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Magda Wierzycka’s India

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Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, is known for her leadership style, her controversial Twitter feed and her no-nonsense take on politics and business.

She also loves to travel.

For over a decade, she and her husband bundled their two sons up four times a year and whisked them away: to the steamy Amazon, over rocky seas to Antarctica (“the glaciers are the most amazing things one could ever see in a lifetime”) and even the last refuge of the strange and wonderful; the Galapagos Islands (“I’d go back in a flash”).

They’ve visited over 80 countries together, including Wierzycka’s birthplace, Poland, which she describes brusquely as “not a mainstream tourist destination”. Compared to the descriptions of her other trips, it’s clear Poland is not a country of happy memories for her; in 1981, her family escaped the communist regime and found refuge in South Africa.

Many of the moments Wierzycka plans for her children are a foil to the experiences she had growing up. Their trips are also crucial parent-child bonding time, especially with Wierzycka working demanding hours as a CEO.

She says in a telephonic interview with FORBES AFRICA: “When you’re traveling with kids and then taking them to exotic locations, it means they are very reliant on you. If you go to a beach they couldn’t care less. They’re on their iPads or phones most of the time. But if you travel, they have nowhere to go except where you’re going. So they have to have every meal with you, they have to interact, there are a lot of things to discover: you hike, you canoe; which means you spend a lot of time together.”

The family’s five-week trek across India was one of their more significant and meaningful trips, with the bulk of their adventure taking place across The Golden Triangle, comprising New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; the most visited tourist spots in northern India.

It’s named ‘golden’ for the cultural and historical richness of each city. The Wierzycka family started their 2013 trip in New Delhi with their then 13- and 15-year-old sons.

“The first time we were thrown into India, and the very first thing we did which petrified the living daylights out of us – you couldn’t have had greater exposure to anything – we did a bicycle tour of New Delhi… There were monkeys and there were cows and the four of us on bicycles. I just remember being petrified of absolutely everything about it,” she laughs at the memory.

“It was kind of the most bizarre thing we’ve ever done and in hindsight, a very dangerous thing, because you were thrown into chaos, absolute chaos.”

But it wasn’t the chaos that made India memorable for Wierzycka. It was traveling from temple to temple, and consciously demystifying religion for her children.

“I was brought up very strict Roman Catholic, and I had only had my kind of ‘aha!’ moment when I learned the truth at the age of 12 or 13, when suddenly instead of thinking of Jesus Christ as a God, I read a book which portrayed him as a man, and prophet, and I just thought I don’t want my kids to grow up to the age of 12 to realize [only then] that there is more than one religion. I never wanted them to have that moment I had,” she explains.

Magda Wierzycka with her sons in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India (Photo supplied)

After this experience in her teens, shaking away institutionalized thinking was a pressing priority for her as a mother; the one way she had done that, years before, was by taking her children to Vietnam to see the other side of the famous war.

“If you’ve ever been to India, you learn that there is a religion about everything. [India] is effectively a way of learning where religion originates from, and it’s kind of demystifying religion for everybody.

“[I noticed that] all religions started in the same way: it might have been thousands of years ago, but it always started with someone who had a particular vision or theory and then created a following around a particular concept. [My sons] have a deep understanding of different cultures and different religions, and a very high level of religious tolerance. The only thing we don’t tolerate in my house is intolerance! You don’t have this kind of religious intolerance.

“Because coming back from Poland, growing up in Poland, there was only one religion – and that was Roman Catholic. There was no such concept as not believing – we had to go to church every Sunday, we had to go to confession, and God was always looking over you…

“And so… giving [my children] diversity was essential to me. First of all, that they grow up in a completely tolerant household that stretches across every boundary…”

Wierzycka’s disillusionment with the indoctrination of her youth drives much of her excursion planning.

“I think all of our trips have been a way to show them the reason ‘why’. All our trips have had that built into them, whether that is looking at museums, or going to Cambodia and looking at the Khmer Rouge regime and looking at the atrocities committed. I want my children to learn not to take things at face value. Analyze things.”

Now, with one child in Columbia University and the other hopefully headed to Harvard, family trips are going to be harder to coordinate, but they’re not going to stop. Their next destination? Alaska.

READ MORE: Cosmas Maduka’s Japan

Billionaires

Bad Times For Billionaire Branson–Staff At Virgin Atlantic Asked To Take Unpaid Leave As Coronavirus Cripples Air Travel

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Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been criticized by a U.K. politician for airline Virgin Atlantic’s request on Monday for staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.

Labour MP Kate Osborne, the second U.K. politician to be diagnosed with coronavirus, described Virgin Atlantic’s decision as “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.

Author Liam Young tweeted, “Virgin Atlantic have 8,500 employees and Branson has asked them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It would cost £4.2 million to pay all of these employees £500 a week to cover this leave. In total that’s a cost of £34 million for 8 weeks.”

The implication appears to be that billionaire Richard Branson, whose net worth Forbes estimates $3.8 billion, could afford to cover this cost.

Virgin Atlantic confirmed in a statement Monday that it plans to reduce its schedule and prioritize routes based on customer demand. The airline predicts an 80% reduction in flights per day, and adds, “As a direct consequence we will be parking approximately 75% of our fleet by 26 March and at points in April will go up to 85%.”

Virgin Atlantic describes the changes as “drastic measures” put in place to “ensure cash is preserved, costs are controlled, and the future of the airline is safeguarded.”

Adding, “Staff will be asked to take eight weeks unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary, to drastically reduce costs without job losses.” The airline confirms its decision has received the support of unions BALPA and UNITE in agreeing to the unpaid leave.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the [U.K] government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.”

Bad Times For Branson

Branson’s business empire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 14 the Virgin Voyages cruise ship operation decided to postpone the launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise line. “The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” Virgin Voyages confirmed in a statement.

On March 5, British airline Flybe — which is part owned by Virgin Atlantic— collapsed after it succumbed to its financial woes and weakened demand because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Following the announcement of Flybe’s collapse, Virgin Atlantic said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of Covid-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”

Flybe, which once was Europe’s largest independent regional carrier, narrowly escaped collapse in January, after being bought by Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic and Stobart last year.

Virgin Galactic, Branson’s publicly traded space tourism arm, has seen its shares slump since its mid February high of $37.26 on the NYSE. Having lost another 10% of value as of 4:30 pm U.K. time on Monday, Virgin Galactic is priced at $13.30 and falling. Branson’s Virgin Investment Limited owns 47% of Virgin Galactic through an investment entity, Vieco.

David Dawkins, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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Travel

Emerging Economies, But Weaker Passports

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Africa dominates the bottom of the rung in the 2020 Henley Passport Index. A majority of the continent’s passport-holders don’t have the luxury of visa-free travel around the world.

[To see the infographic on Africa’s rankings, click on the image]

The African Union may be gearing for a common African passport, but for now, it seems like most African passports don’t have what it takes to get to other parts of the world.

In the recently-released Henley Passport Index, which measures all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, only two African countries –Seychelles and Mauritius — are in the top 50.

The rest of the continent dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with weaker passports than most, pointing to difficult and intensive visa processes in most cases.

Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most influential, Nigeria, is at the end of the travel freedom spectrum, at a pitiful number 95 with Djibouti. Nigeria’s population of 200 million can only travel to 46 countries without obtaining a visa in advance. 

Even passport-holders from Samoa and Serbia have a better chance of traveling to most places in the world, visa-free, than those in South Africa, the African continent’s second biggest economy.

Ranked 56, the number of global destinations South African passport-holders can travel to is 100.

It is followed by its southern African neighbor, Botswana, ranking at 62 with a score of 84.

Seychelles, the archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is Africa’s top-ranking African passport in this regard, at 29 with access to 151 destinations worldwide.

It is quickly followed by Mauritius which is at 32 with a score of 146 destinations passport-holders of this country can visit.

The lowest-ranking African country is Somalia at 104. Passport-holders from this tiny nation in the Horn of Africa can only visit 32 countries without a pre-departure visa

Globally, Asia dominates the list. For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds on to its second place position with a score of 190.

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Executive Travel: Slikour’s Mexico

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The South African hip-hop artist and entrepreneur experienced a hurricane and a seismic spiritual shift in the city of Cancun. 


It has been a journey, a lot to learn and a lot learned,” says Siyabonga Metane, popularly known on South African hip-hop stages as ‘Slikour’.

The learnings have been in music and business, but the journeys have been beyond both.

Just two years post South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, Slikour was part of a rap group named Skwatta Kamp, formed on the streets of the country’s Gauteng province, with the aim of commercializing the local hip-hop scene.

The group consisted of seven members and most of them went on to release solo albums. Slikour released two, Ventilation Mix Tape Vol.1 and 2, in 2005 and 2007. Long before that, in 2002, Slikour had turned entrepreneur, co-founding Buttabing Entertainment, a record label and artist management organization.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s Manchester

 Today, he is also the founder of SlikourOnLife, a prominent urban culture online publication that he started in 2014 catering to music lovers.

Returning to the word ‘journey’, it especially sparks memories of a trip he undertook in 2011 to Cancun, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, known for its beaches, resorts and nightlife. Slikour was there for a television shoot as part of a group. The trip still stands out in his mind.

He was not blown away by the city initially, but as he visited some of Cancun’s tourism attractions, he began to change his perception.

Ultimately, it proved to be what he calls an amazing rendezvous.

“The people were pretty much speaking Spanish,” he chuckles, recalling being immersed in the local culture.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana

“There are a lot of laborers there and the people are beautiful and accommodating, but we never really spoke or interacted with the community.”

Slikour decided to savor the city’s famed nightlife instead and see for himself what all the hype was about.

It all began and ended with tequila, a distilled alcoholic drink and one of Mexico’s most famous exports, made of the blue agave plant from the city of Tequila in Mexico. 

“Everything you do there is done with tequila. I don’t drink alcohol, but I had to accept and apply myself because there, they don’t use tomato sauce, they use tequila; I literally had to get into the tequila swag; it’s everything there. Tequila started there,” Slikour says.

Mexico is known for its recurring hurricanes too, which Slikour also got a taste of while there.   

“After a few days of getting there, we were warned of a hurricane, and asked to close our doors and windows, and because these things happen regularly, there’s a drill to follow. The hurricane wasn’t a major one but I was excited because I wanted to see it. I had to look through the window,” he says.

The hurricanes are so frequent in Mexico that he likens the precautions taken to lighting a candle during South Africa’s frequent power cuts.  

Despite this exhilarating encounter with nature, the real earth-shaking experience for him, however, happened deep inside a cave in the city of Cancun – and also deep inside him.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya

“My spiritual [epiphany] was when I went into those caves. You go in there with your self-assurance, claiming you understand everything. Thereon, they tell you where everything comes from and all of a sudden, you become this very small thing in this big ecosystem. It just shows how everything affects everything,” Slikour says.

The tour guides explained how everything inside the cave came from rain, elaborating how it was connected to the core of the earth; which is where they were at the time.

Slikour was in Cancun for two weeks, and also visited the pyramids.

“The Mexicans didn’t have all the mathematics that we have now but the pyramids were built to perfection. It just showed you how forward-thinking they were and how behind we are in as much as we think we are forward; we just have technology. We don’t think the way historic societies used to think,” says Slikour, in deep reflection.

Mexico is a place he would return to, anyday, in a heartbeat.

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