words by mauro a. forlin, operations director
Good day to you all. It has been some time since the editorial team have asked me to write the editorial for our newsletter, so if this feels a little rusty, I humbly apologise. I write this on a brisk morning, where the weather is cold here in Johannesburg and the usual winter sniffles are to be heard around our offices.
Early last week the media reported on the horrific mass shooting event in Orlando, Florida where a lone gunman (reportedly shooting in the name of ISIS) ran into a nightclub and started opening fire and gunning 49 people down in cold blood before the US law enforcement managed to gun him down. This is a huge tragedy on innocent folk who were out having a drink with friends and enjoying a dance on the dance floors. I will never personally understand or condone such an act no matter what cause it is committed in the name of.
Many years ago I was invited to a braai on a Sunday by a friend. When we arrived at this braai our host was a young man in a wheelchair. After the first few beers we were now getting to know each other and I asked this now successful information technology specialist how he landed up in the wheelchair. I was expecting an answer along the lines of an accident or perhaps a degenerative disease, the answer I received sent chills down my spine.
The story this young man told me was that he was in Cape Town visiting some family when one of his family members suggested they go for a drink a restaurant nearby called Father’s (if my memory serves me correctly). I must add that this was sometime after the assassination of Chris Hani but before South Africa’s General Election in 1994.
Whilst this young man was enjoying rather more wine than he probably should have, a number of gunmen ran into the restaurant and started shooting randomly. This young man was found unconscious on the floor with an AK47 bullet lodged in his spinal column. From that moment on his life changed, he was confined to a wheelchair, unable to have children and from that moment on he would struggle to move around, he would need to drive cars that would have to modified, live in a house that needed to be amended to accommodate his disability. The sad thing is that he told me that he sympathised with those who were at the time fighting against the Apartheid regime that was in power in our country.
What gives terrorists the right to decide on other people’s lives just because they have a cause which they feel needs to be heard? We can all understand that perhaps they are unhappy about where they are in life or that their people are hard done by, or that their belief system needs to be recognised. However, this does not mean that they can randomly hurt innocent people to make their point.
Interestingly, the media reports that on Monday the 13th of June (the day after the Orlando Florida shooting), the price of shares of listed gun makers in the United States went up sharply as it was expected that the average American citizen would now arm themselves even further. Once again America needs to take an even harder look at gun laws.
On a completely different note, the first weekend of June marked our weekend conference for our management and advisory staff.
I have now been with Global & Local pretty much seven years now, and the level to which we have developed has just been astounding. The weekend conference has just been testimony to this fact. The professionalism that our management and advisors displayed in their presentations was nothing short of incredible, and the level of public speaking has just grown tremendously. On Friday all the conference participants were to present a presentation individually on what they had achieved and how they were planning into the future. Every single one of these presentations was done well, kept interesting and showed great insight. I am very proud of our staff and how they have accepted the challenges and how many have improved their own professional qualifications over the last few years.
So much has been happening economically and politically in the last few months that it is quite difficult to focus on the one dominant story. The outstanding story of this weekend (other than Mohammed Ali’s death) is the fact that S&P decided not to downgrade South Africa’s Sovereign Rating into the ‘sub-investment grade’ (read: ‘junk’) status. This announcement arrived at about 18h45 on Friday the 3rd of June (just as we were closing up day one of our conference) and almost immediately the currency markets reacted with the Rand strengthening against all the major currencies. In essence the country could economically breath again, for now.
I recently attended a talk at Investec Bank on the political situation by Justice Malala (respected political analyst, commentator and author) and Stephen Grootes (Award winning journalist and political commentator) who were together discussing the intricacies of our political situation.
A couple of things came to the fore during the discussions by Malala and Grootes, some of these were quite interesting such as the fact that the ANC has no real direction and are on the one hand trying to please the workers and the poor of our country and on the other hand they are trying to appease business and commerce.
What I found really fascinating, however, was the introduction provided to us in the audience by Investec CEO Stephen Koseff, who relayed the story of December the 9th 2015. Now for those who cannot remember this day this is the fateful Wednesday evening where our president announced that he was changing the Finance Minister. The president went on to announce the replacement minister known as Des van Rooyen, whom he claimed was the best qualified person for the job as he had a degree in finance.
At this point Stephen Koseff paused to say that within Investec there are many graduate professionals employed, who are working as articled clerks who have degrees in finance, but they simply do not have the experience to manage a country’s purse strings.
He went on to tell us that he picked up the phone and began calling fellow CEO’s and other influential individuals who then together lobbied the presidency to change the appointment of Des van Rooyen in favour of a well experienced finance minister. Four days later Pravin Gordham was back in the position of finance minister.
The aspects of this story that struck me was firstly, that the absolute dedication to the task that Koseff has an influence that a CEO like him wields, so much so that should something not be of his liking he simply makes a few phone calls and people listen to what he says and things can maybe be changed for the better.
Secondly, the fact that our president simply made a decision with no thought of the consequences or the way in which markets will react to such news is quite frightening. One wonders what was really behind this decision - was it the Russian nuclear deal or the Gupta family’s influence?
I like to think that the fact that Stephen Koseff, Brian Joffe and others were able to get together and convince members of the ruling party to reconsider their (or influence the President) to reconsider their decision means that we are not in a dictatorship and the free market principles still have some influence in the economy of South Africa.
Investec has been a bank I have watched grow. When I was studying between 1989 and 1991, I was paying my way by waitering and keeping bar at corporate functions. In 1990, myself and two friends decided to open our first business by offering top level barman and waiter services to corporate clients for their functions. We were trained to perform the correct way of serving diners by my friend’s sister who was about to graduate from Hotel School. One day we were contacted by a caterer who needed a special deal. They had been contacted by a small bank that was up and coming and this caterer had been contracted to provide lunchtime meals and to cater for their functions, but she needed specialised waitering and barman staff on whom she could call.
Our first function was an evening function at Investec’s offices on the top floor of an office in Anderson Street in Johannesburg. The next day there was a boardroom lunch in their boardroom at the same office. I served at both of these functions and I had an instinct then that these Investec guys needed to be watched. I elected to work many of their lunch time functions and from that point on and I observed the eight founders in their own back yard. When Investec finally moved into their own building at 55 Fox Street they hired their own executive butler, but they still called on us when he needed help. Again, I served at as many of these lunches as I could. Perhaps this is the reason for me entering the industry I have?
In 1995 I was the Departmental Head of Administration of Norwich Unit Trusts and as a member of the Unit Trusts Association I was invited to a meeting of managers in the unit trust industry at Investec’s 55 Fox Street offices. There at the meeting I met the CEO of Investec’s Unit Trust division. At the time I thought nothing of it, but in 1999 I was now a business development manager at Nedgroup and there was some retrenchment talk in my division as Nedgroup has announced the merger of UAL Merchant Bank, Syfrets and Nedgroup. I came out of a meeting regarding the possible retrenchments and my phone rang; it was a headhunter making me an offer. The offer was coming from a start-up financial services group whose head of the unit trust division was the same guy I met at the meeting at Investec four years earlier! Somehow I have always managed to keep my sights on Investec.
Attending the talk at Investec was our Managing Director, Michael Haldane, who I noticed was absolutely riveted by Stephen Koseff’s short rendition on the history of Investec Bank. Investec was started by eight individuals in 1982 and in 34 years has become a global banking player. What has been on Michael’s (and my) mind since this presentation, is when do we expand Global & Local into the global arena?
Dear readers, I end this editorial with these words: watch this space - Global & local may be going ‘global’ soon!