SA mustn’t be chicken about taking lessons from Turkey

Business

SA mustn’t be chicken about taking lessons from Turkey

Bank-postal service hybrid aims to be an e-commerce force in Africa, and SA Post Office is a potential partner

Mark Barnes


As part of the ECOM@AFRICA initiative I was invited by Posta ve Telgraf Teskilati (Turkish Post or PTT) to Turkey as a potential future partner. The visit coincided with the signing of a memorandum of agreement between PTT and Tunisia Post – the next step in an ambitious plan by PTT to enter into more such agreements to create an e-commerce force that would serve a world centred around Africa, not the West or East.
Africa is the new game, but it’s up to us. We are not to be ignored – our population may well exceed that of China by 2025. This strategy will create a powerful alternative to the already established capabilities, allegiances and alliances in the West and East, such as Amazon and Alibaba.
The PTT team took on this project some three years ago. Integral to its success is the new Istanbul Airport. Completed in 39 months(!), at a cost of €10.2bn, it is the biggest airport in the world, expected to serve 200 million passengers a year once fully operational.
Adjacent to the airport we toured the new mail and parcel sorting facilities that will service the huge expected growth in e-commerce-generated parcel volumes.
When you pass through the toll roads you see HGS (PTT’s payment alternative) competing alongside the private sector alternative, OGS. Every branch of PTT I walked into was at once a bank and a post office, a fully integrated service in one place –  blue aisle for banking, yellow for post.
PTT has done exactly what the SA Post Office (SAPO) wants to do, and it is just starting. “We’ve had to invest to grow,” they say, almost as a dictum. It’s obvious. SAPO’s 2030 strategy has been tabled, and it is not dissimilar to PTT’s. We are right.
Enabling legislative changes in Turkey were addressed at the start – banking, logistics, structure, sources of capital.  In SA we’re trudging through these as we go.
The PTT structure brings together various operating subsidiaries, defined to accommodate the different subcultures in technology, logistics, post and banking. But all report to the same ultimate boss. The subsidiaries don’t revel in autonomy, instead they are proud pieces of the puzzle. They fit, they combine, they integrate. Common purpose is the prevailing wind. Everyone knows their roles but they subscribe to a higher purpose – an outcome only achieved with extraordinary leadership and total acceptance of the strategy.
There are rules and regulations, but they’re an enabling grid. The driving forces are the wisdom, judgment, experience and will of the people tasked to run the show. The key individuals are intelligent, informed, filled with self-belief and strategically aligned. We have such people in SAPO. 
PTT’s vision is bold and it had to fight to make it happen, to inspire and convince the politicians, to get the signatures.
Utilities and monopolies and jobs for life are relics of the past. To take the established footprints, legislative rights, obligations and public service mandates into the future we will have to go beyond preservation and protection into bold investment. Employ the best people, pay them what they’re worth. Get out of comfort zones, take calculated risks.
We will have to fight our way out of the refuge of failure, against improperly established vested interests and legacy thinking, to even embrace the possibility of success. We’ll have to earn self confidence in the new world. We must show the stuff we’re made of.
• Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.

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