What do you do at Coronation and what experience led you to this role?
All I can say is that I took the scenic route! I started off studying accounting because I had no clue what I wanted to be when I was all grown up, and that’s what my mom had done (no better reason than this I’m afraid!). I quickly realised auditing wasn’t for me, so started studying a tax degree through UCT’s evening programme.
It then dawned on me that a South African tax degree would be of no use to me in London, where I wanted to work in one of the banks (so that I could afford all my travel aspirations). After realising that a CFA qualification would give me the best chance of getting a job, I wrote Level 1 and headed for London with a pass to my name. I started off in the Treasury function at Credit Suisse, but my studying had shown me that equities were what interested me most, and, after 18 months, I managed to land a job in private equity. I returned to Cape Town in the throes of the Global Financial Crisis, and, given that beggars couldn’t be choosers, I took a job as a sell-side analyst. A few years later, I moved to the buy side, and then to Coronation, where I feel I was always meant to be!
Grit and inspiration
What drove you to succeed?
Even as a little girl, I was fiercely determined. This was only heightened by the fact I grew up with a twin brother, and anything he could do, I could do better (and vice versa). It soon became apparent that he had a natural gift for sport, golf specifically, and he started winning tournaments to much acclaim. Not wanting to be left on the sidelines while he garnered all the attention, I needed to find my own niche to shine, and went down a more academic route.
Where does your resilience come from?
I grew up in a small town, with a small-town life. My dad was the local vet, my mom was an accountant at the local accountancy firm, and my brother and I attended the local school. Growing up in Knysna was the best childhood anyone could ever ask for, but I always knew I wanted to leave and explore the world. To scratch some of the itch before I went to university, I applied to be an exchange student in Holland. This was in the days before email and mobile phones, and if I wanted to speak to my parents, I had to write a letter! Having led a very sheltered life, this was a tough year, speaking a foreign language in a nation not known for its hospitality. But I learnt I could do it - travel solo, manage my finances, cope with crises and generally just be an adult. It set me up to take on other challenges.
Shoulders of giants
Who was a major influence for you growing up?
Undoubtedly my parents. Neither of them embarked on high-flying careers… in fact, they explicitly chose a slower pace of life that focused on family and we moved from Johannesburg to Knysna when I was two. However, they were both adamant I needed to obtain a university degree and fly the nest. We were a very close-knit family, and I always knew I was unconditionally loved and supported - this gave me the confidence to forge my own path. My dad sadly passed away when I was only 25, but he has remained a big influence in my life – much of who I am now has been an attempt at making him proud of me.
Coronation is a team-based meritocracy, what does this mean to you? And how does it impact your work experience?
It means we all need to be paddling the boat. If one of us stops paddling, the boat will go in circles. We will only succeed if we’re all working hard and pulling in the same direction. At times we are collaborating to share knowledge, but at other times we are constantly challenging each other’s views. The result is an extremely stimulating environment, but always collegial.
We place high value on integrity in all that we do. What does integrity mean to you, personally and for the business?
Integrity is a non-negotiable. My parents taught me a strong value system and I live by it. If your compass doesn’t point to true north, it’s unlikely we can be friends.
In business, Warren Buffett famously said the following: “You're looking for three things generally in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don't have the last one, don't even bother with the first two. If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.” The importance of integrity applies to the people I work with and the companies I invest in - if I don’t trust the management team of a company, I won’t invest.
What do you think needs to change in the mindset of working women?
The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: “the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one does not have a job”.
I am the first to admit that being a working mother is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. Before you have children, you believe you can have it all. Then you realise that it’s extremely tough, and you often feel like you’re failing at both.
I frequently find myself consumed by guilt. When I’m working, I feel like I should be with my children, and when I’m with my children, I feel like I should be working. And with that mindset, how can I ever possibly take time out for myself? Women need to drop the guilt, but I have no idea how. Could someone please let me know?
What advice would you give women entering the workplace now?
Like everything in life, nothing worth having comes easy. My parents raised my twin brother and I the same, and by that, I mean that I got raised as a boy! As much as I love high heels, handbags and dresses, I have never allowed myself to be defined by my gender or allowed it to place a ceiling on what I could do. Women bring something different to the table. We think differently and we behave differently and, as a result, we bring a different dynamic and perspective to the workplace, which is immensely valuable. We should never undervalue our contribution!