Difference between training and education

July 6, 2008

Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of University College London, gave the address at this morning’s thanksgiving service for Waitaki Boys’ High School 125th reunion.

His theme was the difference between knowledge and wisdom and one of his points was how to differentiate between education and skills training.

He suggested we consider how we’d react if a daughter or grand daughter answered the question of what she’d done at school by saying she’d had sex education; then how we’d react if she’d said she’d had sex skills training.

Professor Grant started his address by referring to the school motto: Quanti Est Sapere, which I think translates as How Much Is Wisdom.

If I’ve got that wrong it’s a reflection on my memory and not Professor Grant’s mother, Vera, who taught me Latin at Waitaki Girls’.

While listening to this morning’s address I remembered that over the doors of rooms at what was called the Senior School building at Waitaki Girls’ (sadly demolished about 20 years ago) were quotes; one was relevant to this morning’s address (and I may not have this word perfect because it’s more than 30 years since I was a pupil): Knowledge is proud it knows so much, wisdom is humble it knows no more.


New Toy

July 6, 2008

We have just invested in a mobile connection for the laptop.

It was supposed to have been set up on Thursday and when we couldn’t connect we presumed it was because mobile reception can be a bit hit and miss at home.

However, when we tried to check road conditions on our way up the Waitaki Valley today it still wouldn’t connect.

The very helpful bloke at the Telecom help desk discovered our connection hadn’t been processed, then told me to hang up and he’d call me back when he’d sorted it out.

He did, it was and I was able to get reception until we entered the Lindis Pass.

I’m impressed.


Cullen shoots messenger

July 6, 2008

Michael Cullen reckons Tony Friedlander, Road Transport Forum chief executive, organised the truckers’ protest for political reasons.

“There may well have been [a misunderstanding] but I think there’s a great deal of politics about this as well. It’s not an entire coincidence, I’m sure, that the head of the Road Transport [Forum] is a former National Party cabinet minister.”

The Government has denied it misled truckers by agreeing to a month’s notice on RUC increases before raising them overnight earlier this week. Dr Cullen did not accept that truckies were more aggrieved with what they saw as a betrayal by the Government than with the RUC increases themselves.

“Clearly, there’s going to be a great deal of resentment around [the RUC increase], that’s absolutely understandable, but the fact that people have chosen to take a particular form of protest . . . I don’t think is entirely unrelated and I don’t think it was entirely unplanned at the senior levels of the Road Transport [Forum] either.

“I’m sure they would have had some expectation there could have been a RUC increase on 1 July, I’m sure they would’ve known it was under consideration by Cabinet.”

Perhaps they should have been mind readers?

Mr Friedlander, a National MP for 12 years up until 1987, hit back at Dr Cullen last night, saying his former political ties were no secret.

“But I’ve been in this role and in this industry for 15 years,” Mr Friedlander said. “I’ve worked for Labour ministers during that time, both in Government and when they were in opposition and I believe I’ve done that totally impartially.

“Dr Cullen really ought to recognise this protest action was spontaneous – it was organised in two and a half days. I’m pleased that he has such a high opinion of me that he thinks I’m capable of getting approximately 4,500 protesting truck drivers out across New Zealand and that I’m capable of swinging public opinion behind our industry in the way that has been demonstrated.

Mr Friedlander denied the trucking industry knew the Government was considering increasing the charges, saying it “came out of left field”.

Literally – but in spite of what Cullen thinks the truckers’ protest didn’t come out of right field; and the public support certainly didn’t have any party-political origins either. The protest merely provided that mythical silent majority with an opportunity to express itself.

Adam Smith gives his view on Cullen’s tactics here.


Ignoring him didn’t work …

July 6, 2008

…so now she’s attacking him:

Prime Minister Helen Clark says Don Brash had presence and authority. She also speaks warmly of former National leaders Bill English (“never take him lightly, he’s a clever man”), Jenny Shipley and Jim Bolger.

Goodness me, I don’t recall this high regard when they were National leaders. The animosity towards Jenny Shipley in particular, partly because she beat Clark to be first female PM, was legend.

When it comes to John Key, Clark stops short of Winston Churchill’s famous quote on Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald: “He has more than any other man the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought.”

She also deliberately avoids the word lightweight, but it is clear she is taking cold, calculated aim at the man who leads her in the polls and the empty spaces she thinks she can see in his leadership profile.

“He is very thin-skinned. In the end he will hang himself because he isn’t good on his feet, he is a very carefully scripted and managed candidate,” she told the Herald on Sunday.

Thre’s more:

The gloomy headlines and general pessimism were of little concern at this early stage in the campaign, she claimed, and the least of her worries was Key.

“There’s this guy who has been in Parliament for a second term. He has no background in public life. He’s spent years out of New Zealand. Heaven knows what he did. He made an awful lot of money, but he’s a bit of an unknown quantity and that is what the Kiwi electorate will focus on – a bit of an unknown quantity.”

If he’s the least of her worries why does she spend so much energy and time attacking him?

So how did he rate alongside National leaders of the past?

“In terms of all the others I’ve dealt with, there is no doubt in my mind he would be the least prepared for what he would like to do,” Clark said.

Former Prime Minister and National Party leader Jim Bolger was easy-going and someone people could relate to while Jenny Shipley had a “very considerable presence”.

Bill English may be remembered for achieving “a spectacularly bad result” for National at the 2002 general election, but nevertheless could never be taken lightly because he was a “clever man”.

And while Don Brash may have been this “figure of fun” he was still someone who had “presence and authority”.

Key, on the other hand, was someone who didn’t stand up well to pressure.

“It’s one thing to think of you as a nice person – the other question is whether you can do the job and represent our country in a crisis. Would you buckle under pressure? What do you really stand for? What drives you?

“He hasn’t been tested but when he is put under scrutiny he is very thin-skinned.”

Thin skinned? Goodness that is the pot calling the kettle black.

And what does Key say in response?

THE NATIONAL leader decided on a more diplomatic approach yesterday, saying that he and Clark were obviously “very different people”.

“I do not have decades of political experience, but I do bring to the table a wide range of international and domestic experience and an understanding of the real issues facing New Zealand.

“I am also not bound up by the issues that dominated New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Experience in the real world and a 21st century mindset vs someone still stuck in the 20th century. No contest.


New era or just paying SFF’s debt?

July 6, 2008

If debt is not behind this deal, than why would a cooperative want to invite into the fold a company like PGG Wrightson, a public company dominated by two major shareholders?

The question comes from Jon Morgan.  His answer follows:

 The spin merchants for Silver Fern Farms and PGG Wrightson are hailing their merger proposal as the dawn of a wonderful new era in the meat industry.

 Well, they would say that.

They may be right, but here’s an alternative view. Some industry observers feel the deal is more about Silver Fern (formerly known as PPCS) finding someone to pay its debt.

Under the deal, PGG Wrightson will pay $220 million for 50 per cent of Silver Fern, a cooperative owned by 9000 farmer shareholders.

In October PPCS posted a $40 million loss but was back in the black this year with a first-half profit of $11.2 million. Though it expects to make big savings from plant closures it still has to find the money to pay for them – the recent Oringi shutdown is costed at $12 million-$15 million alone.

Silver Fern’s immediate concern is to make sure its accounts are passed for the financial year ending August 31 and it has to show the auditors that its bondholders are secure. Two tranches of bonds are in the market – $50 million to be repaid next March and $75 million due in December 2010.

Though this deal with PGG Wrightson would not be approved by shareholders till September it may be enough to cover any auditors’ concerns.

The debt goes back to the costly Richmond takeover, achieved after a long and bitter battle in 2004, and has been exacerbated by Silver Fern’s failure to make any money for the past three years.

If debt is not behind this deal, than why would a cooperative want to invite into the fold a company like PGG Wrightson, a public company dominated by two major shareholders?

That’s the cynic’s view of what the deal will do for Silver Fern. What will it do for PGG Wrightson? Well, here you have to bear in mind a long-term view of the industry and remember that the man at the top of this company is the entrepreneurial Craig Norgate.

If you regard him as the new Ron Brierley, as Sir Ron’s old mate Sir Selwyn Cushing does, then you could look on this deal as the opening gambit of a power play. After winning control of the Silver Fern boardroom his next move is to lure the other South Island cooperative, Alliance, into a merger, during which he will allow his company to be bought out at a handsome profit.

If Alliance spurns such blandishments, he could launch a takeover instead. That’s much harder to do if the shareholders don’t actually hold tradeable shares. But Alliance is troubled by a dwindling supply of stock in the dairy-rich deep south and would be hard-pressed if a procurement war broke out.

He has a third option: to stay in a new Silver Fern- Alliance company and await further opportunities down the road. And they will come. There’s a mood for change in the industry – the failed Alliance mega-merger plan at least showed that the other meat companies were willing to talk about restructuring. It’s so much more painless when you can rationalise – meaning close meat plants and lay off workers – if you can do it in concert.

Before all this can happen there’s one immediate hurdle to jump. It’s a pretty big one – 75 per cent approval of Silver Fern’s shareholders. Almost all will be South Island farmers, a pretty fractious bunch of late.

They’ve been upset about Silver Fern’s prevarication over the mega- merger but now they know why. Maybe they’ll see the intervention of Mr Norgate as the price they have to pay to get the merger back on track. But then, losing control of their company for $5 extra a lamb may be too high a price for them. Time will tell.

Of course, Alliance could launch a pre-emptive strike and make a rival offer for Silver Fern. That would give the shareholders something to really think about.

The possible ramifications of this deal are enough to make your head spin. Another is the procurement situation. Combined, Silver Fern’s and PGG Wrightson’s stock-buying workforce will be more than 350. Will there be enough work for them all? And what about the contracts that PGG Wrightson now has to procure for other processors, such as Bernard Matthews and Progressive? The company says it will continue to fulfil them, but what happens when stock is in short supply? Its priority will surely be the company that it owns half of.

Stock throughput is any processor’s lifeblood. Bills have to be paid. Silver Fern’s debt will be transferred to PGG Wrightson’s balance sheet, but it will borrow to fund the deal and will need the cashflow.

Another issue for the wider industry is the trust it now has in Silver Fern. All the big companies, along with Meat & Wool New Zealand, backed the Meat Industry Taskforce, set up to find a strategy for an industry beset by tough trading times. The taskforce collapsed late last week when it lost the support of a key player, publicly unnamed but widely believed to be Silver Fern.

It would be unsurprising to find the other members of the taskforce do not hold Silver Fern in high regard. Which could be a problem for the industry’s hopes for expanding meat sales outside the main markets of Britain, Europe and United States. This depends on cooperation, but Silver Fern has not been very cooperative lately.

Again, Mr Norgate may be key to resolving this. His business acumen is widely admired by the companies.

If he decides to make a long- term commitment to the new-look Silver Fern he could smooth over the hurt feelings.

A lot depends on him. Is he there for the long haul or just passing through?

He says it all.


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