Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cell C's strange dealings with man of many promises

Dear South African cell phone users,

         Work this one out if you can.
         In April this year Kevin Pearman’s Germiston based, The World Loves a Winner company, concluded a written agreement to market Cell C. The plan Kevin submitted to clinch the deal predicted that he could virtually double Cell C’s market share with 10-million new members by 2014.
         He believed that as Cell C’s call rate had been cut to the lowest in the market at 99 cents his scheme would be far more effective than Cell C’s adverting campaign that had only brought in a million new members in the last year.
And as I had previously reported on Kevin’s tyre monitoring invention for heavy vehicles (See Big business turns on little man with ‘brilliant concept’) he sent me details of his Cell C appointment.
         The gist of it was that by selling sim cards investors would reap the following benefits: For a joining fee of R600 a month they would earn 3% of the monthly airtime purchased per card activated and 1.5% of the airtime used by the new members.
         Down the line they would also get 1% of the airtime used by the cards activated by the people their members recruited as well as R150 for each new member and R50 for anybody these people signed up.
         Kevin’s company would pay these amounts from commission he received from Cell C.
    It sounded a real money spinner for just about anybody. But as Kevin claimed You can easily make an extra R800 000 per annum or get there quicker it seemed too good to be true so I decided to check it with Cell C.

On 16 July I asked Alan Knott-Craig, the company’s Chief Executive, in an email, if the scheme had Cell C’s blessing. He was formerly the CEO at Vodacom.

         Three days later things began to unravel for Kevin.

         On 19 July, unknown to me at the time, Hilton Coverly, Cell C’s Executive Head, Informal Marketing told Kevin that the agreement was cancelled and his firm would no longer be allowed to market Cell C.
         On 10 August the story took a new twist. Surie Ramasary its Executive Head, Product Management replied to the email I sent to Knott-Craig saying Please note Cell C does not condone this type of business concept and we have not been privy to it. It is a breach of the current agreement signed. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

         No mention was made of the fact that the contract had been cancelled three weeks earlier. And when I asked her in a subsequent email how she could say her firm knew nothing about the scheme when her name appeared on the agreement, I got no reply.

         On 20 August an angry Kevin sent a hand delivered letter to Knott-Craig pointing out that the agreement was reached after his marketing plan had been submitted and approved by Cell C’s officials. And one of the signatories was Coverly.
Comedian Trevor Noah in a Cell C ad
Kevin stated he had met Coverly the previous day to ascertain the reason for this grossly unreasonable cancellation. But he got no sympathy and was told that it was done because it was a pyramid and get-rich-quick scheme.
         Kevin countered that this was completely untrue as We are promoting your company’s business in a legal, effective manner. He asked Knott-Craig to reconsider the cancellation.
         In his biography Second to Nothing Knott-Craig, who was formerly the CEO of Vodacom, told us that his word was his bond as he often clinched deals with just a handshake.
         But he seemed determined to stay clear of this one.
         On 21 August Kevin got a fax from Jose Dos Santos saying that as Cell C’s Chief Commercial Officer he had been mandated by Knott-Craig to deal with this matter. He stated that after having read all the documentation he had decided after carefully deliberating with my team that the termination letter sent on 19 July should remain in effect.
Kevin again
Kevin protested to Dos Santos that he had never been told of any breach of the contract and that it was unreasonable to cancel it under a clause that said this could be done at any time at Cell C’s sole discretion without penalty on 60 days notice. Coverly, he claimed, had said his plan was like throwing sim cards out of a helicopter.
         He told me that since he began promoting the scheme 140 people had signed up as agents and he had had many more inquiries. He had obtained a written commitment from the Executive Council of the Kekana tribe at Hammanskraal to switch its 750 000 members to Cell C. Two other large tribes had given a similar undertaking verbally.
         Another possibility was that a union with 2.3-million members would be interested in joining.
         To date he had spent close to R150 000 on a website to control the operation and the cancellation would badly affect the many people who were relying on this for additional or in some cases their primary income.
        It looked as though big business had turned on the little man once again, although this time it was not quite as simple as that.

      Did Cell C belatedly tumble to Kevin’s very chequered business record?

         Kevin has never been short on new ideas. But if his Sunday Times advertisements (see examples) are anything to go by his promotions have always had a too-good-to- be- true, get-rich-quick image.

This was in December 2010

    He promised to make millionaires out of investors in his N-tyre Solutions, the company that has his tyre monitoring system. However this has been on the runway for more than 10 years and never seems to get off the ground.
         He said 450 people had invested in it, but it doesn’t look as though they will ever get anything back.
The hot pad money maker
         Last year he was asking people to put money into his latest venture – marketing reusable heating pads to treat muscle strains and the like. At the time he told me I want to rectify my already tarnished name and make sufficient money to finalise my N-tyre business.
         He said he had come a along way in allaying all the negative publicity surrounding myself and N-tyre, and I am having the first shareholders meeting (after many years) – one of the gripes against me.
         He soon bailed out of the hot pad business. So what happened to the investors, if any, is anyone’s guess.

This agreement was signed by just about all Cell  C's top brass except Knott-Craig
         He now says he started as a Cell C reseller out of necessity to raise the R2-million I need to launch N-tyre myself and that N-tyre’s potential was better than ever with the strong possibility of the insurance industry embracing it.
         He explained his dubious Sunday Times advertising (see examples) as the only way to get people to respond. The ST is rudely expensive and I must do whatever I can to get to talk to people, was his explanation.
         It looks as though Cell C should do a bit more research before it enters into its next contract. The internet makes it so easy these days.
         Yours suspiciously
         Jon, your Consumer Watchdog. 

P.S.   I think you’ll agree the world does love a winner, but it doesn’t have much time for losers.

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