This Article by Julian Krisnsky will blow your socks off:
April 23, 2013 · Philadelphia, PA, United States ·
WHAT AMERICA GAINED AND S.A. LOST….
After a quarter century, this small generation of South African immigrants has risen to break through, en masse, into such key leadership roles that they’re changing the US.
YouTube, PayPal, SolarCity, epigenetic cancer therapy and intelligent Mars robots exist only because of these expats: one of them has led the transition from PCs to cloud computing; another leads the US’s top business school; and another is replacing the space shuttle.
But they’ve done it as individuals, and – with the notable exception of commercial spaceflight pioneer Elon Musk – almost invisibly.
In December, the Silicon Valley Business Journal made a remarkable statement regarding four of their first five winners of the US’s high-tech chief executive officer awards, which feature competition from the likes of Google’s Larry Page.
It said: “Here’s something interesting about our executive of the year awards, something that hadn’t occurred to us at the time that these four executives were selected – they are all originally from South Africa.”
In Silicon Valley alone, South African-born high-tech chief executives include Vinny Lingham, founder of Yola and Gyft; Willem van Biljon, co-founder of Nimbula; and Pieter de Villiers, founder and chief executive of Clickatell, the world’s largest online text messaging service.
And these weren’t even among the award winners. Those include Gauteng brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, who have built the US’s largest provider of residential clean energy, and Paul Maritz, the outgoing chief executive of cloud computing giant VMware, who was schooled in KwaZulu-Natal.
South African immigrants in the US number only 83 000 – a “small number even for a big city”, says Professor Nancy Foner, an expert on immigration achievement at the City University of New York.
So small, she says, that there are almost no figures or studies on their impact.
Yet new South African networking organisations, such as the Sable Accelerator in California, are springing up as South Africans are suddenly appearing in front of microphones as chief executives and university deans and scientific research team leaders.
Apart from well-established South African communities in places such as San Diego, or the tight group of professional golfers in Florida, South Africans don’t network the way they do in the United Kingdom.
Instead, mutual recognition often happens like this: “Hey, that guy running the University of Notre Dame seems to have a Saffer accent. Come to think of it, so does the dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business. Ja, and what about the guy who was in charge of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority?”
Some are fairly well known. Pik Botha’s grandson, Roelof, has been ranked as high as 22nd on the Forbes Midas list of venture capitalists, having funded the launch of YouTube in 2005.
Among the celebrity conscription-dodgers, singer Dave Matthews probably heads the pack. Reportedly worth R2-billion, Matthews was recently declared the US’s most successful touring act of the decade.
But most have risen to the cutting edge of American business with remarkable anonymity.
Former Illovo schoolboy Steven Collis, almost unnoticed, has taken the reins of healthcare wholesaling company AmerisourceBergen, listed 29th on the Fortune 500, with 13000 employees, and annual revenues of an almost ridiculous R600-billion.
It’s the same story in science.
The single greatest breakthrough in cancer treatment in recent years – epigenetic therapy – has been credited to Stellenbosch’s Peter Jones, who now runs a major research centre in California.
And another South African, Dr Liam Pedersen, has grabbed what could be the most exotic job in the US. He leads a Nasa research team to develop the brains of “intelligent” space robots that will explore the solar system in search of extraterrestrial life. And to test his “autonomous navigation” systems, Pedersen (42) gets to test the robots in places like Antarctica and alpine lakes in the Andes.
Mundel, from Johannesburg, has been appointed as president of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant budget of about R130-billion, and a brief of nothing less than to eradicate polio and malaria from the Earth.
But it’s when you consider a professional field as specific as immigration law that the astonishing over-achievement of this group becomes clear. Bernie Wolfsdorf – another conscription dodger – has been named “the most highly rated immigration lawyer in the world” for the past three years by the peer-reviewed International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers, and South Africa’s Daryl Buffenstein is a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
In the same field, Chris Wright, a transplant from Johannesburg, is described as “Hollywood’s go-to lawyer” – somehow securing “genius” work visas for everyone from Piers Morgan to Playboy playmate Shera Bechard. The “O-1” work visa is normally reserved for foreigners of “extraordinary ability”, including Nobel prize, winners, but Wright has controversially expanded its use to include celebrities.
South African lawyers have not yet broken through, as a group, as judges in the US’s highest courts, the way they have in, say, Western Australia. But Margaret Marshall (68), a former student leader at Wits, recently retired as chief justice of Massachusetts, where, in a landmark case in 2003, she was the first justice in the US to grant gay couples the right to marry.
Compared to the US’s business world, expatriates have underachieved in Hollywood itself, but its modest breakthrough artists include Charlize Theron, District 9’s Sharlto Copley and Stelio Savante, who both co-produced and cracked a role opposite Matthew Perry in the comedy The Whole Banana last year.
Building and innovating
The poster-child for the 1980s immigration generation is Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX – the rocket company charged with leading the replacement of the space shuttle. In an earlier interview, he told me he left the country in 1988 because the South African Defence Force promised to be “an amazing waste of time”.
John Affleck-Graves, executive vice-president of Notre Dame, Collis and Wright were among those who told me they credit their education for much of their success, but offered few other clues as to why South Africans had risen so sharply.
Professor Foner says white South Africans, in particular, had “invisibly” risen to the top. “South Africans [in the US] have gone unnoticed, especially the majority who are white, for whom there were few cultural barriers, if any,” she said. “But I have noticed that South Africans move right into elite circles in the US, immediately, and look where they’ve gone.”
Donovan Neale-May, founder of the Sable Accelerator, says the 1980s South African immigrant generation was unique in that they did not take advantage of contacts and mobility through “ethnic communities” in the US, “as, say, Indian entrepreneurs have done so effectively”.
Instead, Neale-May says the conscription-avoidance generation had simply outcompeted American professionals with a multitasking combination of management talent, drive and pioneering vision.
Overwhelmingly white phenomenon
South African emigration to the US has been an overwhelmingly white phenomenon.