‘I dress to excess’. David Bowie, who also defies convention, proclaims: ‘Too much is never enough.’
  • Business tycoons flaunt their wealth and power for their moment of fame/notoriety. In the US, Lee Iacocco, CEO of the Chrysler Corporations boasts of his prowess in TV and print ads. In South Africa, the managing director of Checkers does his ‘trolley for trolley’ act in 30 seconds spurts on TV. Robin Hood, chief executive OK Bazaars, follows suit.
  • Then came the latest revolution. People were gatvol of the hype, the emphasis on materialism, the drudgery of life.


What Changed Us?
Bureaucracy didn’t deliver the goods (1986-1994)

The grand illusion

  • The grand Vision: all social problems would be solved; an end to business cycles, economic insecurities, poverty and racism; limitless personal freedom and self-fulfillment; the guarantee of a decent life for the aged, disabled, ill and unlucky. From the Good life and its Discontents by Robert J. Samuelson. They didn’t happen.
  • Business and political leaders cling to ineffective tactics in the face of new cultural realities in South Africa. The ‘liberation struggle’ by blacks intensifies. New demands are issued almost daily. International sanctions bite hard.
  • Cracks appear and widen the wall of apartheid. The apartheid ‘regime’ falters and capitulates.
  • South African business loses its captive market. Global competitors launch an invasion.
  • South Africa’s top-heavy hierarchical corporate and institutional structures begin to collapse.
  • South Africa’s first democratically elected government, led by Nelson Mandela, sweeps into power on a litany of promises.
  • Standards of service delivery fall across the board in both the private and public sectors as those with experience are retrenched or opt for early retirement. Rising crime levels, black empowerment and affirmative action lead to a ‘brain drain’ that denudes South Africa of the skills it can ill-afford to lose.

Enough is enough

  • People reassess their priorities, needs and interest. The country’s Third World element sets about enthusiastically pursuing wealth; the First World element thinks more about preserving time and lifestyles.
  • Foreign and domestic fixed investment dwindles in the face of militant trade unionism and inflexible new labour legislation.

A world out of control

  • Law and order breaks down; criminals reign supreme. The security industry thrives as people focus on making their lives more physically secure.
  • The 1985 Challenger shuttle disaster in the United States proves that not even cutting edge technology is fail-safe.
  • Medical Science fails to find a cure for AIDS. TB, thought to have been wiped out, returns with a vengeance. Viral infections begin to triumph over over-prescribed anti-biotics.
  • El Nino plays havoc with world weather patterns. Hurricanes, floods, abnormal winds, unprecedented heat and earthquakes cut a swathe of destruction across continents.

Workplace woes

  • Degrees and diploma count for little. They have become two-a-penny commodities in the highly competitive job market.
  • In the face of massive lay-offs, salaries stagnate and even dip.
  • A wave of retrenchment and forced early retirements lead to people changing jobs frequently.
  • The life-time career with one company has been relegated to the realms of history. This plus retrenchments and lay-offs have led to a growing sense of insecurity.

Socio-political factors

  • Politically-motivated thuggery reaches an all-time high during the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic elections. Criminals take over the streets.
  •  Wide-scale retrenchments, right sizing and downsizing as business attempts to cut costs in the face of rising foreign competition. Unprecedented rates of unemployment fuel the spiralling crime rate.
  • The scourge of illicit drugs sweeps through South Africa. Policing remains ineffective. Teen violence. Rape and teen pregnancies accompany the widespread of abuse of hallucinatory drugs.
  • People looked for life’s meaning, simplicity, happiness, security, an opportunity to ‘do their thing’.


How have we changed?
The Personal Revolution

The ‘sensible era’.

  • Many formerly coveted products – women’s designer fashions, status holidays, and other brand-name consumer products ‘ lose their appeal.
  • People place individual career-building to validate self-worth and personal wealth accumulation on the backburner. They seriously challenge the validity of exchanging hard work for financial reward.
  • People reject transfers and promotions that command more money if they are likely to impinge on quality personal time and demand too much energy.
  • People reject the old post-war ‘mentally’ that responds to difficulties by calling on employees to work longer hours, increases the adspend , creates more brand-name hype and cuts costs.
  • More people opt to work from home ‘ an option made possible by rapid advances in telecommunications and digital technology. The growing sophisticated and processing power of personal computers add to human capabilities.
  • With career-for-life a thing of the past, people upgrade their existing skills and acquire new ones to make themselves more self-reliant and self-sufficient. They satisfy their need for more personal control by going-it-alone in business as consultants and independent, specialist contactors.
  • A lifetime of learning to keep abreast of fast-breaking developments in the business world becomes a ‘must’ for survival.

Get a life!

  • People take time out to ponder the meaning of life through feng shui, the Chinese art of creating balance and harmony within the environment. It provides a physical solution to metaphysical problems. Among the believers are Donald Trump.
  • ‘Rabbi on a roll’, orthodox Rabbi Nachum Shrifan, is a surf-ski fanatic. He has ridden the biggest and most dangerous waves from Malibu to Hawaii. He also swims, runs, is a triathlete and served as a lifeguard for 10 years. These are not pursuits normally associated with a rabbi. Described by some as a ‘cool dude’, Rabbi Shriffan, who now lives in Jerusalem, explains the affinity of his sporting prowess with deeply held religious beliefs in a book. Surf and Soul: The Spiritual Journey from Malibu to Jerusalem.
  • Companies around the world are introducing a fun element in the work place to motivate workers demoralized by layoffs and downsizing. At Clicks in Cape Town the play Monopoly; at Mark and Spencer in London they write poetry; at Phelps dodge in Arizona they attend Yoga classes.
  • Ubuntu; a celebration of collective ‘personhood’. In South Africa, business have decided to go the ubuntu route be developing ‘caring souls’ – a quality and dimension of experiencing life and individuals in terms of depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance.
  • Hitch-hiking develops a new spirit of camaraderie with fellow road users. Hitching junkie Iris, a 70-year-old widow in the cape, remains imbued with the wanderlust. Armed with a well-used thumb, she finds that the world is her oyster. When she takes to the road, she’s more concern with going than with getting there.
  • Money doesn’t buy happiness. People who choose bucks are often more depressed then other mortals. Tim Kasser, assistant Professor of Psychology at Knox College in Illinois, says self-acceptance, meaning in life. Intimacy and strong community feeling bring happiness. More people are voluntarily downsizing life: rejecting a 60-hour working week, moving to smaller houses and taking a salary cuts to spend more quality time with their families.

How does this impact on customer?

  • Brand appeal diluted. Consumers want reliability, not old-style over hyped brand reassurance.
  • Product or service effectiveness becomes more important than image.
  • Ready availability of products and services a ‘must’.
  • The demand is for high-quality but less costly products and services.
  • Consumers want a direct link between themselves and the marketers and manufacturers. Middlemen get the heave-ho.
  • Fashion and dress becomes less formal.
  • Conventional and mall shopping takes up too much time. More consumers swing to electronic shopping (e-shopping) on the Internet for some purchases. Doubts about invasion of privacy and lack of security inhibit e-shopping in South Africa.
  • To shop on Internet, consumers require more accurate, factual product and service information. And they’re prepared to pay for solutions to their specific problems.
  • With access to Internet, customers will experience enhanced convenience, a greater speed service. They will also easily be able to compare prices. On-line subscribers can suck out cyberspace whatever interests them and ignore what doesn’t.
  • On-line customers can order a product to be produced to their specifications. And almost everything will be up for auction: products and services advertised on the Internet will be available to everyone, irrespective of where in the world they live.
  • Smart business people allow consumers to set all agendas, passing control to them.