There is a wonderful poem by Jenny Joseph titled Warning. The first line reads “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’’ and in it the speaker says she is looking forward to old age when she can throw off the stiff mantle of responsibility, sobriety and respectability. To stop conforming to society’s norms and start doing what she likes for a change.
It is one of my favourite childhood poems and I must admit, I sometimes take Jenny’s advice and practice a little, just so that people are not too surprised when I eventually take to it full time !
On Monday evening the WC racing community was invited to a meet and greet and general information evening by Purple Capital, the crowd who have been stating their interest in Gold Circle in quite a public way.
As pointed out by Purple Capital’s CEO Charles Savage in his presentation, a lot of racing’s current mentality, modus operandi, even our technology is old fashioned and, as I have said before, conducted largely behind closed doors (at which point I should say that some of it is done for good reason, but it seems that the disconnect between the decision makers and the action is getting bigger and bigger). So I found it quite refreshing when Charles approached me for help in arranging their meeting. I won’t lie, I found it nerve-wracking as well. I spent a good while debating the merits and demerits of getting involved, weighing up the possible repercussions and checking my home security system!!
And then I thought – how absolutely ridiculous. I am an independent adult with a mind of my own, why on earth should I not give these people a chance? It is public knowledge that Gold Circle are considering a divorce and with all the who-ha of the Competitions Commission, it is quite possible, if not highly likely that they might rule against the proposed Phumelela deal and then where will we be? Here was someone, not trying to buy me over, or plead or threaten, merely asking for an opportunity to introduce themselves and present their case. And they were offering dinner ! Why should I be afraid to go along and listen? It was an interesting question and one which threw up some interesting and uncomfortable answers.
So, I figured I’d play the field a bit. We have had our current incumbents, systems and rules for a long time and we are all pretty familiar with the status quo. I didn’t marry my first boyfriend (thank goodness!!), not because he wasn’t a great guy – he was, and still is – but he was not the right fit for me. And I’m fortunate in having been born in a generation where we have more choice and freedom than ever before. My parents are both wonderful people, but are from that generation that still sacrificed and ‘made do’ for the sake of the children. I am not. I don’t even have children (although my horses are probably nearly as expensive….). My generation is encouraged to examine, compare and make choices which benefit us and make us happy. Which is selfish of course, and comes with a whole basket of complications and responsibilities, but there it is. It is exciting and challenging, but it offers a lot of opportunities for anyone bold enough to seek them.
So why should I not feel free to examine my options before deciding who to support here? Particularly if Charles’ prediction turns out to be true that should the Competitions Commission rule against the current deal, there may well be other suitors entering the fray. So with a bit of Jenny Joseph at the back of my mind I decided that I’d quite like to hear what they had to say and see how they compared. And because I think it’s quite important for horse racing’s future that everyone is informed of the available choices, I agreed to help Charles with his meeting. Call it crazy, call it a premature ‘purple’ moment, whatever. I am pro-choice.
So, on to the meeting. Who was there and was it a success? Unlike some folks who feel that there was something shameful and underhand in attending (there was not, the Board had been informed), I thought it encouraging to be joined by some like-minded folk curious about Purple Capital and what they had to say. It was not an overwhelming turnout by any means, but there was nonetheless an interesting cross section of trainers, owners and other industry players.
When I asked Charles afterwards whether he was disappointed by the turnout, he said “No. It is one man, one vote and therefore no-one is any more or less important than anyone else.”
I was interested to note that there was no judgement of the attendees in terms of the size of their wallet or the size of their string and Charles gave his presentation as much energy and attention to detail as if the room had been packed. We all received neatly printed and bound copies of his presentation, which we were encouraged to take away with us, examine at our leisure and respond with any questions, queries, suggestions or criticism.
There has been an enormous amount of criticism (rightly or wrongly) of Phumelela and how racing has changed under Corporatisation. With industry giants having worked long and hard to keep Gold Circle for and about racing, rather than shareholders and the bottom line, I confess that the ’C’ word makes me rather apprehensive. However, should the Phum deal go ahead, that is what we would be facing and that is also the route Purple Capital are proposing.
There were a lot of facts, figures and statistics, some of which I confess went a little over my head, but I was encouraged that they appear anxious to engage with as many people from as many sectors of the industry as possible and that they are attempting to structure their deal based on input from all industry stakeholders.
I pestered Charles about the turnout again. It is fairly clear that Purple Capital is unpopular and that their interest is upsetting people. Why persist? Are they not worried about getting people into trouble? Charles reassures me that there are plenty of people who want change, but says they feel it is not their fight. They are happy to support us – ‘and have us fall on our swords if necessary!’ he says, only half joking, ‘but people don’t want to put their names and faces in the line of fire for fear of reprisal. We know we have support. So we’ll be back. We’ll keep inviting people and we’ll keep asking and we’ll keep trying. Because it’s important to get it right. People are suspicious and they have every right. Which is why we’re inviting them to come and examine us for themselves.”
The questions that seemed to be foremost in everyone’s minds were “Are Purple Capital associated in any way with Phindi Kema?” Charles says “categorically no”. The other question was “What about all this GTE stuff and do you guys really have any money?” Charles was refreshingly frank about the GTE saga and appeared quite willing to discuss what went wrong, the reasons behind it, and more importantly, how they coped and have rebuilt themselves more or less from the ground up. Of course it’s all good and well hearing their side of the story, but their reasons concurred with some of my research (I didn’t go unprepared!!) and their share price does appear to be on the rise.
I was also very interested in the way Purple Capital evaluated racing’s ‘unrepeatable assets’ and intrigued that they put a surprisingly high value on racing’s property – close on a billion rand in fact, based on Clairwood’s sale price. And they are not just focussing on the physical assets, but also the history and integrity of the industry as well as its future potential. It made for very interesting comparison with what I have heard of the Phumelela deal.
So were Purple Capital really as fantastic (or as villainous) as everyone had made out? There was a lot to like, a lot to absorb and a lot to think about, but at the end of the day, is there any point? What if the Competitions Commission rules for the Phumelela deal and this has just been a monumental waste of time, money and effort on Purple Capital’s side? “Well,” says Charles, “of course there is that possibility in which case that’s fine. If we are being beaten on merit, then that’s fair and we’ll accept that. All we are asking is for an equal chance.”
Some people I’ve spoken to seem of the view that anything is better than what we’ve got, which is perhaps a little unfair given all the time and effort it has taken our current board to get us this far down the road. But is the future Purple? I don’t know. But they certainly seem to merit a closer look.