by Merlin Hernandez 

Companies today battle for a share of the market in a theater that is fiercely competitive. It has been described as a bloody red ocean of sharks and victims primarily because industries continue to strategize within a defined economic structure that is dictated by existing demand. But with supply outstripping demand in some industries, the marketing edge of differentiating strategies is quickly diffused in an information-driven culture, with the cost of competing eroding margins, and companies needing to look at new opportunities for profitability and growth. 

A divergent strategy will serve to insulate a business from competition by establishing itself in an untapped market with high opportunity for growth without threatening the immediate interests of competitors. It is a strategy meant to extend the time frame between market entry and competitor alert while concentrating on consolidating brand loyalty through value creation. This undermines the traditional approach to business by denying competitiveness as the key to success to pursue unlimited market opportunity through a leap in value creation for a different kind of demand orientation – a Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS). 

The fashion industry is intensely red ocean. But many high-end designers like Ralph Lauren, Versace, Stella McCartney, and Michael Kors have taken the best features of haute couture to offer a classic look at lower prices. It is a tactic that spans strategic groups – haute couture and mass market – to create Designer Retail as a whole new market segment to draw new customers to their brands and be less vulnerable to the competitive red ocean. Customers buy luxury and brand name (added values) at affordable prices. In other words, lowering costs and maximizing value. 

There is considerable evidence in the fashion industry where BOS has proven to be successful but with a twist. Instead of decreasing costs and lowering prices to differentiate the basic product, many designers have used a line extension RTM. Some of the literature claims that line extension is not aligned with BOS because it remains a strategy to compete for market share and only reinforces red ocean values. I tend to disagree because the line extension strategies used by these designers are specifically directed at unlocking the blue ocean by bringing previously untapped customers into the revenue stream. It does not differentiate the basic product to target the same red ocean market, there is a whole new product mix aimed at a target that is outside of the basic client profile. 

The approach splits the market into two separate targets – expensive high-end/low volume and low-cost mass market/high volume – with two separate and distinct product mixes. Companies maintain their brand identity as a high-end label and use that equity for value creation with a BOS strategy of low-cost luxury to reach into the mass market for volume output and higher profit margins. 

Apple has also embraced superior value creation through service delivery. In the face of intense competition, and similar products on the market before the company can achieve its full market projections, Apple has shifted its short to medium term emphasis from value innovation as its differentiation strategy to heightened value-creation as a way of getting one leg out of the competitive bloodbath (red ocean). This can be seen as a strategic re-alignment in an attempt to balance the components of value by measuring its economic and financial impact with both qualitative (value) and quantitative (financial metrics) tools for strategic and economic control. It is a methodology based on the integration of the investment curve for innovation, the value of the market generated by these investments, and the value-price ratio that impacts the company’s market position.  

 

“Given the expectation that competitors will quickly develop similar products and threaten the investment curve, companies like Apple need to push the life cycle boundaries as far as possible by ratcheting up the value-creation – not based on product improvement at additional R&D outlay but on the level and quality of service. It is a strategy of great market value that brings a new opportunity to take the product into the blue ocean. It will serve the function of buying time to cover capital investment, keep the share price steady, and have the surplus for the next wave of innovation” (The New Apple, Hernandez, 2012). Note the imminent arrival of I-Phone 5. 

Apple is currently operating in the blue ocean with the iPhone by creating new buyer value. “This is the mature phase of the smart phone life cycle where declining revenues and decreasing customer loyalty are to be expected along with and sharpened competitive tactics” (Apple and Samsung, Hernandez, 2012). Apple has actually opted out of the intense competitive red ocean strategies of increased marketing and branding spend, drastic cost cuts to increase margins, and price wars. Instead, Apple has re-defined its value map to offer a superior service product to sail the blue ocean. The brand loyalty generated might just carry the company through several cycles of competitor innovation. 

Related articles on this blog

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Developing the Business Idea

Google’s 70/20/10

Google v Facebook

Market Hunger

Mass Customization: Fashion Industry

The New Apple  

Merlin Hernandez is an entrepreneurial development and management consultant who operates mainly in the small and medium enterprise sector. For more information on this and other topics, please send enquiries to businesssolutions1168@gmail.com

by Merlin Hernandez

 

Innovation in communication technology and the Information Age have shifted the face of marketing from an emphasis on product placement to a to a heightened customer orientation. The traditional production concept of mass production and distribution, high inventories and high risk is giving way to customization and customer empowerment where the customer is seen as a partner to product development and production processes. This allows manufacturers to be more responsive to customer need, carry less inventory, and minimize surplus and waste.

The ease of Internet comparisons has led to a more savvy buyer with greater price sensitivity and much less brand loyalty. Businesses have to do much more to gain and hold market share and maintain a customer base. Companies are now finding that the old production concept of production efficiency, low cost, and mass distribution needs more service and value overlays in order to maintain competitive advantage.

This has implications for the product concept itself. While performance and innovation remain key elements to success, the idea of relationship marketing has undermined the old notion that a good product will create its own market (the selling concept). This kind of orientation presupposes an aggressive approach to placing the product in the hands of the consumer, without factoring, in any meaningful way, the consumer perspective.

Business operations today however, seek to satisfy a broad base of stakeholders – suppliers, distributers, customers, shareholders – to the benefit of more long-term relationships and more holistic strategies for maximizing profits (the marketing concept). It is based on delivery efficiencies that include product quality, performance, innovation, availability, price, service, and intangible value through added value creation. This may include a unique service culture, new uses for the product, or new technological integration and applications for expanded product usage.

The selling concept epitomizes a philosophy of selling what is made rather that making what the market needs. In the contemporary business environment, success will of necessity need to be aligned with a marketing culture that places the customer at the center. As the heightened competition inherent in globalization offers multiple options and greater capacity for comparison to consumers, businesses need to offer more than just a well-made product.

Products will need to resonate more specifically with customer need, fit into their lifestyles and aspirations, and provide some intrinsic value that extends beyond the product – enhanced social status, group leadership, luxury etc. The selling concept has shifted to more of a marketing concept which requires sound research into what customers want and need, at a price they can afford, and the most efficient methods of getting it to them. Businesses need to be market-driven with customer satisfaction as the primary focus.

Related articles on this blog

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Merlin Hernandez is an entrepreneurial development and management consultant who operates mainly in the small and medium enterprise sector. For more information on this and other topics, please send enquiries to businesssolutions1168@gmail.com

by Merlin Hernandez

Many consultants swear by the SWOT analysis and often develop a strategic focus on that basis. I share the notion that the SWOT remains fundamental to building strategy but by itself, it is incomplete. Strategy should be multi-perspectival using different tools for broad-based analytics that leverage risks across the business profile. A SWOT analysis is a conceptual approach to strategy formation that can overemphasize internal strengths and ignore the fact that a strength that does not directly impact the opportunities and threats in the external environment may not necessarily be a source of competitive advantage. Furthermore, SWOT analysis does not usually factor changing environmental threats.

Strategic analysis should integrate the strengths and weaknesses of the SWOT with the necessary activities for creating value for the customer through Value Chain Analysis (VCA). VCA examines activities throughout the supply chain, production processes, and distribution networks that add value to the product. Each step or link in the process adds value to the product along the way.  Best practices which are repeatable and can be further used for on-going product improvement or new product development, can be extracted from the VCA as a template for quality delivery.

The SWOT analysis is also enhanced by Resource-Based Analysis to determine the degree to which available resources can become the basis of sustained competitive advantage. Resource capabilities that support organizational strengths and reduce the impact of weaknesses should be shown to mitigate threats to customer and supplier relationships, delay competitive entry and rivalry, and retard the threat of substitute or alternative products in the market.

Resource capabilities can be analyzed through the value, rarity, inimitability, and organization (VRIO) framework for the strategic process. VRIO is part of internal analysis that can be used to audit all resources and capabilities of the firm to evaluate the competitive potential and sustainability of a venture. As a complement to the SWOT analysis, VRIO poses four questions about the value of resource capabilities in exploiting opportunities and mitigating threats; the rarity or uniqueness of resource capabilities in sustaining competitive advantage; the difficulty to imitate or duplicate the resource base on the part of a competitor (due to significant cost or other disadvantages), and organizational readiness to exploit available resources to advantage.

VRIO ANALYSIS
 Strength

(1 – 5)

Value Rarity Inimitability Organizational

Readiness

Market

Advantage

Organic Food

5

4

4

5

4.5

Total Customer

Service

5

4

3

5

4.25

Exotic Cuisine

5

4

4

5

4.5

 

Elegant Setting

5

3

3

5

4

 

Customization

5

5

5

5

5

 

Nutritional Value

5

4

4

5

4.5

Supplier Relationship

5

4

3

5

4.25

Expansion Capability

5

4

5

5

4.75

AGGREGATE SCORES

5

4

3.88

5

4.47

Market Advantage

4.47

Fig. 1    The VRIO analysis is linked to market advantage based on criteria that offer growth opportunities in value creation. It is a way of defining the market space to determine the strategy map. The venture scored high on market advantage, driven by high scores for value creation and organizational readiness. But the median score for inimitability is an indication of some competitive pressure.

In the above scenario, decision-making would be enhanced by considering the imitability factor. If the new product is no more than a clever amalgam of available methods and technologies, then no wall of patents could stop opponents from getting in on the opportunity. Recognizing this vulnerability, an entrepreneur might want to think more carefully about the length of the expected entry lag between insertion and meaningful competition. This critical period allows the business to build some market power through brand identification before the entry of direct competition (expectational advantage).

An appropriate response might be more aggressive advertising, publicity and/or customer incentives. There may also be some possible advantage due to firm-specific learning or asset mass efficiencies i.e. the years of accumulating those efficiencies in the knowledge base – recipe building, skills mastery, specialized talent  – or the cost and availability of specialized equipment. Additionally, it might help the business to utilize the expectational lag to take advantage of gains for enhanced contingency planning. 

The business that offers a well-differentiated, inimitable product might consider trying to use this head start to build other cospecialized resources that are less available e.g. customization or a reputation for service on a new technology. The general point is that by analyzing the value chain the business would be able to evaluate the maturity of the business idea as well as its readiness to exploit the opportunity. An analysis of the resource position would give a clearer indication of whether the situation meets necessary conditions for a sustainable advantage.  Approaching the feasibility of the business idea from several angles means that fewer strategic mistakes would be made. This combination of resources and strategies can satisfy VRIO questions and Value Chain Analysis for sustained competitive advantage, and only begins with a SWOT Analysis.

Related articles on this blog

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Strategic Capacity Planning

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Merlin Hernandez is an entrepreneurial development and management consultant who operates mainly in the small and medium enterprise sector. For more information on this and other topics, please send enquiries to businesssolutions1168@gmail.com

by Merlin Hernandez  

A well-executed business evaluation provides a valuable planning instrument for the establishment of priorities and resource allocation for overall operational improvement and the satisfaction of customer needs. Evaluations also offer a measure of whether objectives and goals are being achieved, and whether the organization is effectively adapting to new environments, trends, and technological changes. 

Evaluations, however, can be a double-edged sword in that they often bare deficiencies in operations especially if there is a granular approach that does not recognize integrated efficiencies. This can become a disincentive to making the necessary improvements which may appear overwhelming if each deficiency is viewed in isolation. Cost is the most common deterrent and many smaller businesses may not be able to afford the time and expense of installing new systems and procedures. Evaluations can also bring some disruption to work routines which can impact short term goals. 

Business evaluations assess policies and procedures for coherence between systems and specific objectives e.g. measuring whether customer service policies actually respond to identified customer need. Evaluations allow the business to take an objective view of where it stands in relation to where it wants to go. The business might then leverage its assets to achieve its objectives through more informed choices about what systems work and what do not. 

Evaluations might examine organizational culture and structure, governance policies, work flow processes, KPIs, employee turnover, client satisfaction, and funding streams, among other inquiries. They also bare inherent and potential risks that will guide decisions about the design of business functions and the establishment of priorities. The elements of an evaluation are organizational objectives and goals, a needs assessment from end users of evaluation results, and a trained assessment team. 

These assessments can be done in anticipation of a strategic move to better position the company for success or as an exercise in assessing effectiveness. It is through the evaluation process that the most meaningful strategies are developed, improved, and refined. An evaluation provides the kind of insights that bring clarity of vision and purpose in building strategy. There are distinct advantages to an integrated evaluation framework that examines preparedness or efficiencies throughout the entire organization in order to maintain internal and external consistencies. An integrative evaluation takes a collaborative approach among both internal and external stakeholders so that findings dovetail seamlessly for an action plan that is strategically acquired. 

Key factors for a meaningful assessment are the organizational culture and decision-making policies, power hierarchies and centers of influence, horizontal communication, and a trained assessment team. It is often a good strategy to use external SMEs for organizational assessments since having line managers (internal SMEs) as evaluators risk introducing bias to the process through departmental agendas and priorities. But external evaluators can add to the cost and many medium and small enterprises may postpone or eliminate the evaluation exercise as a planning tool. One way to address the issue is to have line managers trained in evaluation techniques and expectations. 

But an evaluation is not a luxury that can be cut from the budget or postponed. It needs to be done from an assessment of a new venture’s potential to meet an identified market need, through an expansion of the customer base or to tap into new markets, to evaluating the resource capability required to achieve goals and objectives. Evaluations also enable the development of contingency plans that would mitigate an emerging risk profile to emphasize anticipation and preparation over after-the-fact response and crisis management.   

As the business plan evolves from the assessment and analysis phase, it is also good strategy to measure the proposed venture against industry best practices and the heuristic rules that apply. This is done from the perspective of process mechanics as well as change management aspects to arrive at a conceptual framework suited to that particular business in all its specific peculiarities in terms of cost, flexibility, work flow, time and resource constraints etc. Failure to conduct an evaluation when it is indicated can result in ill-informed decision-making, unrealistic expectations, poor appreciation of threats that can impair desired outcomes, and unpreparedness for contingencies. 

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by Merlin Hernandez

 

Businesses need to keep current with capital markets since they remain a major source of investment funds for capital formation and working capital and have some of the highest returns on investments. Larger businesses use the funds generated from issuing stock in an IPO to finance long term capital expenditures like new equipment, projects, acquisitions or new technology. For companies that are not publicly traded, as well as small businesses, the use of marketable securities is important in building collateral for business loans from financial intermediaries. Choosing the right securities in which to invest, and determining the best risk-return trade-off in order to support the goals of the company is part of the measure of effective management.

Managers also need to be mindful that the share price on the stock exchange is directly related to demonstrated operational efficiencies as evidenced by annual corporate financial statements. This also supports consumer and credit market confidence – an appreciating stock is an indication of a healthy prognosis and worth consideration in decisions about where to place the investment dollar. For smaller businesses, CDs and Treasuries are also extremely liquid though they may yield lower returns. The advantage is that they remain low risk.  Bond markets are particularly useful for short term financing like working capital – meeting inventory needs and receivables within the next year. 

Commercial paper has been a cheap way to raise capital by corporations with strong credit. With slightly higher return rates than T-Bills, and minimum credit risk, commercial paper has been regarded as a safe asset. The mortgage crisis of 2007 where mortgage-backed securities fell significantly in value changed the perception of commercial paper as low risk. The lesson might be that heavy reliance on commercial paper as an investment/financing instrument can flip the portfolio risk from low to high. A good strategy when investing in commercial paper might be that investors should spread their risk with a diversified portfolio, and perhaps restrict investment to blue chip issues. Short term T-Bills can form part of a contingency plan.

 In terms of short term loans in the current economic climate, the maturity matching approach can leverage a firm’s risk of default on a loan portfolio by using T-Bills that mature at the same time as the loan term. This offers protection from default but if receivables can cover the loan as expected, returns from the T-Bills can become part of the company’s liquidity cushion. What I am saying is that when loans are cheap as they currently are, firms can aggressively take advantage of the climate to access working capital while using asset reserves for investment and liquidity cushion. This would be a combination of aggressive and maturity matching approaches to working capital financing.

A multi-purpose revolving line of credit is one of the most useful resources for businesses of any size and can serve both short and long term needs. It is a valuable source of working capital that can be applied to receivables, payroll and marketing expenses, and occasional cash flow shortages. Many times a bank will extend a line of credit to a firm based on receivables as the only collateral. They may look at AR and cash flows only in making the decision. This might however be specific to industries like fashion, toys, school supplies, the gift trade etc. – with their high seasonal demand and cash flow spikes. The bank would hedge its risk by only extending such a facility to clients in good standing or those with a cash flow history that demonstrates a high probability of meeting their payments.

For small businesses, trade credit is perhaps the most obvious and flexible form of short term financing. On the demand side, trade credit remains one of the most common modes of short term financing for businesses with working capital or credit challenges seeking better cash flow management. It can be seen as an interest-free line of credit.  The terms of trade credit are supposed to benefit a supplier as well through an increase in short term sales, moving inventory that would soon be out-of-date, or to reward valuable customers – credit terms function as a form of sales promotion.

The value of trade credit can be analyzed in terms of opportunity cost. The Time Value of Money increases an amount of money as a result of interest earned and is an opportunity cost attached to the deferment of a payment obligation. Small firms may not have an in-depth understanding of APR/APY terms or true rates of return. They tend to measure the benefits of credit terms by the length of the collection period. Payables are often prioritized by due dates and cash availability and a longer payment period is seen as an advantage. Perhaps there should be no difference but in practicality, there might be, especially as the opportunity costs attached to a small payable may be almost negligible in relation to the convenience of the longer term.

The fact that there are no interest penalties attached to a trade credit arrangement is motivation for the customer to defer payment in favor of immediate liquidity needs, which may include a short term investment, the gains of which could give an amount greater than the trade credit payment. The longer the collection term, the more attractive the arrangement might be. An added advantage is that deferment, even beyond the collection term, lowers the financing costs due to an extended period at no additional cost.

Related articles on this blog

• Financing a Small Business
• Decision Making

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by Merlin Hernandez

 

If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone sing the praises of some great widget and how much money there is to be made if the creator should go into business. Without trying to diminish the value of innovation, by itself it may not provide the most solid foundation required to make a success of a business venture. There is an old adage that a superior product has a good chance of doing well in the marketplace but a mediocre product with a well-defined strategy will perform far better. Many brilliant and talented innovators never make it in business because they do not have a full appreciation of the business dimension to their work. This is to emphasize that regardless of how good the product is, it is the application of sound business strategies that will bring success.

In developing the business idea, it is necessary to first determine the core benefit to be provided to the consumer. This would come from market research that identifies a basic need. Too often in the small business sector, product development is a feature of the notion that a good product will create its own market – the idea of selling what is made rather that making what the market needs. But businesses need to be market-driven with customer satisfaction as the primary focus. A viable product is a result of information on marketplace trends, customer needs, wants and preferences, customer consumption patterns, and the activities of competitors so that the right marketing mix can be developed. The product idea will therefore be defined by the targeted market segment and the client profile.

To screen and select the idea that has the greatest potential for market success, the idea is also measured against resource capabilities to be applied to production and marketing. The ability to successfully develop, produce, and market a product depends on having the right mix of available resources. The business must be sufficiently capitalized to support key research, the right personnel, the most suitable raw materials, manufacturing equipment, processes, and marketing strategies that would bring desired returns. These elements need to operate in a delicate balance – I have seen a great marketing strategy realize sales volumes that could not be fulfilled on time because of inadequate production capacity leading to cancelled orders and low profitability. The other side of the coin is strong manufacturing capabilities and a weak marketing budget which can result in poor sales, high inventory, lower prices, and financial loss.

The process of developing the full product concept will be more meaningful through consultations with potential customers to better understand the benefits they value and the necessary product attributes for market viability. This kind of partnership culture opens up a first level commitment to the idea from the customer. It is also useful at this stage to engage professional advisors, potential partners, suppliers and other stakeholders in the process for feasibility and logistic input. The concept development phase is probably the most important exercise as it introduces the product idea to the potential market as well as explores the company’s ability to make the product available. Any negatives emerging from this phase would be a clear indication that the product does not have the potential for success.

Before any commitment to the idea, an analysis of the costs of bringing the product to market should be measured against the potential contribution to sales and profits. Furthermore, an in-depth market analysis should explore the competitive environment and other environmental factors – like the climate of innovation which might put an investment into the new product at risk. For existing businesses, possible new marketing strategies should be integrated into existing marketing objectives using channels and tactics that have demonstrated success. The rationale is to diffuse the cost and structure of marketing the new product throughout the marketing system in order to achieve cost efficiencies. R&D can now be charged with developing a prototype based on product attributes identified in the market intelligence and resource capabilities, with special attention to consumer contributions obtained at the concept development phase.

The market testing phase is aimed at collating customer responses to prototypes. It provides information for product modification and refinement, as well as full development of the marketing plan. Market testing could also determine whether the product should be abandoned due to poor consumer interest. Once results of testing are favorable, the business idea has been effectively developed and the product may now be ready for commercialization and the introduction to the market. Commercialization is the action plan for introducing the product to the market. It includes timing, pricing, distribution, budget, advertising and promotion, launch impact, and adoption by the target market, along with strategies to incrementally increase sales volumes and build the brand. The process is meant to leverage the effects of marketing strategies on ROI and optimize market spend in relation to competition.

Market success does not begin with a product but with the way it delivers value and benefit to the end user. Many businesses are incorporating the customer as a partner to their product development initiatives as a way of building strong external partnerships, demonstrating the value of the customer to the organization, ensuring delivery efficiencies based on articulated customer need, while availing themselves of a ready market down the line. In developing the product idea it is also important to differentiate the product by finding new ways to extend product value beyond expectations through the addition of new layers of customer satisfaction to the development matrix.

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By Roger Cohen

Re-printed from The International Herald Tribune

Monday July 8, 2013 

[I was so moved by this piece that I had to share it – Merlin Hernandez] 

 

“The truth is we did not deserve him. We could not even imagine him.”

 

LONDON — The South African living for my family was easy. The staff changed the nappies. The houseboys brought the braziers to the right glow for the braai. Two gardeners were employed, one for the roses and one for the rest. When dinner ended the bell was rung, either by hand or by pressure of the foot on a buzzer beneath the carpet. A black servant would appear dressed in a white outfit.

My grandfather, Laurie Adler, and his friends donned their whites for Sunday lunch, preceded by a cocktail of “gin and two” (one third gin, one third Cinzano Bianco, one third Cinzano Rosso and “and full to the brim with ice”), before ambling off to play bowls.

At picnics on Table Mountain, a beret on his head, socks pulled up almost to his knee, Laurie would plunge a knife into the pale green watermelons, making a series of incisions before, with a flourish, allowing the succulent fruit to fall open in oozing red bloom. We feasted and left a trail of eggshells and bitten-out watermelon rind.

And on Robben Island, without watch or clock, Mandela maps time on the wall of his cell.

A particularity of the apartheid system was that blacks were kept at a distance except in the most intimate of settings, the home. They cooked and cleared away; they washed and darned and dusted; and they coddled white children. After the Shabbat meal on Friday night guests might leave some small token of appreciation on the kitchen counter (“Shame, I don’t have much change”) or slip a few rand into a calloused black hand.

Elsewhere lay the Africa of the Africans — the natives as they were often called — the distant townships of dust and dirt where water was drawn from a communal spigot, and homes consisted of a single room, and clothes were patched together from scraps of passed-down fabric, and the alleys were full of the stale stench of urine. I could smell the hardship in the sweat of the houseboys and see it in the yellowish tint of their eyes.

And on Robben Island, Mandela records on a South African Tourism desk calendar the humiliations inflicted by white prison warders.

A relative told me his first political memory from the early 1950s was of a great tide of black walkers streaming from Alexandra township — “like the Jews leaving Egypt,” he said, but of course no liberation awaited. The blacks were protesting against a one-penny hike in bus fares. Moenie worry nie, Laurie always insisted — don’t worry. He had been born in South Africa in 1899, my grandmother Flossie in 1900. They should know.

South Africa was as good a place as any for a Jew to live in the 20th century. A friend of the family let slip a sentiment widely felt but seldom articulated: “Thank God for the blacks. If not for them it would be us.” Jews on the whole kept their heads down; better just to keep stumm. Flossie voted for Helen Suzman’s anti-apartheid Progressive Party and then prayed the National Party remained in power. She was not alone in such genteel hypocrisy.

And on Robben Island, Mandela cultivates not hatred — that would be too easy for the whites — but the power of patience and perseverance.

The blacks were a form of protection. If you are busy persecuting tens of millions of blacks you do not have much time left over for tens of thousands of Jews. For South African Jews, aware of the corpse-filled ditches of the Europe they had fled, the knowledge of the 69 blacks cut down at Sharpeville in 1960 was discomfiting. But this was not genocide, after all. Most, with conspicuous exceptions (more proportionately among Jews than any other white South Africans), looked away.

Why think of a black man in a cell for his just beliefs when you could gaze at the canopy of purple-blue jacaranda blossom over the avenues of Johannesburg? Everything seemed untroubled, unless you caught a glimpse of ragged black men being herded into police vans. Then a cousin might say, “I suppose they don’t have their passes. Enjoy the swimming pools, next year they will be red with blood.”

And on Robben Island, Mandela learns that not even a life sentence can condemn a man to abandon the mastery of his soul.

I have been dreaming of Mandela. An old idea: He who touches one human being touches all humanity. I have been murmuring his name: He broke the cycle of conflict by placing the future above the past, humanity above vengeance.

He reminded us of what is most precious in Jewish ethics: What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man — or, as the Mosaic book says many times, you are to treat the stranger well for “you were a stranger in a strange land.” Repair the world. Be a light unto nations.

The truth is we did not deserve him. We could not even imagine him. But, as I learned young in South Africa, the human spirit can avert even inevitable catastrophe.

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