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Making money out of managing reputations

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Her name is is Janine Hills. She is driven, ambitious, and direct in her speech, a keen-eyed go-getter. Image: vumareputation.com

JOHANNESBURG – Her name is is Janine Hills.  She is driven, ambitious, and direct in her speech, a keen-eyed go-getter.

Which is why it was easy for her to shoot straight to the top of the ladder in the corporate reputation management business.

Hills is the founder and chief executive officer of Vuma Reputation Management, a Johannesburg-based outfit that makes money out of making people look good. 

The 54-year old Melrose, Sandton, resident who came to Joburg from Port Elizabeth, says she decided to create Vuma Reputation while taking a break from the death of her mother.

“I needed to shift the dimension of what communications meant in the minds of people,” Hills says. “Where people don’t always respect the role of communications.  I wanted to run my own company.” 

She says she was tired of telling other people how to run their companies.

Vuma clients include some of the country’s blue-chip companies such as Sibanye-Stillwater, Bombadier and restaurant franchiser Spur Corporation.

File Image: Supplied

Vuma employs 23 full time staff and about 12 other professionals in the media training, writing and videography divisions.  Hills says she has a good understanding of the world as she came from a poor background.

At 13 , she helped her father sell fish and run his hardware shop, which left her with no weekends.  However, the experience horned her entrepreneurial skills and the dos and don’ts of doing business.

“It gave me an understanding of how to deal with people at all levels of society,” she says. “It gave me the ground of understanding that as an entrepreneur you have got to be available to your client 24/7.”

Hills says she knew as a teen that all was not well in South Africa 

“That’s when I started carving out my idea of what I wanted to be as a person.  White privilege is not generally understood.  White people don’t understand white privilege.” 

She says she left to live with her grandmother because they share a common view of what was going on in the country. And her biggest shock came when she was blocked from entering some European countries that detested white South Africans.

In Spain, she was given 24-hours to leave the country. “I learned humility, flexibility, and how to be nimble enough.”

She says because her family was too poor to finance any dreams of university studies, she started her career at then only multiracial hotel in Port Elizabeth, Holiday. 

She was then headhunted by Southern Sun International.

“They flew me in for an interview, WOW.  I was specifically brought in to help relaunch the Wild Coast Sun. What we had to do was go into the rural areas, and we employed people, all Xhosa-speaking, my knowledge of Xhosa helped me a lot here.”

She then went to work for Vodacom during the mobile operators founding in the early 1990s before getting a call from then FirstRand chief executive Paul Harris and she found herself working closely with erstwhile First National Bank chief Michael Jordaan on the eBucks – the full e-commerce brand for the First Rand Group.

“We created a product called, eBucks.com, a full ecommerce initiative for entire group.”

The most important lesson  she learned was discipline and how to achieve stability in a growing business.  

Now with 14 years of leading her company, she will step down next month to make way for two joint-chief executives. Hills says she will coach them for the next three months until one of them becomes takes over by October.

She says she is personally going through a transformation, is learning how to let go of her past, which includes the worst mistake of trusting a business partner that ended up scamming her, forcing her to sell her house to keep Vuma Reputation afloat.

The scam cost her nearly R2-million. She believes a life well-lived means, “Inner joy, inner peace of knowing what you’ve fulfilled what you really came here to do.”  
About women empowerment, she says, “The woman’s voice is starting to be taken seriously.  I sit on five boards.  The woman voice is important.  When you see people as equal, you create opportunities that are equal together.  This is about equal opportunity.”  

Hills says she will hold on to ber 51 percent shareholding at Vuma.

“We’ve been very blessed to deal with many corporates.”  

BUSINESS REPORT 

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Puerto Rico governor refuses to resign as island braces for big protest

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(Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s governor on Sunday said he would not seek re-election next year but refused to resign as the island braced for more protests by demonstrators demanding he step down over leaked chat messages.

A day before a planned general strike and street demonstrations in the bankrupt U.S. territory, Ricardo Rossello, 40, said he respected the wishes of Puerto Ricans and would not seek a second term in November 2020 elections.

He also said he would resign as head of the New Progressive Party (PNP) but would remain as governor until the end of his term in January, 2021.

“I know that apologizing is not enough,” Rossello said in a video posted on Facebook. “A significant sector of the population has been protesting for days. I’m aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort they feel. Only my work will help restore the trust of these sectors and lead the way to real reconciliation.”

His comments drew outrage from the many Puerto Ricans, with videos on social media showing San Juan residents leaning out of apartment windows banging pots and pans in a third day of so-called “cacerolazo” protests.

The July 13 publication of offensive chat messages between Rossello and top aides has unleashed simmering resentment over his handling of devastating 2017 hurricanes, alleged corruption in his administration and the island’s bankruptcy process.

“‘#Resign Ricky isn’t just a call for him to resign from the party, but from his seat as the top official,” tweeted Linda Michelle, an industrial engineer and Puerto Rico radio personality. “Whoever wasn’t sure about going to the march tomorrow has now made up their mind to go.”

Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers have called for the governor to step aside after nine days of sometimes violent protests.

“Once again: Rosselló must resign,” tweeted U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to his video.

But Puerto Rico’s Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, a member of the pro-statehood PNP, said Rossello’s actions “put an end to part of the controversies and trauma hitting our people” and his ruling party now had to rebuild confidence in their leadership.

In the online chats revealed by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, the center-right governor and his top allies referred to politicians, celebrities and ordinary Puerto Ricans in misogynistic, homophobic and offensive terms.

The speaker of Puerto Rico’s house of representatives appointed an independent panel on Friday to investigate whether the chats warranted impeachment and gave it 10 days to deliver a report.

Slideshow (8 Images)

“I have to respect the constitutional order and welcome the process started by the legislative assembly,” Rossello said in the video.

The latest unrest comes at a critical stage in the U.S. territory’s bankruptcy process as it tries to restructure around $120 billion in debt and pension obligations.

It has also raised concerns among U.S. lawmakers who are weighing the island’s requests for billions of federal dollars for healthcare and work to recover from Hurricane Maria, which led to nearly 3,000 deaths.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting by Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney, Dan Grebler and Daniel Wallis

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Mexico says dodges bullet on ‘safe third country’ talks with U.S. after stemming migrant flows

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MEXICO CITY/SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Mexico said on Sunday it averted the so-called “safe third country” negotiations with the United States it desperately wanted to avoid after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Mexican efforts in reducing U.S.-bound migrant flows.

But Pompeo, while praising Mexico’s efforts, said there was still “more work to do.”

Pompeo met with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Sunday in Mexico City amid heightened bilateral tension ahead of a July 22 deadline on a deal that removed tariff threats on Mexican exports.

An agreement reached in June laid out that if the United States deems that Mexico has not done enough to thwart migrants by the deadline, the two countries would begin talks over changing rules to make most asylum seekers apply for refuge in Mexico, not the United States.

Ebrard said considering the advances Mexico had made, it was not necessary to “initiate any type of negotiation on a safe third country agreement between Mexico and the United States.”

Pompeo, however, was less definitive. He praised the progress made by Mexico in helping cut apprehensions on the U.S. southern border by a almost a third last month, but added: “We’ve got a long way to go yet. There’s still much more work to do.

“As for the next set of actions, I’ll talk with the president and the teams back in Washington and we’ll decide exactly which tools and exactly how to proceed,” Pompeo said at a news conference in San Salvador, the last leg of a short Latin American tour.

Mexico argues it has followed through on its commitment to reduce migration from Central America, underscoring that apprehensions of migrants on the southern U.S. border dropped roughly a third to about 100,000 in June. Mexico has deployed some 21,000 militarized National Guard police to decrease the flow of people.

Under the agreement, Mexico averted punitive tariffs on U.S.-bound Mexican shipments threatened by President Donald Trump by promising to cut the number of illegal migrants traveling from Central America to the U.S. border.

The meeting between the nations’ two top diplomats came a day before the end of the 45-day period and as U.S lawmakers wrangle over a regional trade deal meant to replace the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Mexican ambassador to Washington, Martha Barcena, on Thursday said “we have said once and again that we are not ready to sign” any such safe third country agreement.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Trump has made immigration a cornerstone of his presidency and pledged to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico in his 2016 run for office. He has since fought with Congress and in the courts for funding to pay for it.

His administration announced sweeping new asylum rules last Monday that bar almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border by requiring them first to pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on the way to the United States.

However, Mexico has long resisted U.S. pressure to formally accept the safe third country status.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dan Grebler

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Imran Khan: Pakistan PM to meet Trump in bid to mend ties

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Donald Trump (left) and Imran Khan (composite image)Image copyright
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Image caption

Donald Trump (left) is receiving Imran Khan for the first time

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is due to visit the White House for his first face-to-face talks with US President Donald Trump.

The meeting is part of a push to mend relations, which have been strained by the Afghan conflict.

Mr Trump reduced security aid to Pakistan early last year, accusing the country of “lies and deceit”.

Mr Khan said US assistance was “miniscule” compared with what the US-led “war on terror” had cost Pakistan.

Since he won Pakistan’s general election just under a year ago, he has called for “mutually beneficial” ties with America, while remaining an outspoken critic of US anti-terrorist tactics such as drone strikes.

The Trump administration is trying to negotiate its military withdrawal from Afghanistan with the Taliban, a militant group it has long accused Pakistan of supporting.

As well as counter-terrorism and defence, the two leaders are likely to discuss trade and investment as Mr Khan battles to fend off a balance of payments crisis after a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

How did relations fray last year?

Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration has adopted a hard line against Pakistan, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and misleading the US over the issue – charges Islamabad denies.

Mr Trump began 2018 by promising on Twitter to end “foolish” aid to the country.

As much as $2bn (£1.6bn) in US security assistance has been suspended.

After Mr Trump tweeted again in November to remind Pakistan that 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden had lived there before finally being hunted down by US forces, Imran Khan shot back to “put the record straight” on which country had paid more to defeat terrorism.

However, a couple of months before that Twitter clash, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had already raised the prospect of a reset with the new government of Mr Khan.

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Media captionFive things to know about Imran Khan

According to Pakistan’s foreign office, Mr Khan’s visit “will help renew and reinvigorate long-standing ties between Pakistan” and the US.

Adding to the positive mood music came a new tweet from Mr Trump on Wednesday, announcing that Pakistan had arrested the “mastermind” of the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, after a search lasting two years.

In actual fact, the man arrested, Hafiz Saeed, has been arrested and freed several times by the Pakistani authorities over the past two decades. Far from hiding, he has even addressed rallies and campaigned in recent Pakistani elections.

Pakistan will hope the arrest will help persuade the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog against money laundering and terrorism financing, not to blacklist it in the coming months.

Khan and Trump basics

  • Khan, 66, was best known as Pakistan’s most famous cricketer before he took office as prime minister in July 2018 following his PTI party’s election victory; property tycoon and reality TV star Trump, 73, took office as US president in January 2017

How crucial is Afghanistan to the relationship?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US between 2011 and 2013, argues that “stabilizing Afghanistan is Pakistan’s only real trump card” in its dealings with the US.

Pakistan has always denied it was the architect of the Taliban. It was one of only three countries to recognise them after they took power in Afghanistan in 1996 and the last to break diplomatic ties when US-led forces ousted the movement after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Few observers doubt that Pakistan has been instrumental in getting the Taliban to the table for direct talks with members of the Afghan government this month, a negotiation praised by US lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad as a “big success”.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Men checking a list of casualties after a car bombing in Kabul this month

The Trump administration is keen to end a war which, according to US officials, costs about $45bn annually, and to withdraw most or all of the 14,000 American soldiers deployed there.

In the opinion of Ms Rehman, Pakistan has already “received some muted recognition of its unprecedented efforts to facilitate these delicate negotiations” in two respects this month:

  • The US listed the Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist group active in Pakistan, as a terrorist group
  • The IMF approved a $6bn loan package for Pakistan

“Pakistan has been facilitating the US-Taliban talks in good faith, underscoring that it remains a shared responsibility,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said recently.

“It will therefore be appropriate to work for broader engagement from Afghanistan to bilateral issues, economic and trade co-operation, to peace and stability in South Asia.”

What are Khan’s economic aims?

The US, a major source of foreign investment in Pakistan, remains its largest export market, so trade is very much on the agenda in Washington.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Price rises brought protesters out on to the streets of Karachi this month

However, financial pressures have led Pakistan to go further afield in search of aid and it attracted Saudi pledges of investment deals worth $20bn this year.

Given that Pakistan is so strapped for cash, Mr Khan has been keen to portray an image of austerity. He used to be known as a celebrity playboy but now styles himself as a pious, anti-poverty reformer.

Reports say he plans to stay at the Pakistan ambassador’s residence in Washington, rather than waste money in an expensive hotel.

Pakistan has also been seeking new assistance from China, its biggest foreign investor and also a major aid donor.

So Imran Khan must tread a delicate path between Mr Trump’s America and its economic arch-rival, Beijing.

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