A seminar on Reflections from the World Economic Forum (WEF), hosted at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) on Tuesday evening, had an unexpected twist. The central theme of the session – Africa’s role in the fourth industrial revolution, which was a topic that featured heavily in Davos talks, took a detour when, in a moment that had visibly caught everyone unawares, the president of suspended low-cost airline Skywise Tabassum Qadi went on a rant that ended with her asking the panellists whether they thought she should resurrect the airline.
It happened during the question and answer session, after some of the panellists, and GIBS director Nick Binedell in particular, expressed optimism about South Africa despite the many reasons to believe otherwise. Binedell said South Africans, and Africans in general, were a very resilient people. On a day that the Nkandla case against President Jacob Zuma had been heard in the constitutional court, and after several pre- and post-Davos meetings between government and business, Binedell was upbeat about South Africa’s future.
In light of that, Qadi said she too was an optimistic person. But said she was confused as to why the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) had grounded her airline in what was going to be their busiest period, which would have allowed them to repay most if not all their debt.
“Today, I don’t know where I stand, because people are accusing me saying the [Skywise] business model was not right, and that the internal processes were not right. But they don’t know what my business model was. None of the journalists have asked me, none of the analysts have asked me…”
She added: “I had 25 000 unsold tickets going into December. Even if we only sold 2 000, we would have made R1 million…I have been very successful and I have travelled extensively,” Qadi continued. When she was interrupted by entrepreneur Marius Oosthuizen, who chaired the panel and pressed to ask a question, she said she wanted to know [from the panellists] whether she should revive [Skywise] or not.”
Other than Align Advisory directory Matthew Birtch – who said long-term oil prices should be central to Qadi’s decision and offered to chat to her privately on the matter – none of the panellists offered advice.
After the session, Qadi told Moneyweb that she had already began plans to relaunch the airline, albeit after some rebranding. She said her main challenges were to come up with a plan that would protect her from the political interfering that she believed was responsible for Skywise’s demise.
On why she chose to pose such a question in the place and manner that she did, Qadi said she had already consulted with other experts on whether to bring Skywise back but that “It’s always good to take advise from the business fraternity of South Africa, particularly those who have just returned from Davos”.
*Also on the aforementioned panel, but not mentioned in the above article, were Abdullah Verachia, CEO of MVA Consulting, Adrian Kitimbo, visiting researcher at the GIBS Centre for Dynamic Markets (CDM) and Professor Lyle White, director of the CDM.
Brought to you by Moneyweb