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Crazy Aviators: The Eerie Similarities Between Billionaire Howard Hughes And Elon Musk

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He was a Los Angeles billionaire known worldwide for pushing the limits of engineering, safety and his bank account to achieve transportation breakthroughs, as well as for gossipy celebrity romances.

He churned through executives like a buzz saw, made puzzlingly costly business decisions and invited conflict by thumbing his nose at politicians and the law. Yet he was one of the great entrepreneurs of his time.

No, it isn’t Tesla’s mercurial billionaire CEO Elon Musk, who’s locked in a legal fight with the Securities & Exchange Commission that could lead to his ouster and must put the company on sound footing after burning through $5 billion since 2010 to popularize its electric cars and solar power.

We’re talking about billionaire Howard Hughes, who at his death was among the world’s richest people. Hughes’ machinery ushered in the oil age, his investments helped popularize commercial air travel, he ran Hollywood’s biggest studios, built an enormous gaming and real estate empire, and has an imprint that stretches from satellite television to the Las Vegas strip and biomedical research.

We’re talking about billionaire Howard Hughes, who at his death was among the world’s richest people. Hughes’ machinery ushered in the oil age, his investments helped popularize commercial air travel, he ran Hollywood’s biggest studios, built an enormous gaming and real estate empire, and has an imprint that stretches from satellite television to the Las Vegas strip and biomedical research.

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As federal judge Alison Nathan weighs the SEC’s charge that Musk violated a 2018 settlement arising from alleged share price manipulation with tweets about taking Tesla private, it’s instructive to look back at another mercurial entrepreneur’s career and fights with regulators, because even surprise victories didn’t guarantee long-term stability for Hughes.

Born in 1905, Hughes in the 1920s inherited Hughes Tool, which made drill bits used to burrow oil wells. Uninterested in oil, he let others run the company and moved to Los Angeles to spend Toolco cash on passion projects in two emerging technologies: aviation and moviemaking. Hughes’ silent filmTwo Arabian Knights won Academy awards. During the filming of his 1930 epic Hell’s Angels, pilots died and planes crashed.

The silver screen adventures made Hughes a celebrity. He dated Jane Russell and Katherine Hepburn and married actress Jean Peters. Likewise, Musk married British actress Talulah Riley following his divorce from author Justine (Wilson) Musk. He’s also dated actress Amber Heard and had a brief but sensational, relationship with indie singer Grimes.

Hughes’ aviation obsession led him in 1932 to create Hughes Aircraft as a division of Toolco, to siphon more profits and manufacture planes in the pursuit of flight records. By 1938 he flew around the world in record time, gaining global fame. In 1939, he paid $9 million to take control of Trans World Airlines.

Hughes’ aircraft unit was a big military contractor during World War II, and TWA, under his ownership, brought flying into the mainstream through expansion and enormous aircraft investments. The spending even supported burgeoning aerospace conglomerates like Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.

At the time of his death in 1976, Hughes had controlled TWA, RKO, Air West and owned multiple billion-dollar businesses, six casinos and most of the undeveloped land in Las Vegas. Though he spent his last days as a recluse at Xanadu, his Bahamian estate, Hughes’ fame was worldwide, and it carries on with his Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of America’s biggest philanthropies. For all the success, Hughes also spent much of his public life fighting with politicians and regulators.

Like Musk, the SEC targeted Hughes for manipulative financial maneuvers in his publicly traded companies, and both faced shareholder lawsuits. Unlike Musk so far, Hughes’ reckless maneuvering also meant he was often forced to put his businesses into blind trust structures, shielded from his capricious management.

Born in South Africa, Musk came to the U.S. to study physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, arriving at the dawn of the internet era in search of big opportunities. Musk later dropped out of Stanford to create a software company he eventually sold to Compaq.

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Next he built X.Com, a Web payments company that became part of PayPal, and Musk was treated as a cofounder alongside Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and others. When eBay bought PayPal in 2002, Musk earned a $165 million payday that bootstrapped his push into new industries.

He began by founding the rocket company SpaceX in 2002, then in 2004 invested $6.35 million to transform Tesla from a concept on paper into the world’s leading electric car brand. He funded the residential solar energy startup SolarCity in 2006, which has since been integrated into Tesla, and in 2017 created the Boring Company as a way to advance his high-speed Hyperloop concept.

Like Hughes, Musk made daring, contrarian bets aimed at reshaping enormous industries. He, too, wanted to test the limits of corporate leadership to gain ground on incumbents like General Motors, electric utilities, oil companies and government-backed space endeavors.

Tesla competes with an oligopoly of carmakers specializing in petroleum-powered internal combustion engines. With SpaceX he saw an opportunity to ferry satellites, cargo and astronauts into space as NASA slimmed down. SolarCity’s goal is to accelerate clean energy use and curb dependence on fossil fuels.

All three have become high-profile, multibillion-dollar businesses, but none has produced meaningful profits. They’ve also been hamstrung by Musk’s driven, but often reckless, management style.

SpaceX, a wild success now worth $30 billion, has completed numerous launches for NASA and is the leader in private space travel. Musk also set a goal of not just getting to Mars but colonizing it. At the moment, SpaceX is also reportedly under review as a federal contractor, after Musk smoked pot on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast.

Tesla acquired SolarCity in a 2016 merger that puzzled investors and led to accusations of self-dealing since most board members rubber-stamping the purchase were affiliated with Musk. It also triggered a class-action shareholder suit. SolarCity has disappointed so far, losing market share and moving slowly on ambitious plans to sell solar roofs and Powerwall battery storage systems. But none of Musk’s companies has become more valuable or problematic than Tesla.

Two years after its 2010 Nasdaq debut, Tesla and Musk dazzled with the electric Model S, a sleek sedan that won critical raves and blew away sales expectations. Tesla shares soared, and Musk began planning new vehicles including the Model X SUV and mass-market Model 3 sedan. But X was two years late to market, mainly because of the problematic “falcon wing” doors Musk insisted on, and the 3’s rollout was hamstrung by bottlenecks with the automated assembly line Musk envisioned.

Tesla mostly abandoned his robotic production dream, even building Model 3’s almost by hand in a tentlike assembly line in a lot at its plant in Fremont, California. Since 2016 dozens of top Tesla executives have left, and Wall Street has grown uncomfortable with its billions of dollars in spending but weak financial position.

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Over time, Hughes became known for increasingly erratic behavior. His fame transitioned from Hollywood showmanship to mystery as he spent his later years as a recluse in a suite in Las Vegas’s Desert Inn and then at his Bahamian Xanadu. “Hughes survived three major airplane crashes and an automobile crash that put him out for two days. His head was badly banged around in all of these, and I think his mental condition can be directly attributed to those crashes,” Noah Dietrich, Hughes’ longtime accountant and confidant, told Forbes in 1972. Dietrich recalled a 1944 episode when he told Hughes, “You better see some doctors and do it quick.” When Hughes returned, Dietrich recalled, he said, “Noah, thanks a lot. I had a consultation with three doctors this morning and they tell me I’m right on the verge of a complete mental collapse. They tell me if I don’t get away for a while and relax…”

In 2017, Musk tweeted that he might be bipolar, a surprisingly candid admission for such a public figure. But in the summer of 2018, he created unnecessary headaches with several head-scratching moves. He triggered a defamation lawsuit for recklessly calling a British man who aided the rescue of a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave a “pedo” on Twitter. In August, after receiving an investment from Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, he dropped an even bigger Twitter bombshell. “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured,” he blared to 25 million followers. After a probe, the SEC found Musk had little basis to proclaim the buyout and charged him with stock manipulation. In September, after seeking his removal as CEO, the regulator fined Musk and Tesla $40 million, had him step down as chairman and agree to have tweets containing material information reviewed by Tesla officials. Musk agreed to the terms but neglected them and expressed contempt for the SEC. “I want to be clear. I do not respect the SEC. I do not respect them,” he told 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl in December 2018. That interview, combined with an inaccurate tweet about Tesla production, led the SEC to claim he had breached the settlement.

Now it’s up to Judge Nathan, who’s presiding over the case in the federal court for the Southern District of New York, to decide Musk’s fate. On Thursday, she asked that Musk and the SEC try to mediate a solution, which was an idea the entrepreneur seemed amenable to. But what if he again opts for a standoff? The most extreme outcome could force Musk out of Tesla management. Could his role at SpaceX also be curbed? Will banks who’ve lent billions to Musk pull their support? These are all scenarios that played out in Hughes’ half-century business career in aviation, film, gambling, real estate and energy.

Consider his deal to take control of Trans World Airlines, an investment that returned Hughes a fiftyfold profit. TWA also spent over a decade battling the billionaire. In 1961, it sued Hughes on antitrust grounds, accusing the mercurial businessman of using a crony as CEO to rubber-stamp $320 million in jet orders, which the airline leased from Hughes Tool and nearly caused the airline to go under. The buying binge propelled TWA into one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, but its cash needs proved to be a double-edged sword. When Hughes’ hand-picked CEO retired midway through a $265 million rescue financing, he was blindsided by a piece of fine print that allowed lenders to put his shares in trust if there were any executive departures. When the financing was completed, TWA was saved, but Hughes lost control. In came the professional management, which turned the tables by suing Hughes on antitrust grounds for the reckless aircraft orders. Hughes sold his TWA stock for $546.5 million in 1966.

Of Hughes’ management, Forbes said in a 1961 cover story, “On the whole, it is to be hoped that Howard Hughes will never again be able to exercise the absolute power he once held over TWA. The hope is not expressed from any high-flown considerations of economic morality or national interest. Rather, it is because Hughes is basically a distraction: No rational analysis of TWA and its prospects seems possible without soon being perverted into a discussion of this mysterious, magnetic, remarkable man.”

Even after Hughes’ sold his stake in TWA, the battle raged on, with the airline winning a $135 million judgment against the entrepreneur in 1963. For the better part of a decade, the nine-figure legal loss hung over Hughes’ empire. In 1972, an appeal by the billionaire made it to the Supreme Court, where Hughes prevailed.

That wasn’t the only airline conquest that resulted in legal trouble for Hughes. After exiting TWA, he set his sights on Air West, offering to buy the struggling airline for $81 million, or $22 a share, in a 1968 hostile takeover. Hughes won a lengthy battle and changed the airline’s name to Hughes Air West. However, in 1970 when shareholders were paid, they received just $8 a share. In 1973, Hughes and four associates were charged criminally for stock manipulation, conspiracy and wire fraud. In 1975 the SEC joined the legal battle. The suit raged on through Hughes’ death in 1976. His estate paid $30 million to the SEC in 1979 to settle the charges.

As a government contractor, Hughes invited particular scrutiny. Hughes Aircraft was notorious for missing deadlines and frustrating federal bureaucracies. During World War II, it was tasked with building a spy plane that was never delivered, though Hughes narrowly escaped death crashing a prototype in Beverly Hills. Then came notoriety. Hughes was contracted to build a plane to shuttle supplies and troops by air, instead of warships susceptible to German U-boats. His eight-engine, 750-person plywood H-4 Hercules, known nationwide as the Spruce Goose, was a marvel of ambition. But the war came and went, tens of millions were spent, and it wouldn’t fly.

In 1947, Owen Brewster, a U.S. senator from Maine who was an ally of infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, brought Hughes to the Senate to testify on why the government spent $40 million on a plane that wasn’t delivered. To deflect accusations the was selling vaporware, Hughes organized a media event in Long Beach, California, in which he flew the Spruce Goose 33 feet in the air for about a minute, winning the public’s support and eventually ending Brewster’s political career. But to remain a government contractor, he was forced in 1953 to spin off Hughes Aircraft and put it in a trust, which was called the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. When Hughes died in 1976, he was among the world’s richest people, and nearly everything he owned was under a legal cloud.

Hughes’ divestiture of Hughes Aircraft in 1953, Forbes reported in a 1984 feature, wasn’t without upside. “The suspicion has been that the whole affair was a tax move designed to keep Howard Hughes in sole control while paying no taxes,” wrote reporter Allan Dodds Frank. The Hughes estate sold Hughes Aircraft–which evolved into a coveted giant in satellite TV that birthed DirecTV–to General Motors in 1985 for $5 billion.

The sale turned the institute into a top philanthropy and a leader in genetics and biomedical research: It has distributed $22 billion and 28 of its current and former scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes. In a 1972 exclusive interview with Forbes, Dietrich, Hughes’ accountant, revealed that the billionaire had probably paid just $20,000 a year in taxes.

Dietrich himself spent years in a legal battle over undelivered bonus pay Hughes promised him if he stayed amid constant turnover. And though Dietrich’s tell-all to Forbes was mostly critical, the loyal adviser conceded, “Hughes did have a certain amount of mechanical genius.”

While Musk received most of the credit for Tesla’s early breakthrough with Model S, he benefited from an able team that included veteran auto engineers Peter Rawlinson and Nick Sampson; battery expert Kurt Kelty; George Blankenship, who designed Tesla’s stores; and government affairs pro Diarmuid O’Connell. None of them are still with Tesla. And while Musk gained billions from SpaceX, it’s been ably run (with minimal turnover) by president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell. It’s a contrast to Musk’s Model 3 “production hell” in 2018, when he spent many nights sleeping on a sofa in Tesla’s Fremont factory or jetting off to promote subterranean transit tunneling services by his Boring Co.

For all the similarities between the two men, there are also major differences. Hughes hardly ever relied on outside money to finance his whims. In his 20s, he smartly took 100% ownership of Hughes Tool and thus could plunder its cash without having to answer to anyone. Musk, on the other hand, magnified his PayPal windfall with enormous sums of other people’s money, on public stock markets and in private markets. He answers not only to public shareholders and venture capitalists in all of his endeavors but also to bankers, who’ve provided billions in margin debt to maintain large Tesla and SpaceX holdings as they’ve raised capital.

As much as Tesla and SpaceX’s combined $80 billion market cap is a marvel–and Musk’s newer ventures like Hyperloop and Boring Co. set impressive goals–they have yet to profit on their industry-changing intentions. Much of Musk’s empire is still based on undelivered promises anchored to time-bound investor expectations.

-Antoine Gara; Forbes Staff

-Alan Ohnsman; Forbes Staff

-With assistance from Susan Radlauer

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Walmart Sues Tesla Over Solar Panels That Allegedly Caught Fire

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Topline: Walmart is alleging in a lawsuit that Tesla solar panels caused fires on the roofs of seven Walmart stores, and is accusing Tesla of breach of contract, gross negligence and failure to comply with industry standards. 

  • Walmart claims that Tesla installed faulty solar panels that eventually spontaneously combusted and caught fire at seven Walmart stores around the country.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Tesla inspectors didn’t notice defects that were visible to the naked eye, used cable connectors that weren’t compatible with one another and failed to see that loose and hanging wires were present at multiple sites.

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  • Walmart says in the lawsuit it believes the failures were the result of rushed installation because Tesla’s solar division “adopted an ill-considered business model that required it to install solar panel systems haphazardly and as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit, and the contractors and subcontractors who performed the original installation work had not been properly hired, trained, and supervised.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

Key Background: Tesla got into the solar business after it acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. But production of its residential solar panels under Tesla has been mired with delays and plunging sales. 

Just this week, CEO Elon Musk announced a revamped pricing plan in an effort to boost the slowing business. The new pricing model allows residents in six states to rent solar power systems starting at $50 a month ($65 a month in California) instead of buying them up front.

Further Reading: Read the full lawsuit here.

-Rachel Sandler, Forbes


READ MORE:

Crazy Aviators: The Eerie Similarities Between Billionaire Howard Hughes And Elon Musk

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How To Cut The Cord: The Top Smart TVs For Streaming 2019

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Freeing yourself from the shackles of cable or satellite television is easier to do than you might think, especially if you have a smart or connected television.

Smart TVs have integrated internet and interactive features that allow users to stream music and videos, browse the Web and view photos. Almost every new high-end television sold within the last two years or so has smart capabilities. So how do you choose?

If you want to take advantage of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and more, then look at these television sets.

LG C9 OLED 65-inch TV
Best smart TVs
On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. LG

In addition to a beautiful, detailed picture and a big soundstage, this 4K OLED sports cutting-edge connectivity, including an HDMI 2.1, and a comprehensive feature set including both Google Home and Amazon Alexa built in. It also comes with Home Dashboard, a new tool that turns the set into the central control hub of all your connected home devices—from doorbell cameras to smart thermostats to appliances like a washing machine or a stove.

On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from sites such as Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. It also lets users rent, purchase and watch TV shows and movies from Apple’s iTunes store.

Vizio 55-inch M-Series Quantum
Best smart tVs
This Vizio is equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit, making it just as suitable for iOS users. VIZIO

At under $700, the 55-inch M-Series Quantum offers a serious value in the smart TV arena. Not only does it deliver an excellent picture and sound, but it is also equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software, which includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit (making it just as suitable for iOS users).

The update also has a more vibrant selection of locally installed apps, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Vudu. Thanks to a partnership with PlutoTV, the Vizio also offers a dedicated streaming channel called WatchFree, which gives you a TV-watching experience with more than 100 free channels, including sports, news, cartoons, and movies. You can also pair the set with an Amazon Echo device for voice control with Alexa.

Sony Master Series 65-inch A9F OLED TV
Best Smart TVs
This 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant capability, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices.SONY

If money is no object and you want a TV with loads of features, an incredible picture and terrific sound, go with the Sony A9G. The A9F is one of the first Sony Android TVs to ship with the newest version of its smart OS. The most notable names in video are preloaded, including Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV,and YouTube. For music, Google Play Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal and a slew of internet radio stations.

This Sony 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices. 

TCL 43S517 Roku Smart 4K TV
Best smart TVs
The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. TCL

Great things can come in packages costing less than $400. Not only will you get a terrific picture, robust sound and a slew of genuinely exciting features, this TCL 43-inch model sports Dolby Vision HDR, Dolby Atmos audio support and integrated Roku voice search.

The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all of your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. There are also apps for major broadcasters, major sports leagues, and premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. Of particular interest to cord-cutters will be support for Sling TV, which provides a cable-like experience without the expense of a cable subscription.

Insignia 43-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition
Best Smart TVs
This under $300 43-incher offers most of the apps you’d expect, like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. INSIGNIA

Amazon finally seems to have a Fire TV that can compete with the Roku-powered smart sets. This 4K television with HDR support is packed with features for the Amazon faithful, with Alexa voice interaction built-in, Amazon’s huge selection of Fire TV apps, and a smart TV experience that puts Prime Video centerstage.  

This 43-incher costs less than $300 and offers most of the streaming apps you would expect, such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. Plus, Fire TV will soon get an official YouTube app packed with services such as YouTube Kids, YouTube Music and (most critical for cord-cutters) YouTube TV.

-Chuck Tannert, Forbes

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Multi-Disciplinary Education In The 4IR Era

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There is an adage that states “if you want to know the future of a nation, study the behavior of its teachers”.

The most potent force for political, economic and social progress in society is education. The measure of how great a nation will rise is determined by how many people in its population are educated. The African continent today has a total purchasing power parity gross domestic product (GDP) of $6.7 trillion, and a population of 1.2 billion people.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2016, sub-Saharan Africa had a literacy rate of 76% compared to 89% in South and West Asia, 87% in the Arab states and 98% in the developed nations.

This literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa is far from adequate, and calls for urgent and practical action to improve it.

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We are living in an era characterized by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are changing all aspects of our lives. Factories are automating. Because of these changes, the nature of work is changing.

Many jobs are disappearing altogether, and new types of jobs are being created. For example, we now have jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, such as Data Scientists. AI is now able to diagnose severe diseases such as pulmonary embolism, epilepsy and leukemia complementing the work of medical professionals. Because of the rapid automation in the medical field, doctors today require an in-depth knowledge of technology.

These changes in society because of 4IR require new sets of skills. Are our education systems ready to capacitate our people with the requisite skills to tackle the problems of 4IR?  Do we have enough teachers at all levels of our educational systems to be able to give our people skills that will make them useful in the 4IR era? Do we have enough educational institutions to be able to skill our people? Unfortunately, the answers to these two questions are in the negative.

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Given that we do not have enough teachers nor educational institutions to provide a critical mass of our people the requisite capabilities that will help them survive in the 4IR, what is to be done? One way of tackling this problem is to take a lesson from the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who realized that for India to thrive in the 20th century, it needed to invest in elite technical education. In this regard, he introduced the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

Nehru had this to say in 1956 at the first convocation address of the first IIT in Kharagpur, a city in West Bengal: “…Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”

It is vital that African countries create a few elite institutions that will drive the African continent into the 4IR. The Pan-African University supported by the African Union is a good start, but we can do more.

Additionally, these elite institutes should not be limited to higher education only but must also focus on primary and secondary education. One example in Johannesburg is the African Leadership Academy (ALA), which targets gifted 16-to-19-year-olds. Today, the ALA has alumni from 46 different countries making an impact on the political, economic, and social aspects of the African continent.

READ MORE | The 4IR Strategy To Move Forward

For us to thrive in the 4IR era also requires our educational experience to be multi-disciplinary. In our limited institutions of higher learning, students enrolled for programs in the human and social sciences must also study technological subjects.

Those enrolled in technological programs must study human and social subjects. Technological subjects should focus on the issues that confront the African continent, such as affordable and appropriate technology, limited and incomplete data, and cost-effective manufacturing.

The human and social subjects should focus on the urgent issues facing Africa today, such as social cohesion, connectivity, stability, conflict and unity. Due to the limitations of physical infrastructure and good teachers, African countries should pull their resources together and invest in online platforms to facilitate education through modern techniques such as blended and augmented learning.

The outcome of the education system, whether at primary, secondary, or tertiary levels, should be logical, numeracy and verbal skills. These skills will give our people the capacity to tackle the challenges of the 4IR such as coding, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and decision-making. 

– Tshilidzi Marwala is a professor, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. He deputizes President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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