From university of life to LifeBook – a storied tale
Have you ever heard of a primary school teacher travelling more than 1 000km to say goodbye to one of her scholars? South African-born Roy Moëd recalls his King David Linksfield Grade 2 teacher travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 1960 with a farewell gift for him just before he emigrated.
“I must have been so cute that teacher Bessie gave me a silver identity bracelet with the name Roy on the front and on the back, ‘Teacher Bessie 1960’,” Moëd told the SA Jewish Report. “I will always remember her. I never saw her again, but I still have the bracelet. She was a very special woman.”
It’s precious stories like this that Moëd, who founded a successful airline catering business and bespoke autobiography service, wants to highlight.
It’s sad, says Moëd, that these kinds of stories about your average person generally go untold. He founded LifeBook, a bespoke autobiography service, in 2011, because he’s passionate about telling these stories.
All because his teacher, Bessie Taurog, drove all the way to Cape Town shortly after the Sharpeville Massacre to say goodbye to a seven-year-old boy who was moving to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands with his parents and three siblings.
Moëd – who is dyslexic, making reading and writing difficult – has made the process of getting people’s stories printed as simple as possible.
“All you have to do is tell your story across twelve 90-minute interviews, and at the last interview, we record you talking about your favourite stories so your family can always hear them being retold in your voice,” he says.
Ten autobiographical books are then printed for the client to distribute among their family and friends, preserving their history and legacy.
“This my greatest business achievement and true legacy,” says Moëd. “We are changing people’s lives because we’re making and preserving this huge social history – there are now 10 000 people around the world who hold a LifeBook in their hands with their parents’ story or stories that they would never have heard.”
Not too shabby for a guy who was born in Waverley, Johannesburg, in 1953, and battled at school. “I failed everything, got kept down,” he recalls.
Moëd regularly went to Waverley Shul before his family decided to emigrate due to apartheid and the last of his grandparents having passed away. He did, however, return to the shul for his Barmitzvah.
By then, Moëd’s mother had realised that Jersey wasn’t, as she was told, a “beautiful tropical island with palm trees”. In fact, Moëd recalls, “the palm trees were all dead”.
“When I was 19, I was already living in London, but returned to Jersey to run a restaurant for my dad,” he says. “It was a Doll’s House [roadhouse]. He brought the idea to the island. However, the weather was rubbish, so we would be open for only three or four months of the year.”
Moëd went on to try his hand at 29 different jobs over the next six years, which he describes as “the university of life”. He did everything from door-to-door insurance to being a barman, waiter, smoked salmon slicer, and fruit and veg van driver. He also had spells working on a kibbutz in Israel, serving as a chef and manager of a restaurant, and managing a hotel.
“At the age of 25, I was basically unemployable. I was really good at interviews, but I wasn’t good at doing the jobs so I kept getting fired.”
In 1978, he started a catering business for the airline industry. “Today, I do a presentation called ‘the value of legacy, not money’, in which I talk about how I grew this business from two employees to 600 and reengineered it four times before selling it in 2007.”
One of Moëd’s proudest moments was the unexpected response he received from the 140 people his catering business had made redundant after deciding to outsource its warehousing and distribution. “I had a party for these people even though everybody said that I was mad and my old classic car was going to get keyed.”
Although they were being let go, they ended up hugging Moëd because he had given them opportunity by employing them in his business. “These people then became our customers as we landed up delivering to the doors of where they went on to be employed,” Moëd says.
His LifeBook company is working on 200 autobiographies for people around the world – from Mauritius and Uganda to the United States. “We always get a local interviewer who lives within 30 minutes of the client. The interviewer is trained by us how to conduct the interview, record the story, and take photographs. We then use a suitable writer – like an Asian if the subject is Asian – as they understand the nuances of things like local terminology.” Moëd’s expert team includes project managers, editors, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, and bookbinders.
“The key to LifeBook is also that the people who do it enjoy it. I started it because of my dad. I wanted to give him a project that he would enjoy and give him self-worth. As we get older, we start to lose our faculties in different ways, but to have a sense of self-worth at what you did, and to have your grandchildren know your values is really important. A great African proverb says, ‘When an elder passes on, a whole library burns down’. My greatest business achievement is that many of these kinds of libraries haven’t burnt down.”
Moëd’s business philosophy is inspired by a book titled The customer comes second. “The essence of that book is that if you get your people right, the customer will be happy. The philosophy is to treat people as people, build a team of people who are doing it for more than just the money, and create an environment where people enjoy coming to work and what they do.”
Business aside, Moëd flew in a race from London to Sydney in 2001. He has a pilot license and an instrument rating, which, he says, “is really academic, and I surprised myself in doing it”.
He has returned to South Africa many times as a tourist, and played polo at Plettenberg Bay, where his parents spent their honeymoon once upon a time.