March 30th, 2010
02:14 PM GMT
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That is the theme I wanted to explore with two of South Africa’s most prominent businesswomen – Cheryl Carolus and Wendy Lucas-Bull – who run a mega-deal investment company called Peotona.

Cheryl was a prominent anti-apartheid activist and then part of the team that helped Nelson Mandela and his party win the first democratic elections. She’s acted as the South African ambassador to London and head of South African Tourism. She’s now left the public sector and is running Peotona  with three other women – one of whom is Wendy Lucas-Bull.

Lucas-Bull was the first woman to run a major South African banking group. Her successful turnaround of that company is now taught in business schools. She’s also familiar to many South Africans as one of the business gurus on the television show ‘The Apprentice.’

Over a cup of coffee at their Johannesburg headquarters, I was interested in finding out if they thought women did business differently to men.

Both of them said, "Absolutely!"

Cheryl stressed that women leaders were not necessarily ‘softer’ and it wasn’t just about ‘girly business.’

Wendy agreed with her business partner that women executives do business in different ways – she said women tended to be more ‘inclusive’ and by that she says women create a workplace that’s condusive to women, as well as men. She also said women created a more ‘sustainable environment’ in that they  build businesses ‘that also look after some of the things outside of the business on which the business benefits.’

What exactly does that mean?

Both women used the example of how they run their company, which emphasizes community benefits for the mining companies (De Beers, French-owned Lefarge and Reunert) they have invested in. They tell me that they have set up trusts which benefit those communities who live next to the mines.

Their model is best explained, they say, with Reunert, a listed company and a leading player in the South African economy. They have set up a Reunert College which is a bridging year that helps pupils from the surrounding areas to get into technical colleges and universities. With their contacts in the business world they have also managed to get more sponsorship for this school and have tripled the number of students, they say.

Now all this sounds worthy and "nice and fuzzy," I say to them, but do they make any money?

They reply that they have some "incredible blue chip companies under our belt" and "we are investors in some of the biggest players in South Africa."

 That doesn’t sound like "girly business" does it?

March 30th, 2010
04:57 AM GMT
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Shanghai, China (CNN) – On Monday, CNN was among a handful of other foreign and local press allowed into a Chinese courtroom for the reading of the verdict of four employees of foreign mining giant, Rio Tinto.

The hearings had been closed to the public, and even for this access – no doubt due to the extraordinary attention foreign media have given the case – we were allowed to watch only by video monitor from a neighboring court room.

Before going through the metal detector and putting our bags through an X-ray machine, we were asked to remove all recording devices and cameras. We were led up to the seventh floor of the court building, and taken to a room where a total of 34 foreign and local journalists sat in front of two large screens, showing images from the Courtroom No. 1 on the second floor, where the verdict would be read.

A court employee, a young woman, sternly asked us to turn off our mobile phones, and warned that if anyone was caught using them, the phones would be confiscated.

The defense lawyers looked anxious when the clerk called on all to rise as the three judges entered. The judges, wearing dark uniforms, faced the four defendants, who were dressed in street clothes. Then the defendants - Stern Hu, an Australian citizen, along with Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui – walked in.

Though difficult to make out their expressions, it was striking to see Stern Hu’s hair was almost completely white, a startling counterpoint to the dark-haired photographs that had been in the press (whether those photographs were dated or his eight months incarcerated had aged him is impossible for me to say).

The head judge, Liu Xing, began reading the verdict at 2pm sharp, and the four defendants were allowed to sit down during the reading.

Reporters strained to hear and struggled to take notes as the chief judge detailed every bribe the defendants accepted, and the companies, individuals and amounts involved. All incidents centered around the Rio employees helping get the Chinese steel mills favorable terms and contracts for iron ore. All told, the employees were accused of accepting about $13.6 million over a five-year period from more than 10 Chinese companies (Hu was charged with taking about $1 million in bribes from two firms in the past two years).

In the 40-minute reading of the verdict, the judge also detailed the charges of obtaining commercial secrets, a total of eight instances, the most recent of which was last June. The court went said their action had seriously compromised the positions of Chinese steel enterprises negotiating for annual iron-ore prices with Rio Tinto and caused them huge losses, making them overpay $150 million iron ore – a commodity vital for the making of steel.

In closing, the judge announced that the four defendants had used improper means to obtain commercial secrets. But at the same time Stern Hu, Ge Minqiang, and Liu Caikui had “truthfully given accounts of taking bribes,” amounting to turning oneself in, so they would be sentenced leniently. Stern Hu had returned all the money he accepted, and the other defendants had returned most the cash.

At 2:40 pm, the defendants were asked to rise. I could see no expression at all on their faces as the sentences were read out: Hu would serve 10 years, 14 years for Wang, eight years for Ge and seven years for Liu. All also had to pay substantial fines.

After the judge finished reading, he announced that the defendants had ten days to appeal. We were then allowed to leave the room and turn our phones on.

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