In its heyday as home to more than 900 horses belonging to owners across 22 timezones from Japan to the United States, Summerhill Stud and its associated hotel, Hartford House, was the Midlands’ most visited tourist destination. An average of 60-70 people signed the visitors’ roster at its historic main gate on a daily basis, and while that number included the plumber, the electrician and delivery vehicles, the principal magnet was its horses and its hospitality.

The world economic slow-down and a conscious decision on the part of its proprietors to “slow it down” a tad means the buzz is marginally less intense than it once was, but both of these establishments remain shrines to adherents of the sport of horse racing and to lovers of fine food, old whiskey and good conversation. In recent months alone, the roll call of thoroughbred aficionados include the “Gods” of the game, Gosden, Gold, Grimthorpe (as in “Lord”), Lascelles and their legions of wives and worshippers; Champion French trainer, Criquette Head and Aliette and Giles Forien, breeders of the 2018 Epsom Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles; Lord Risby (thus entitled for his work in British racing, among other things); Europe’s leading sales consignor, Henri Bozo; New Zealand legend, Gary Chittick of Waikato Stud; famous Australian horsemen Jamie Inglis and Peter Orton, and shortly, Kent Barnes of Shadwell America, as well any number of the local turf faithful.

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence

One of Summerhill’s modern-day favourite attractions is its Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence, a rare institution in the training and equipping of management aspirants in equine studies in a world which, while populated by the rulers of countries and the doyens of international business, is sadly lacking in facilities of this kind. In pursuit of the norms and standards the School has embraced and the philosophies and culture that characterizes its foundations, another batch of enterprising young people has enrolled for the 2019 academic year, thanks largely to the generosity of the Mary Oppenheimer & Daughter’s Foundation, without which it could no longer serve its intended purpose in these difficult times. And this time, they have come not only from within the boundaries of Southern Africa, but from the Rhineland, two enterprising young German ladies, Dorothea Zurbrüggen and Amelia Hemsteg, who’ve enrolled for a compressed course in practical stud management.

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence Theatre

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence Theatre

In a recent speech delivered to a Durban audience of more than a 1000 students, Mick Goss marveled at his and his wife Cheryl’s good fortune at having inherited from their parents an appreciation of the value of good people. “It’s one of life’s privileges to go to work at 6:30 every morning with some of the best citizens on the planet. The realization that they are among the most intuitively talented horsemen anywhere, led us to invest in their education. Like most things in our lives, our efforts had humble beginnings. We started with a crèche, a night school in life skills and literacy for some of our lesser educated adults, and a primary school with our neighbours. When the “prep” produced two mayors and a junior international athlete from only 65 pupils, we knew we could fly. Human beings deserve a place in space, not just doggy-padding around the earth. To that end, we have awarded more than 60 international scholarships to our people, and close to 100 have devoted more than ten of their best working years to the service of Summerhill.”

Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

“And so we built our School Of Management Excellence, the best facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. This year our students will hear the wisdom of several professors, and they will learn all the lessons of the text book world. They will also learn about life and the leadership lessons of the street; they will be reminded that good people don’t need managing, they just need inspiring. That an essential ingredient of leadership is authenticity. True, authenticity doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader, but you can’t be a good leader for very long without authenticity.”

”Finally, our people will tell you we teach history the wrong way around. The first thing we should learn as a child is that we are all part of the same human race. The last thing we should be saying is that we are Natalians, that we are Protestant or that we are of a particular racial ancestry.”

“I have to confess to being in awe of your generation, chaps. You are more worldly and far smarter than we were. You guys know that nothing is beyond reach these days, that when a scientist tells you something is possible, he’s probably underestimating how soon it will happen. If he tells you it’s impossible, he’s probably wrong.“

“Your generation knows better than ours, that the world is very different to the one you were born into, that next year’s, no, next month’s, will be different again. You know too, that much of the commercial world is the preserve of “big business”, and while South Africa is home to many world-class companies, they can sometimes be sleepy old places dominated by accountants and actuaries nursing warm gins and tonics. In tomorrow’s speak, we have to be quicker and smarter than our lunch, otherwise we are the “lunch”.

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence Students

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence Students

“Of course, there’s a great big world out there, brimming with opportunity, and you know not to let your schooling interfere too much with your education. Besides, you understand that there is a danger to victory. Being gracious in defeat, as in victory, is not a characteristic that defines the modern sports era. So we should ask ourselves, “What happened to being a good sport?”.

The one thing I can leave you with from my own life then, is that hard work is the only passport to an honest living. Passion is the only ticket to the game. If you don’t have it in your bones, you shouldn’t be on the field”.

 
Mary Oppenheimer and Daughters Foundation
 

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