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Articles - Lessons from the Bush - Upfront British Airways Magazine

By Chris Moerdyk

Quinton Coetzee is precisely the sort of person you'd want to have sitting next to you on a long flight. You won't be tempted to watch the movie to pass the time. Chances are, too, your dinner will get cold as you listen to him talk about the lessons people in business can learn from the way of the wild.

If you're one of those business executives who believe in the old adage about "paying peanuts and getting monkeys," after listening to Quinton Coetzee for a few minutes you'll be seriously included to start employing monkeys instead of people.

Coetzee is a charming, down-to-earth person who believes that everyone has a natural and deep-seated survival instinct.

He is a world-renowned speaker - not one of those ra-ra motivational types that raises an audience up on a wave of hype only to leave them deflated a day or two later, but someone with impeccable credentials who is able to demonstrate how Mother Nature herself is the author of the most definite guide to business success one can find anywhere in the world today.

His riveting introduction leads local and international audiences into the fascinating world of the San Bushman Tribe (the Company), their bush environment (the Marketplace), the wildlife on which they thrive (the Clients) and the predators with which they have to cope (the Competitors). Using only his remarkable and entertaining communications skills, backed up by some pretty spectacular slides, he proves that everyone on earth has dormant or underutilised business skills. Skills that need only to be unlocked for maximum gain, both personally and for a company.

But what is it that makes him so special? Just how has he managed to bring together wildlife and business - a couple of topics that by far the majority of people would consider to be totally unconnected?

Well, first of all he is a successful businessman. Successful, not only from the point of view of having several thriving enterprises that all bear testimony to his business acumen, but successful in that sheer bottom line profit is not what Coetzee holds paramount. Enjoyment of achievement and most of all, developing and empowering people through his companies is what gives him the most satisfaction.

And apart from business, his track record puts him the perfect position to be able to draw from the business bounty of nature.

Coetzee was born in the Namib Desert and having spent most of his youth in the bush, it was a fairly natural progression to become a hunter. He obtained a university degree in Natural Sciences, after which he specialised in bush survival. Today he is considered one of the foremost exponents of bushcraft on the African continent.

He is an explorer in every sense of the word. Most recently delving into the connection between man and beast in their quest for survival, he has previously explored the icy reaches of the Antarctic, the sweltering deserts of the Middle East and gone in search of the vanishing tribes of African and the Amazon.

As a conservationist he has managed one of the largest Zoological Gardens in Africa where he was committed to the preservation of endangered species worldwide.

He has commentated on wildlife in print, on radio and regularly on the "Veldfokus" feature on South Africa's most popular and longest running wildlife television programme, "50/50".

And just in case you thought that was quite enough talent for one human being, Coetzee is also an extremely proficient classical pianist.

It is no wonder that he captivates audiences with the case of a hungry chameleon snapping up an overindulgent fly.

Coetzee must be one of the busiest people in business today. He travels overseas twice a month - he'll arrive in the USA from South Africa on a Monday morning, speak to an audience that afternoon and get a flight back that night. And within an hour or two of getting back onto South African soil he'll be delivering a talk at one of two engagements for the day.

And in between back-to-back talks, he'll be looking after his businesses.

But the most fascinating thing is he doesn't look at all like a man in a hurry. He always seems to have time to talk - particularly about his favourite subject of learning a lesson or two from the world of wildlife.

Essentially, he says, the law of nature is "adapt or die". That applies to human beings as well. Particularly in business.

"My talks are about survival strategy, for business and people. What I say does not come from business textbooks but rather the laws of nature that allow us to get through life successfully."

"We all watch television documentaries on animals surviving. We're all amazed at their natural instincts and ability. But few of us make the connection between what animals are achieving and the lessons in those achievements for human beings, particularly in business.

"But a question I always ask is what would happen if animals were to produce a television documentary on the survival of the human species? I am in no doubt at all that the subject of this documentary would be the corporate world."

Coetzee draws the most wonderful, pragmatic parallels between the animal world and business to illustrate thriving on teamwork, the challenge of change, understanding and knowing your clients, vision, strategy and self-motivation, adaptability, flexibility and versatility, boosting efficiency, effectiveness and productivity, dealing with competitors, recognizing and exploiting hidden opportunities, stress and lifestyle management, coping with setbacks and adversity, complacency, working smarter, not harder, time management, the Growth Imperative and the necessity of training and skill development.

Getting down to brass tacks, however, Coetzee believes that the departure point on any quest to understand what wildlife can teach human beings both in their personal life and in business, is communications.

According to him, human beings are quite the most unskilled of nature's communicators and more often than not make the mistake of believing that communication is something that comes naturally and proficiently.

Communication, he says, is the very foundation of nature's survival instinct. Yet it is something to which human beings more often than not pay lip service. Small wonder that the human world is beset by wars and divorce.

If you haven't attended one of Coetzee's talks, you have missed a wonderful experience. While he labels himself a "platform speaker", he readily admits that when it comes to the crunch he's actually in the entertainment business.

And entertaining he certainly is. And passionate. Someone who loves every minute of his job. And it shows. He becomes, pardon the pun, completely animated when he talks about the entrepreneurial and completely focused leopard. A predator that stalks and pounces. That never moves a muscle unless it is absolutely necessary. An animal that can teach human beings a lot about the fundamentals of life and business: "assess, plan and execute."

Unlike Dr Doolittle, Coetzee doesn't talk to the animals. He listens to them. And what he hears is nature's message to mankind. A message largely ignored because interpreters like Coetzee are rare indeed.

Quinton Coetzee can be booked through Marie Grey & Associates which provides top speakers for conferences, seminars and special events.


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