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Tue Sep 02 01:30:05 SAST 2014

Technology's your business

David Shapiro | 04 October, 2011 00:19

While travelling with my wife, daughter and two grandchildren in a cab, heading from the west of Manhattan to a shoe store in the east to buy my grandson waterproof boots for the winter, I enjoyed a special New York moment.

The rain was pouring and the children in the back were having fun drawing on the frosted windows. My daughter tried desperately to calm the rowdy kids, warning them that the cab driver needed to focus on negotiating a traffic jam on 57th Street.

"Yeah," he replied smilingly at me beside him in the front of the car, "I gotta focus."

Unlike the vast majority of taxi drivers who hailed from either the Caribbean Islands, North Africa or Asia, our cabby was a born and bred New Yorker.

He knew the roads and traffic patterns like the back of his hand, and all his concentration was pointed to the sounds of John Coltrane playing a Cole Porter number, Every Time We Say Goodbye.

"Man, listen to that man blow," he beamed, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, oblivious to the noisy kids in the back and the gridlock in front of him.

"Have you ever heard anything like that?"

I'm not ordinarily a jazz fan, but the man's deep passion for this beguiling music was infectious, and somehow driving in this unique city surrounded by skyscrapers and watching people bustle to the resonance of Coltrane's saxophone was mesmerising.

My old friend Willie Morolo would have been proud of me. Willie tried desperately to convert my preference for Dylan, Waits and Cohen to the mellow tones and rhythms of the jazz masters.

He would suggest a list of albums to sample at Kohinoor, a jazz mecca a block or two away from the previous JSE building in Diagonal Street. Situated in Kort Street, close to the legendary curry den, Kapitans, Kohinoor was an institution in its own right, catering for the non-conforming tastes of a select group of jazz enthusiasts.

I never developed a palate for the laid-back vibe Willie loved so dearly, but thought of him fondly as we alighted from the yellow cab.

Willie managed our firm's library before company information and economic data was easily accessible on the internet.

He would meticulously search the newspapers and other journals daily for interesting articles that he would cut out and file.

It was a long and painstaking exercise, but one that allowed us to maintain a detailed record of a company's financial history, an essential tool for any research analyst.

At a time when readily obtainable data was out of the reach of the general public, a well-stocked library was a prized possession that provided the broking community an exclusive advantage. Nowadays, perched at a small desk in my hotel room in New York, apart from the six-hour time difference and perhaps direct client contact, I am no worse off than if I was sitting at my desk in Johannesburg.

Internet access to numerous sites and the availability of a range of applications on my iPad have allowed me to keep up to date with minute-to-minute developments on the JSE.

While open access to information may have removed the broking community's proprietary right to knowledge, it has in other ways unlocked a whole new vista of opportunities.

The free flow of global data and the relaxing of restrictive exchange control regulations have provided locals with a choice of investments in markets and companies that were once little more than a misty fantasy.

Location is no longer a necessary precondition for determining the appeal or worth of an enterprise as long as one understands how the business makes its money and whether the numbers stack up against a set of pre-assigned measures. Great investors like Warren Buffett have often committed large stakes to businesses long before visiting the corporation's headquarters or becoming acquainted with the executive team; although international fund managers like Sanlam's Kokkie Kooyman still insist on meeting management to determine whether the top is made up of "Kebbles" or "Ruperts".

Skype, Google, the iPad and numerous other recent innovations have dramatically transformed the way we conduct our business lives and interact socially.

Geography no longer constrains our choices nor restricts our movements. Willie, who always referred to me by my Hebrew name and had a fondness for physics, had the good sense to retire before his job became redundant, but sadly died prematurely after battling cancer.

He often acknowledged that technology would change our habits but, regardless, cautioned that science could never replace love, health and Thelonious Monk.

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Tue Sep 02 01:30:05 SAST 2014 ::