Magnus Heystek on his business success: “Revenge is a dish enjoyed slowly.”

LONDON — Like most of humanity, I delight in the success of friends. Especially those who have recovered from difficult periods. Magnus Heystek is one of them. A talented journalist turned financial advisor, he has been pulled through the bushes backwards by former business partners. But 14 years after starting again from scratch, this month he received the biggest accolade of his career. It confirmed to the world that “Big Mag” is back on top, with his second enterprise far surpassing the success of his first business. I asked Magnus to reflect and share his story. Here it is. – Alec Hogg

 By Magnus Heystek*

THERE are many things that motivate people to go into business. Most often it is money, to do your own thing or the desire to leave a legacy.

But often it is sheer bloody-mindedness; a desire for revenge and retribution. The greater the success the greater the sense of satisfaction. A dreamlike afterglow which lasts a very long time.

The business world is full of such episodes. Locally we have witnessed events such as Brian Joffe after being shown the door by W&A many years ago, which directly led to the birth of Bidvest, today an industrial giant striding the globe.

Magnus Heystek, Brenthurst Wealth

Another example that comes to mind is Jannie Mouton, the “Boere Buffett”, who too was shown the door by his previous colleagues at stockbroking firm Senekal Mouton and Kitshoff (SMK) in the early nineties. This led to his setting up of his own shop and the purchase of listed company PAG, which was converted to PSG and eventually became one of the greatest financial success stories on the local scene in many years, perhaps even rivalling that of Koos Bekker at Naspers.

Globally we have the well-known story of Steve Jobs being sacked by someone he himself appointed – only to return some years later to retake the helm at Apple and build it into the company with the largest market capitalisation on Wall Street.

Some businesspeople talk and write about these events in their lives. Others keep quiet about it. But that does not mean it doesn’t  happen regularly. I think many businesses are started on the “I will show them”- business plan.

Mouton wrote his best-selling book “And Then they Fired Me”, which became a best-seller in both English and Afrikaans (“En Toe Fire Hulle My”).

If ever there was a middle finger, a f*ck you-book, this was it. Mouton’s former colleagues at SMK, most of them gone and forgotten in the local business world, must still be wondering what could have been had they not shown Mouton the door…The “what if’s” here are today measured in the billions, not the millions as is usually the case.

I suspect many businesses, not only here but in most part of the world, are born out of similar events and propelled by similar emotions. A fall out; a difference of opinion, a board-room coup: it doesn’t matter. It usually follows similar patterns.

It motivates the slighted/ the shafted/ the wronged departed.

It burns like the eternal flame in the heart of the victim.

And such was my own personal journey which, earlier this month, culminated in my erstwhile fledgling investment company Brenthurst Wealth being awarded with the accolades of (a) top boutique wealth management company in SA and (b) rated no. 5 countrywide in all categories, the only independent investment company amongst the top five.

When I sent news of this award to long-standing friend and old newspaper colleague Alec Hogg, who some of you might know, he immediately wrote back – intrepid journalist that he is – and said: write about it.

The award is an annual one and is based on research done by Intellidex in conjunction with Investor’s Monthly which appears in the Financial Mail.

As awards go it is considered our industry’s Oscars, Golden Globe and Bafta’s, all rolled up into one. It comes with endless bragging rights and the claim to be the best at what you do for at least a year. In this case the management of wealth for clients.

It’s been a long haul, about 14 years when I first hung up my shingle, after a short stint in the corporate world. We all make mistakes and that was one of them.

What I have never disclosed – apart to one or two people very close to me – is that the birth of Brenthurst Wealth shares similar scripts than those of the Joffe’s, Mouton’s and Jobs’.  On a much, much smaller scale, off course, but still very much similar.

Some background: I sold/merged my first investment business to a large wealth management company in 1998 which today is part of a JSE-listed investment firm. After the merger/sale I was given the nominal title as deputy chairman but realised very soon that this was a title in name only.

Read also: Magnus Heystek: SA’s slide into poverty – protect yourself, invest offshore

The real power on the board was in the hands of a few who made decisions in dark smoky corners and then presented them to the board as a fait accompli.

Corporate governance did not feature very highly, as was evident in some rather unflattering coverage on their doings by the late Deon Basson on the front pages of Finansies en Tegniek, the forerunner to Finweek.

Some time later, around 2002, there was a confluence of events in my life, both professional and personal, which led to an offer by the chairman at the time (now also long booted) that I take some time off, a sabbatical of six months in order to “clear my head”, his words not mine.

The offer was done verbally but in the presence of another board member, a former lawyer. As a naïve kind of “a-handshake-is-good-enough-for-me-guy” I accepted his offer and left.

At that time I had only been paid the first instalment of the purchase price for my company.

To my surprise and contrary to what was agreed he circulated an email to the whole company and my clients that I had retired and left the company. I was furthermore also locked out of the email system and denied any access to the building, which, incidentally, belonged to me.

Read also: Magnus Heystek: SA enters stage of “running out of other people’s money.”

My first reaction was one of absolute disbelief. Like the death of a parent or a loved one. It cannot be true what was happening. Those emotions slowly turned to rage and later on the desire for revenge. The lawyers got involved but in the meantime I started preparing my Arabian dish.

As it so happened, I also owned the building right next door to my former colleagues. I put up the biggest possible sign I could to advertise my new investment company.

And very soon my old clients (and then some) started trundling in, no doubt attracted by the big sign, to rejoin my new company which was rebranded as Brenthurst Wealth. And thus the journey started. Even the name Brenthurst comes with a little victory.

Founder and chairman of Brenthurst wealth Magnus Heystek

Many people relate the name Brenthurst and Little Brenthurst to the Oppenheimers, once the richest family in South Africa. We have Little Brenthurst, the name of the Oppenheimer home in Westcliff, the Brenthurst library and Brenthurst Foundation. But lo and behold the name was never registered and when I launched my new venture I paid a handsome price from the people who owned the name but never traded in it.

I even received a nasty lawyers’ letter asking me to refrain from using the Brenthurst name but all went quiet when I returned the official trade mark registration.

Today 14 years later, the company has six offices countrywide, 13 certified financial planners, staff of 35-which includes fiduciary and tax planning specialists – and manages assets today about ten times the amount as when the merger/take-over took place. We now have our own range of collective investment funds as well as a globally registered fund and soon will be expanding globally.

And make no mistake, when energy levels were low or business starting sagging, there was this little flame buried deep somewhere which, like a turned up Bunsen-burner, just refused to die. And today it burns stronger than ever…

Every client taken back from the enemy was a victory. Every new client was another vindication of the decision to go it alone.

All of this was not possible without a strong marriage and great partners; people you know who had your back.

And to my former colleagues and in particular the former devious chairman and his lawyer-type director who shafted and f*cked me over I say: this was the best thing anyone could have done to me. Many thanks.

  • Magnus Heystek is the founder and chairman of Brenthurst Wealth.