Opinion: Holger Rust

Now more than ever, there is a demand for ethics in business. Listening to the voices of the general population of South Africa and the world, the demand for ethical and honest leadership is growing all the time.

In 2014, when South Africa still had a public protector worth the title, Advocate Thuli Madonsela addressed the South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE). She was encouraged by the Code of Ethics that was formulated by those professionals.

Among the provisions in the code, she specifically mentioned:
1. Act with integrity and fairness.
2. Have regard for the public interest.
3. Maintain and broaden competence and assist others to do so.
4. Exercise appropriate skills and judgement.
5. Avoid conflict of interest.
6. Treat people with dignity.
7. Do not misrepresent your area of experience and responsibility.

Rotten collusion
Dr John C Maxwell, an American author, speaker and pastor, comments: “There is no such thing as business ethics. People either have ethics or they don’t. If they do not have personal ethics, they will definitely not have ethics in business and if they have personal ethics, they will definitely have it in business too.”

What the above means to say, is that the rot from one apple will spread to all apples in the crate, unless timeously removed.

In our country in particular, we come across them in great numbers in the form of politicians who collude with “tender-preneurs”, clients or main contractors who resort to sluggish payments based on spurious reasons, people who choose public emotions as a lifestyle or their opposites, who find it expedient to cut off communication altogether.

The real cost of imitations
Ever since the founding of Terraforce in 1979, its management team has been driven by one primary concern, namely to build an authentic, sustainable company that could survive and thrive without exploiting resources or trampling on the interests of others.

Precisely installed Terraforce retaining wall in Spain.

This resolute commitment to quality, integrity and innovation paid off. Terraforce, a local and international licensor for a range of unique precast earth-retaining and erosion-control products, grew into a household name in the precast industry. Naturally, this came with a healthy dose of robust competition.

Holger Rust, founder of Terraforce, has never perceived this as a threat, as he is rather advocating that most people in business understand that competition is good for business and the consumer. Over time, however, a string of imitators, operating in many locations, kept popping up, often leaving behind an inevitable trail of on-site disasters and unhappy clients.

Rust says: “Lacking a sense of ethics and values, most of them are strangers to terms such as statutory requirements, surcharge loadings, potential failure planes, interface shear capacity, pull-out and crushing resistance, lateral earth pressure or progressive backfill erosion. In the early days, the lack of any SABS/SANS standards made the situation even worse. For obvious reasons, most of these ‘free loaders’ do not last very long.”

Cheap yields cheap
And indeed, there have been incidents where sectors of the free market ran amok, as the Competition Tribunal saga in 2009 clearly showed. During that time, David Lewis, then the Competition Tribunal chairman, was quoted saying: “It is an incontrovertible fact that the level of cartel activity is unusually high in South Africa.” (Cape Times, 19 July 2009)

Rust says: “The huge fines that were dished out to the culprits don’t seem to make much of a difference. In the precast industry the trend of producing cheap imitations that mislead the end-user into believing they are dealing with an authentic product and withholding/delaying contractor payment is still a big issue for anyone wanting to make an honest living amongst these sharks.”

The bottom line, says Rust, is that low profit margins in South Africa can lead to scant regard for intellectual property rights, which tends to hold back the quest for better quality products.

Sticking to your ethical guns, even if the road is harder
Rust firmly stands by his own choice of never veering off an ethical and authentic path when it comes to running his personal life and business ventures. “To be innovative and ethically sustainable has always been a huge priority in how I started up and run this business. And this will never change. This strategy has paid off well over the past 40 years. In the current crisis, some of our licensees have even managed to increase their turnover, demonstrating that running a business with integrity is indeed possible!”

For more information, contact Terraforce:
Tel: +27 21 465 1907
Website: www.terraforce.co.za

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