Nov 11

Why South Africa is simply the best!

My journey to South Africa was indeed itself an epic one, but once here I knew within days that I would never leave.  I had taken seven months to reach the Mother City, travelling from London to Cape Town, via foot, car, truck, boat, train, bus and finally an old “mail and milk flight” from Johannesburg to Cape Town.  That final hop was a cold 2am flight which then cost around R50, one way of course!

Jungle, deserts, horse rides with Tourag’s into the Hogga Mountains, Roman ruins in Morocco, the Congo River, giant crocodiles (that were alive and trussed up on the boat with us, they were the food!), stunning different people, gorillas, elephants (my true love), a glacier on Kilimanjaro, bizarre arrests, releases, coups, fights, fauna and freedom, after all Mandela was released as I crossed the Sahara in 1990.

But nothing would, or ever could, prepare me for my new life in South Africa, a life I had never really imagined or intended to have.  The last 25 years in Africa, as at January 2015, have been fabulous and exceptionally special, I have had love, laughter, adventure, highs, lows, battles and victories, but I have always remained constant about one thing, my love for this country, its people and my growing family and group of friends within it.

I have been involved in business within SA since 1990, there have been so many adventures.  So many firsts and new ideas that I feel utterly privileged to name just a few of them, but in so doing I feel truly honoured to be allowed to share each day in SA with other South African’s, a nation of entrepreneurs, leaders and visionaries, all of whom have been my inspiration, since day one.

In 1990 we set up a first, a segregated offshore portfolio model for South Africans with offshore funds.  In 1991 we launched the first regulated fund for South Africans offshore, it was launched out of the Isle of Man.

We became, via Appleton, the first national “Private Client Asset Manager”, we were not only national but also instrumental in the invention of a new industry, an industry that is today so taken for granted and wide spread that one cannot imagine that old world back in 1990 – 95.  Before that time there were basically stockbrokers and then there was insurance, that was it for the average man or woman.

Client service we strove to constantly reinvent.  Monthly, yes monthly liaison was created in the 90’s and is still maintained today, that when quarterly or even annual contact was as much as anyone could expect from their advisor.  Another idea was internal and external compliance officers, guys that work within our company and independent officers at outsourced compliance companies, all checking and rechecking each other, to give the client comfort and security.

Advertising at sports stadiums, in a manner that made sense.  Adverts on Bloomberg TV, a first for any South African company and also advertising at English Premier League Clubs, five to ten years before others realised its full potential, in fact we were there way back in 1995, sadly the same year my beloved Everton last won anything, but still we prevail!

Community and grass roots sponsorship of senior golf, bowls, croquet, bridge, soccer and many other are now daily activities.  Many have paid us the ultimate compliment and copied these ideas, which is absolutely great, because the more money these grass root sports receive the better.

Offshore funds of funds were another funny adventure into the unknown.  In 1996 the FSB representatives stated to our face in Pretoria, “There will never be funds of funds in SA”.  In fact they went further, “The world will follow South African’s lead and ban them”.  We went ahead and we  know today that they are a worldwide accepted norm and SA has embraced the idea, my great friend Rodney Reid and I still laugh about that day on Rigel Avenue, the old FSB home.

Client care and advertising were obviously not that well understood, in 1998, when the market slumped due to the “Asian crisis” we took full page adverts out in the national papers, simply to tell our clients that they should not panic and that they would all be contacted within 48 hours.  We did contact every single person and explained that they were all medium to long term investors, and the market would recover.  The market bounced, but one rather disingenuous editor (who shall remain nameless) ran a leader article stating, “How dare they tell their clients not to panic.”  I met him years later and he couldn’t remember it, but none of our clients panicked, the market recovered, and many of them are still clients today and, by the way, they do remember that advert!

The last twenty five years have been an absolute joy, especially founding, marshalling and being part of the fastest growing private client business from 1992 through to 2000, and then again between 2002 – 2014.  Just as much fun were all those smaller moments and adventures that occurred, the gems and laughs we had within the bigger adventures.  Our opposition and competitors eventually became friends and confidants, or they still stand on the outside worrying about our next move, not necessary guys, as we are always willing to chat and explain our future goals and plans, we assist others whenever we can.

The great truism, is that I could not have loved SA anymore and I will keep trying to thank and reward her every day, in return for all she gave me.  To me this is simply the world’s greatest country, anything is possible here, if you give to her your commitment she will give it back to you in buckets.

So, “Viva South Africa”, I thank you for 25 great years, a beautiful family and an every growing number of great friends, work colleagues and memories.  I came into SA with $25 in my pocket and this great country owed me nothing, I hope that if nothing else the KiDS Foundation will be some form of acceptable legacy and my way of saying thank you!

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