It was early in May 1994, when a small group of well-respected Austrian businesspeople, then all members of the Austrian Club, got together and decided it was the right time to establish a new networking and lobbying group. A group, that would bring together like-minded people, with the aim to further their common interests and give them a bigger voice in the South African economy!
The new group swiftly found growing acceptance in the Austrian community, which on 21 August 1996 culminated in the formal incorporation of the Austrian Business Chamber in South Africa under Section 21 of the Companies Act.
From these humble beginnings, 25 years ago, the Austrian Business Chamber has steadily grown in scope and in importance. We have grown beyond our Austrian roots and today we have a very diverse member base.
Over the years, we have established a close working relationship with the Austrian Embassy and the Austrian Trade Commission and we have extended our co-operation to the European Chamber and many other bilateral chambers here in South Africa, all to the benefit of our members!
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to my predecessors the 1st Chairman of the ABC Peter Kastner, the 2nd Chairman Karl Kebert, and the 3rd Chairman Thomas Zilk. I would also like to specifically mention Gerhart Mischinger, who was not only one of the founding members of our organization, but also served as a director from inception till today! On behalf of the Austrian Business Chamber, and our present and past members, thank you so much for all you have done for us and the Austrian Community over the years.
For over 25 years, we have brought you a wide range of activities such as sundowners, networking events, business talks and seminars and weekends away. Together with the other Chambers, we participated in numerous lobbying initiatives to improve the business environment in South Africa. We offered you a platform to get-together, exchange ideas, provide you with assistance in improving your businesses, learn new skills or just made it possible for you to get away from your day-to-day challenges and relax during an evening with good friends and business-partners.
And then, in March 2020, the beginning of this reporting year, Covid hit came upon us and everything changed.
The South African business environment has never been for the faint-hearted, with new challenges consistently thrown at us, from load-shedding to crime and corruption, from decaying infrastructure to a dismal education system that combined with stringent immigration laws has made it difficult to access the right skills to grow our companies, and the list doesn’t stop here.
But 2020 certainly was the year that topped it all, with a pandemic and lockdowns that brought the economy to their knees. Unemployment rates have skyrocketed. And just when matters slowly appeared to get better, this year, we saw pictures of social unrest going around the world that we never thought were possible in modern South Africa. Shortly thereafter, the lights went out again as we entered our 14th year of load-shedding. But South Africans are resilient and more importantly, the recent municipal elections brought the glimmer of hope, as predicted by Frans Cronje in one of his talks. For the first time, in our young democracy, support for the ANC dropped below 50%. Certainly, an important wake-up call for the ruling party, and hopefully creating the right level of support for our president to start implementing a much-needed reform agenda. Well, let’s see what the future will bring.
I am pleased that during these challenging times the Austrian Business Chamber remained relevant to you and that we were able to bring you very informative content in the form of Webinars, and our regular newsflashes, even though we were unable to connect in the usual ways.
One of the new features we introduced in our newsflashes, the ‘members spot-light’, which brings you interesting background information on our member companies, has been particularly well received.
As to events, due to the Covid pandemic, we had to cancel our first event last year, but an interesting line up of talks soon followed in the form of webinars. Events included:
- the Covid 19 Workshop by Werth Schroeder,
- Dawie Roodt’s outlook on the Post Pandemic Challenges (we were optimistic, early into the pandemic)
- The Austrian Trade Commission’s webinar on opportunities in Sub Saharan Africa
- Intergest’s insights on opportunities in Nigeria.
- Nokia’s Daniel Jaeger enlightened us on 5G telekom networks in Africa,
- Frans Cronje spoke on what’s next for the ANC (and his predictions proved right in these municipal elections),
- Webinar on Digital Transformation
- AGM with the year’s only ‘live’ event Herbert Brauer’s wonderful documentary on the Last Lioness
- And Dawie Roodt’s Budget Webinar
In the current year, we continued with the successful Webinars, but with everyone growing tired of restrictions, we also tried new activities, such as the Social Distancing Hike at Glenburn Lodge, which many of our members truly enjoyed.
- Rhenus – on Weathering the Supply Storms,
- A Combined Chambers Webinar on Effective ways to handle burnout and lead your teams remotely
- In a first attempt to get people back together we organized a Social Distancing Hike at Glenburn Lodge
- Update call for the Austrian Community by the Austrian Embassy and Advantage Austria
- Webinar PFK Oktagon / New Developments at SARS
- Webinar – Cyber Crime and mitigating operational and brand damage
- Sundowner at Truffles in October
- European Chambers Golf Day at Bryanston Country Club organised by 8 Chambers (we participated with 5 * 4 Balls, one of the strongest contingents)
All in all, I’m sure you will agree with me, a very extensive program, despite rather challenging circumstances!
We reacted swiftly to the covid challenges and contrary to many other chambers, we managed to keep our membership base fairly stable over the last years, at just over 60 members. Of course, without live events, it is a difficult challenge to grow our membership base. But as we get back to normality, growing our member base will be the big focus for the ABC for the coming year.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all of you, our esteemed members, for your continued commitment and support. Without you we wouldn’t be able to provide you with our services and to offer you this great networking platform.
In particular, I would like to thank our growing number of premium members for your continued support, many of you not only provide us with financial support, but also with great content for our webinars and talks
Thank you very much
- Austrian Airlines
- HCI Skills
- KTM (sponsor of today’s AGM and Joey Evans)
- LETA Professional Training Services (our newest premium member)
- Plasser SA
- Prive Logistics
- Rhenus Logistics
- Roedl and Partner
- Roehlig Grinrod
- Werth Schröder Inc
I would also like to extend a special thank you to our sponsors for the European Chamber Golf Day, Geecom for contributing water, SKIDATA for a hole sponsorship with an automated covid test access point, and of course Jurgens Bekker Attorneys for the amazing prizes you sponsored, thank you very much.
And, of course, a very big thank you also to Franziska Brandl and KTM for sponsoring today’s AGM and bringing us our fabulous guest speaker Joey Evans. Joey’s story from paraplegic to Paris Dakar Rallye finisher is a truly inspirational story of a man and his absolute determination to fulfill his biggest dream, against all odds!
Owing to the great support by our members and the tight controls put in place by Deon, our finances continue to remain healthy.
As we were unable to host events, in particular the golf day, revenues dropped by about 50%, but due to significant cost savings, we only incurred a very small trading loss in the 2021 financial year.
Our cash balances nevertheless remain strong, so we have a solid foundation for the ABC to build on going forward.
We were pleased that our finances allowed us to continue our social responsibility initiatives, by making a contribution to the Orange Farm Food Drive in conjunction with Education Africa.
Thank you, Deon for looking so ably after our finances.
We are however still headed into uncertain times. Despite the vaccination drives Covid numbers are once again on the rise throughout the world. Nevertheless, my fellow directors and I are committed to continue to bring you interesting events, talks and networking opportunities, hopefully most of those face-to-face and not via a screen.
All our Board members are available for re-election and are seeking your mandate to continue our work for you, the members of the Austrian Business Chamber.
We are of course always open to adding new board members, so if you feel that time has come for you to make an even bigger contribution to our Chamber, please come and talk to me after the AGM
I would like to conclude by thanking my fellow directors Monika, Gerhart, Richard, Deon, Sheri-Leigh, Maria and Philip for all their contributions and hard work for the Austrian Business Chamber, in tirelessly bringing you interesting events, talks and webinars to support you and your businesses. Thank you everyone!
But most importantly, I would like to thank all of you, our valued members, for your loyal support and trust in the ABC as the networking organization of your choice.
I am looking forward to seeing you at our next exciting event, a Sundowner and concert in co-operation with MIAGI on the 27th of January 2022.