Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Big business turns on little man with 'brilliant concept.'

Dear Small Business Owners,
        It all started with a newspaper advert offering a return of R2-million on a R100 000 investment in four years. Was it too good to be true or genuine I wondered.
         So I looked at the N-Tyre Solutions share offer on the internet and the glowing references from two very large, established companies were enough to convince anybody that Kevin Pearman’s tyre monitoring invention for trucks was a winner.
         The letters were from the South African arm of the Japanese owned Bridgestone, the world’s largest tyre and rubber corporation, and Imperial Flexifleet (now Eqstra Flexifleet), one of SA’s leading fleet management companies.
         Bridgestone believed the system would have huge long term benefits to transporters.

         The Imperial letter was even more impressive. It explained that the company operated more than 4 000 units with an annual tyre replacement budget of R151-million.
After referring to the possibility of obtaining a shareholding in N-Tyre having tested the unit, it went on, We have absolutely no hesitation, whatsoever to recommend the use of N-Tyre Solutions to any operator in the transport industry.
        But when I checked the authenticity of the letters these big companies changed their tune dramatically
         Rodney Selbst, Bridgestone’s SA company secretary, at first denied his firm had ever recommended N-Tyre. He soon had to eat his words when Kevin produced a letter written 10 years earlier by Marcus Haw, Bridgestone’s Fleet Manager – Technical Services.
         Haw had evidently put his foot in it by stating, The tyre saving potential of such a system is enormous.
Hardly what you want to hear if you are in the tyre business.
         No wonder Selbst did his best to discredit this letter when he told me that Haw was now an ex-employee and he had never been authorised to endorse N-Tyre’s system. He added that had they been asked they would not have given their consent to have their company’s name used in this promotion and he would be asking for the letter to be withdrawn.
          It became even more mystifying when I contacted John Loxton,  Managing Director of Eqstra Flexfleet. He accepted that his firm had written the letter that appeared on the web. And that they were impressed with the initial findings of the unit they had on one of their trucks, but it was so long ago he couldn’t remember when it was.
However they had some concerns about the viability of the product even though the concept is brilliant.
         What he said next gave the impression that his company wouldn’t touch the N-Tyre system with a barge pole. We have not endorsed the N-Tyre product and we have never invested one cent in it.  
         I may be a bit dense but isn’t what I quoted earlier from his firm’s letter about having absolutely no hesitation, whatsoever to recommend the use of N-Tyre Solutions etc, etc an endorsement?
         Loxton pooh-poohed the idea that R100 000 could be turned into R2-million in four years.
         Kevin countered by sending me a copy of an email he had received just two months earlier.
Inexplicably it was from Clinton Ferriera, Loxton’s Financial General Manager offering to buy all the shares in N-Tyre Solutions.
         Kevin expressed surprise that Loxton couldn’t remember when his unit had been on test because he claimed that Eqstra had it on a Clover Dairies truck for two years without any problems as recently as 2008. 
         And when I asked Loxton to clarify all the double speak he fell back on the old businessman’s crutch by saying, Speak to my lawyer. You would have thought we were involved in some kind of court case.
         Even Kevin was totally at a loss as to what could be going on behind the scenes.    

 In 2003 when his system was in the early stages of development it won design awards from Deloitte, the second largest professional services network in the world, as well as South Africa’s Bureau of Standards and the Age of Innovation & Sustainability accolade. Since then he has been perfecting and testing the unit and has recently produced the first 1 000.
         He claims that in the early stages it was seen as such a threat to a certain large manufacture that he was offered $10-million for the rights so that it could quash the whole idea. A secrecy agreement he signed prevents him naming this company.
       So I will leave you to guess who would want to eradicate a system that enables truckers to make huge tyre savings.
         Jon, a Champion of the Underdog.

P.S. When he won all those design awards a local paper tipped Kevin to become as rich as Mark Shuttelworth, the South African who became an overnight IT billionaire.
Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on Amazon Kindle  It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of Afrikaner/English prejudice.

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