The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Here’s an interview I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s been a privilege to have a front row seat to Investec’s development, watching it develop into a multinational powerhouse from a tiny start 35 years ago. Co-founder Bernard Kantor works in the building which takes up an entire block near St Paul’s in the City of London. He offers a unique insight into the Investec Story, sharing memories from the early days and secrets which he believes makes the company different – plus insights into some of the fascinating personalities inside the group and in its client base. The kind of interview I’ll still be enjoying listening to years from now. – Alec Hogg
Bernard, it all started for Investec at the bottom end of Mooi Street in Johannesburg where a little group that got together, yourself, your brother Ian, Larry Nestadt, Errol Grolman and Stephen Koseff. What brought the five of you together?
Yes, Alec, you’re right. We go back such a long way and it’s made us all old before our time. You know they interviewed me the other day, before the Derby, the great Epsom Derby, which I still think is the greatest race in the world. They guy said to me, look did you ever think that you’d get to this position, where tomorrow it’s a great day for you? You’ll have tea with the Queen and all those wonderful things, and it just has such a history, and character behind this great event. I said, quite, frankly, when we started I really knew very little about anything. I knew I had to make a living, and I knew we had to survive somehow and that’s what we did. When we started, we didn’t have visions of grandeur, even close to thinking that one day we’d be in the City of London and we’d be a bank that competes daily with a thousand other banks. Most probably today, number ten or 11 in size.
No, I didn’t have the vaguest idea of where we were going. We were trying to make a living. I most probably didn’t understand 99% of the things we do today but we had a determination. Why you mentioned all those names – Larry was from Benoni, Stephen was from Benoni, Ian and I were from Pretoria, Errol was from Potchefstroom. None of, funny enough, were from Johannesburg. But we all had a burning desire to survive and to want to do something that would be able to, I suppose, very basically just feed us. We never had visions of anything.
How did you find each other?
Ian worked for Michael Lewis from IGI Insurance and Larry’s family were very close to them. Ian started a finance company from a leasing business because he’d come from Lease Plan International in those days. He met Larry, and then they met Errol and they got together and formed a company they called Investors, Technical and Executors (shortened to Investec). That was in 1974/1975. I joined in 1978. Steven joined, roughly, the same time and in June 1980, we got our first banking license. That came from Cape Trustees and Executors, which had a banking license, so we bought the business and sold them back the liquidation practices, which we had no interest in.
You mentioned Ian Kantor, your brother. He was, in those early years the intellectual, the guy most of us on the outside thought that today, 2015, would be the one running Investec. But he moved on as did the other two. It was left to you and Stephen to really build this business.
Ian moved on, Alec, at the time when SA Reserve Bank Governor Dr Chris Stals introduced the two-tier currency, and Ian… I remember Ian calling Stals and saying if you introduce the two-tier currency I will leave and Stals said feel free because I am. Ian said fine, that will be the end of South Africa. And he left.
Are you still close to your brother?
Oh, yes, absolutely. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to but we fight like hell in board meetings – nothing has really changed. But people shouldn’t be fooled when we fight in a board meeting that we’re not close. We have different views. I think Ian is a great academic. He’s well read. I would shoot more from the hip. I’d be quicker to respond. Different characters, totally. But I have a huge regard for Ian. He went and did it in Holland as well where he built Insinger de Beaufort, so one has to have huge respect for him. I’ve never seen a man read newspapers as he does. There’s not a day that he will not get through two or three newspapers and if he can’t make it, he will carry them around until he does. So you normally see him with a huge bag of old newspapers….the bagman.
He’s an incredible character actually, but there were other academics as well. They all had their strengths. Errol was very deep thinking. Larry was more like me. I think he was more of a deal doer, more looking for business. Stephen has always been an astute individual. I’ve been a partner now, of Stephen’s, for 30 odd years. It’s like being married. I think we’re sometimes closer than we are to anybody else. He’s been a wonderful partner. The man is most probably one of the most perfect bankers in the world today. He understands every aspect of banking, better than anyone else I’ve ever come across.
It doesn’t mean though that you were perfect in everything you did. Interesting when you listed on the stock market in the mid 1980’s – I remember having those conversations with you and you said, “The market doesn’t get us. Look at our share price, it’s so low.” Then the market got you in a big way and you were the most highly rated of the banking stocks for a long period. Then it unravelled. What happened?
I think we embarked on a program, to develop and expand, Alec and I don’t think the market really felt that we were ready for it. We made one or two decisions which didn’t quite work. Kensington was a terrible decision.
What did you learn from Kensington?
What did we learn from it? You know, there’s nothing that we could have learnt from it. It was just a lousy business – it just wasn’t working and we had all the technical solutions and answers through our Due Diligence. It just was a defunct business.
I guess, we then came to the U.K., and people were saying why are you coming to the U.K. when you haven’t mastered what you have in South Africa. We bought a bank in Israel and we bought the American business, which we then closed some years later. Maybe we just went through a period of growth pain. We were never threatened, as a group, from a capital point of view or through the crises that we’ve been faced with, over time. There were times when we paid, I remember, we’ll never forget it.
Glynn Burger is one of our trusted colleagues as well. He said, “Here we are 80 years of experience between us, we’re paying a dividend of one penny this year.” That’s a classic. You go through those phases. Currently, we’re pretty stable. We have a great business. We have about £4bn in capital – employ 8 000 people in 14 countries. We manage close to $175bn, which is three trillion Rand. We have a balance sheet of about £22bn. It’s just a great, little business.
Well, little business – that what you manage is half the size of the South African economy, so clearly something really clicked into place. But pre-1997, how difficult was the decision to send you over here to London?
It was a terrible decision, Alec. I drew the short straw. At the time, that was my belief. Stephen simply said to me, “Listen, one of us has to go.” My parents wanted to come across because the one brother was in Amsterdam and another one lived in London. He said you must also give your kids a decent education. They are young enough to bring. Off you go, so I reluctantly packed up. It was very hard, Alec.
Why did Investec want to start in London?
I think, in fairness we wanted to follow our clients. Many of our clients in those days were moving across and we naively thought what we should be doing is following our clients. When we got here, we realised that there was no ways we were going to survive on what they could bring us. From our very first acquisition, Allied Trust Bank, in 92/93, we’ve been a domestic London business. I’m very grateful for the South African business that we get here, and we’ll compete like hell for it. But I don’t think it makes up more than 0.1% of our business.
You’re also perceived here as very much a British bank. Wherever you go to sports stadiums or, as you mentioned in the beginning of this interview, the Investec Epsom Derby. There’s a bit of background to that. Were you involved in racing as a young man?
Alec, that’s an unfair question. You know all too well I was involved. It’s been my passion ever since my brother David left South Africa. He left South Africa, I think, in the late 60’s he left me with one horse. I could murder him. That one horse has cost me millions over the years, but okay, we’ve had our fun and we’ve learnt a lot and today, of course, I’m involved with Klawervlei and we were the top breeders last year. Phumelela was fantastic for me. I’ve enjoyed creating from the old styled clubs into the listing that one has today. Then, of course the Epsom Derby. At the time one of the directors of Epsom was our Chairman, Sir David Prosser. They couldn’t find a sponsor. After many years Vodafone, who were the sponsors had said no, they were giving up.
How you give up a property like that, I don’t know. In this day and age, the target market is ideal for us. It would be ideal for any bank, quite frankly or any business. Sir David said look, I don’t want to interfere, and I’m recusing myself. I’m going to send our marketing guy to see you. The guy arrived. He showed me Epsom. He showed me what it looked like on Derby Day, top hats and the target market that it appealed to. I called our marketing guy, Raymond van Niekerk, who’s a genius. Raymond, in one second said, “This is a no brainer.” We were able to negotiate a pretty competitive deal because they were really desperate, and that’s how we started sponsoring the Derby.
It is interesting…..
I’ll tell you something, Alec, which is more interesting. It was at the height of the crisis and, like every bank in the City of London, we were battling for funding. We just didn’t have the funding. There wasn’t oxygen. We were choking, like every other bank, and the technical guys and the guys who ran the banking business, and Raymond got together and we decided we were going to launch and advertise a thing we called the High Five, but really go flat out. In fact, the High Five Derby was our first one. We had that big balloon that went in the sky (a “blimp”). It advertised the Investec High Five. I can show you, in black and white, how the High-Five deposits from that moment, it took off and literally, it gave us the liquidity we needed.
It’s extraordinary though. You’ve always targeted the top end. There’s no poverty mentality at Investec. The Derby is the pinnacle of the horse racing industry. Where did this come from?
Alec, I think it just goes back to how we grew up. Sports have always been dominant amongst most South Africans. We sort of didn’t see this as being different in England. The rugby was our first one we did right. We sponsored, what they call the Winter Rugby Series here because we thought it was a reasonable way to get to our target market. It’s always been the case. We try to get to our target market as effectively as possible. They kicked us out, and here’s a lesson we learnt because someone came and doubled what we were paying them. They said, “Thank you very much. All the hard work you’ve put in over the last five or six years – goodbye, good luck, we’ve found someone with more money.” I swore I would never sign a sponsorship again, for less than ten years.
The Derby we have another six or seven years. English cricket we sponsor there, when England play at home, we’re the sponsors. They’ve never lost a series, by the way, since we got involved. We have another five or six, maybe six years left, or maybe seven. We do women’s hockey here. They just won the European Championship, which is most probably pro rata, our best sponsorship. It is not that expensive and the day Kate (Middleton) put on – because she was a hockey player – the Investec t-shirt, I think it was beamed around the world in about three seconds flat. How do you buy mileage like that? We’ve been lucky and we’ve had, of course, the Queen holding the program, the Derby. She loves it, the Derby by the way, that is the highlight of her year. She books the Derby before anything else.
Her Majesty, when she gets out of the car, and they play God Save the Queen, the National Anthem, she holds the program upside down, sort of back to front (not upside down), and on the back is, of course the Investec zebra.
That’s a long way from the bottom end of Mooi Street in Johannesburg.
Mooi and Anderson. So you know those things you can’t buy, Alec. No money can buy that.
There’s no secret, outside of hard work that one thing that Investec has been famous for, right from the outset was the way you hire people and the way that you focus on keeping them engaged. Let us into the secret….
You know, when we started in 1980, we met a guy called Dr Allen Zimbler. Allen taught us about culture. We didn’t have a clue what he was talking about but he, sort of kept talking about our culture, our values, our mission statement, our values, our culture, our core philosophies, and we then started documenting how do we behave towards one another in our home? You know, at a very young age we established an organisational development team. That OD team used to do what we didn’t have time to do, so they’d go into the businesses and understand what the issues were, where people were not behaving in a, almost like a process of inculcation. I hate using the word but we used to make sure that if you wanted to stay at Investec you had to understand and accept the values of the organisation.
If you didn’t then you shouldn’t be there. That was way ahead of the world, at that point in time. I mean, it wasn’t practiced anywhere else. The first thing that I did, when I got to the U.K. was we created an OD team, and we must have 40 or 50 practicing therapists around the world. That focus only on our behaviour and how we behave towards one another, how we resolve difficulties, how we live the values, how we spread the values, so that has helped enormously. That’s how we’ve been able to attract and retain proper people. To get into Investec you have to go through a huge process, you know.
I remember, from the very early days everybody on the staff was allowed, and often did interview every new member. Clearly, you can’t do that with eight thousand people but what is the typical interview process? How many interviews would you go through before you get in the door?
You know Alec, as you get bigger; it becomes more difficult, you’re 100 percent correct. Where there’s a specialist involved, and remember, we are a very specialised business today. You’d most probably find the team that he will work through would all interview him. On average, I’d say seven to eight interviews and, again we will see it as a lifetime commitment to that individual. We hope that they see it the same way, so you don’t want to make mistakes. We want to try to avoid them as much as possible. As I’ve said before, marriage is difficult but when you come and work for Investec it is really, we make a very serious commitment to those individuals.
Engagement of staff is a huge problem in most parts of the world, in South Africa particularly so. The latest surveys say that only 15 percent of South African employees are engaged. Do you run those kinds of data, within Investec, to see how well your OD team is working?
We will monitor most things. Whether we monitor that specific statistic, I’m not sure of Alec, but I can tell you that it is very difficult for people to leave here, once they have joined. As Andy Leith once said, “Working for Investec is as close as you’ll ever come to working in your own organisation.” We set parameters and then we expect them to go out and compete. Of course, we keep the business together through IT, through finance, through marketing, through credit, through risk, and through governance, so that’s how we hold it together but other than that, people go out and compete where they have.
Andy Leith is an interesting individual and an interesting role or perhaps example to use of the Investec way. I was talking to Brian Joffe a little while ago and he explained how Andy was at Standard Bank. Then he came to you, and of course, Joffe has been a very important. Not, I’d guess you would say ‘the most important client’ but to see the way that Bidvest has grown, from nowhere. With your Investec and Andy Leith’s support…..
Yes, I think Andy is a unique individual. Firstly, he’s incredibly well connected. He’s incredibly well networked. He’s incredibly astute, very astute. There are very few operators like Andy, and then, of course if you take Brian. He’s been incredibly loyal and, likewise Andy has guided him very effectively over the last 20 years. Then there’s also Markus Jooste from Steinhoff, who supports Andy as well, and Andy has been very instrumental in helping Markus get to where he has. No, he’s a proper pro. What can one say about Andy Leith?
Is that the Investec way though that you would align with one of these super, entrepreneurs as clearly both Markus Jooste and Brian Joffe are, and grow with them?
Yes, I think there are many others. They are not the only two. Stephen Saad was another one. There is many that…
How do you spot them early on or is it just luck?
No, I think there is more to it than luck, Alec, and I don’t know if we spot them or if they watch the success that Andy has had, and said, “We’d like that guy to do the same for us.” There is a bit of luck I suppose, there is always luck, as Gary (Player) has told us and taught us. The harder you practice, the luckier you get, so no. I think Andy is unique. I’m sure there are other unique operators who have their following as well.
Another example of how Investec has grown through individuals is Hendrik du Toit, who runs the Asset Management Business. If I remember correctly, when Hendrik joined you, he managed to get someone (a PA) to work with him and my goodness, today he manages (as you said earlier) assets, which are twice the size of the South African economy.
Yes. Hendrik was a difficult character. It took me about a year to employ him. Ian came to me one day and said, “There’s a guy who writes speeches for the (then) Chairman of Old Mutual). His name was Van der Host. His name’s Hendrik du Toit. Go and talk to him”, so I flew down to Cape Town and he wasn’t showing any willingness to talk to me. Anyway, I met him and he was very vague and disinterested. I said, “I’ll be back and let’s carry on talking.” I went back to Cape Town about a month later. I tried to find him. He said no. In the evenings at this time, we’ll find him surfing. I went to Fish Hoek or Muizenberg and I waited at the water until he came out with his surfboard, and I cornered him. He was with a guy called Ian Morris. I’ll never forget it. It took me a year – literally, a year – where Steven and I battled to employ the guy. Then he refused to come to Johannesburg.
He would only operate out of Cape Town and at the time we managed – this is unbelievable, Alec – R34m and it came with Metboard when we acquired them. R34m is less than £2m today. That’s what we started with and he’s built a business today that manages £75bn. It’s quite incredible – absolutely incredible. He’s a unique individual.
It’s also an industry though, where people apparently/seemingly move at the drop of a hat. How did you manage to keep Hendrik and so many of the good asset managers that were around him happy and within one organisation?
We respect what they do. We’ve never told Hendrik what to do. Again, the culture kicks in. Give him the parameters. Hendrik, go and build your business. To this day, Hendrik runs the business as he sees fit. We meet with him in board meetings of if he has an issue, he’ll come and talk to us. After so long with these individuals, it’s like going to war with the same generals. Why would I second-guess them? When people look at our top team in England, they often say ‘they’re all white South Africans’. They say there’s no change. I said, “Yes, but we’re a young organisation. We’ve only been going as a banker for 35-odd years. It will come. Just add time into the equation.” Again, I’ve been to battle with these guys for the last 25 to 35 years. They’ve never let us down. Why would I not want them on the team? I’m 66 this year. Steven’s coming up to 64.
There will be a time when we’re going to have to move on but then, when you consider what we have (Hendrik, Steve, and Elliot who runs our Wealth Management); that’s an unbelievable business, which manages £45bn. £30bn in the U.K. across 16 cities. That is phenomenal. It makes him number one or two.
Surely, you guys have a big slice of the business. You’re enjoying what you’re doing. You’re still smiling and having a lot of fun. I met with your long-time assistant, Lindy Sue earlier who told me you just enjoy it as much today as probably, the day that you started. Warren Buffett’s 85, so you have at least another 20 years to go. Do you even think about retiring, or are you going to be in the Buffett School?
Our board thinks for us, so they are very concerned about succession. We obviously have plans for succession. It may mean that Steven and I just move up into more of a holding level, but we haven’t been running the business for 10/15 years. David van der Walt, Kieran Wheelan, Richard Wainwright, Andy Hendriks, Steve Elliot, and Glynn are fantastic people. You’re not going to get better in the market, so why would we want to run it when they do better? They’ve actually done better than we could ever dream of doing. As long as we hold it together. I think that culturally, we hold the organisation together. Strategically, we watch where we’re going and what we’re doing. We sit with them and we chat to them, but I think everyone has their role and everyone does it. It just happens to work.
Someone said to me recently, “You need the old ducktails hanging around the halls.” You don’t really hang around the halls, but your structure has always been open-plan, which I think will catch a lot of people by surprise. I remember seeing your first office here in London. You had a bunch of people all around you. There was no ivory tower. Where did you get that from?
Look, our culture is egalitarian, Alec. Steve and I have absolutely no privileges that any of the other guys don’t have. I go down to the canteen at lunchtime with my card. I pay, like everybody else. I have no drivers or any nonsense like that. In fact, we made many acquisitions here. The first thing I did every time was remove the drivers and put the Chief Executives back on their feet.
London is known for that, though. It’s known that as you get to a certain point you have certain perks. You made a lot of acquisitions in London. How did you bring those new people in?
The O.D. team. We spend more time on a new acquisition on O.D. than anything else. I’ve always said to them, “If you get the culture right, the profits will follow. Forget about it. Just follow. Try to understand where we’re coming from. Try to relate to the values. Try to understand how we behave towards one another and I promise you; the return will be there.” As day follows night, the earnings will be there.
Your critics say that sometimes you put too much attention on the returns. You’re telling me a different story. How do you find a balance between this supposed aggression one hears about from Investec and the people management?
I’m delighted that you said ‘aggression’ Alec, and not ‘arrogance’. We won’t tolerate arrogance. It’s good. They must be aggressive. It’s bloody competitive out there. We’re not a charity. However, there’s a huge amount of generosity of spirit, and so aggressive as we are, I can tell you stories about our staff and what we do for them compared to the other banks in our sector. I don’t want to but I can tell you remarkable stories about how this organisation rallies around and how the family values kick in when there’s a problem. The fact that we have to compete is a separate issue. Tough love.
I’m talking about in the marketplace itself.
We compete like hell. Sure. How do you think we survive in the city of London? There are 1000 banks, so we are very competitive. We are very tough when we have to be, but there’s a huge amount of love and generosity of spirit.
You’ve also had tough times. The acquisition of Kensington right at the time of the sub-prime crisis. What went wrong there, and how are you sure that you’ll avoid that again?
No. You will never be sure that you can avoid those mistakes. There was nothing wrong with Kensington. It was just sadly, that as the ink was drying, the world collapsed. That was the only mistake, which we made. We never saw the signs that the world was about to fall over. Every investment bank was buying a platform and what they would do is they’d write the business and then package it – classic investment banking activity – and securitise it. Who would have guessed that securitisation, which was the world’s biggest market at that stage, was going to fall over? Very few people. However, it caught us and thankfully, we had the High 5, which the Derby launched for us and we were able to fund it because if we couldn’t fund it, we would have been in a lot of trouble. We got through it, Alec.
Well, you got through a lot and if you go back into the Investec story as well; apart from the people, culture, and aggression that you have in the marketplace, the other thing that comes to mind is the disruption. It’s a very popular word today but right from the outset, you looked at things differently. I recall when you issued loans in the early days, everybody else worked on assets. You worked on income. That kind of disruptive strategy: was that in the master plan or something you stumbled on?
It was different. We looked at the market and said; “Well, how can we compete?” and we followed the professional market. We said we did not want to deal with the man in the street. We weren’t big enough. We couldn’t compete with the High Street banks (fortunately), and so it set us on a different path, which has stood us in good stead for the last 35 years. We will look at a guy, what he does and what his earning capability is.
You have quite a few chartered accountant certificates I believe, in your vaults.
Yes, we have many of those. We now call it ‘from cradle to grave’, so we look after people in our target market from the time they start until the time we manage there…
Do you know what was different though, at the time?
I can tell you what was also more different. The original product that we launched to the professional market – the accountants, doctors, and dentists never figured it – was the residual lease on a car. That was just sheer luck that we came up with this product and that’s what set us aside from the others as well.
What do you think about other disruptors, particularly in a South African sense? Capitec have really shaken up the big High Street banks in that market. Do you look for other disruptors around the world and see what you can learn from them?
I think Capitec’s a fantastic story. The critics always look for the spooks and say, “Well, it can’t carry on. There’s too much fresh air in the share price” and “One day it’s all going to fall over.”Rubbish. It’s a very well run organisation. They’ve done a brilliant job. I don’t think it’s disruption. African Bank did the same thing – very similar. The one was, most probably, better run than than the other was so I think they have a very good team and they know exactly what they’re doing. The regulators have brought excessive regulation to banks out in the U.K. – the aim is to turn them into utilities, so no disruptors here. A couple of small banks have popped up here and there, but I don’t really pay too much attention to them. I don’t think they’re disruptors in that sense. There’s a limit today as to how different you can be.
The difference can only be in the quality of the people you have and that’s how we’ve been able to maintain an edge forever. I think the quality of our people is superb.
Talking about people, if you go back into the leadership of Investec, it’s not what one would imagine would succeed in London. You and Stephen are clearly, not used to wearing top hat and tails. Your background: your dad was an engineer. You travelled around a lot a a child. You went to Pretoria Boys High, the same school that Elon Musk attended. Do you think that gave you an advantage, or did it put on the back foot when you had to come and operate in a class-conscious market like the U.K.?
It’s a difficult question, Alec. I don’t think there’s anything special about us. I think it’s a group of guys that got together, each one bringing his own strength. We never forgot what we learned from our early days when we came to London. The rules are very similar. It’s not as though the rules are that different here to what they were in South Africa when we came across in ‘92/’93. What we learned there, we applied here. I think that what knocks them a little bit is our lack of need for recognition and ego, so we remain very humble. I’m a very shy person, so they see me as the spearhead of our business. They can never get to me because quite frankly, I don’t want to talk to them. I’m shy. I’m reserved and you’ll find that normally, a guy in my position would be more outgoing and maybe a bit more pompous than I am. I just think they find us very down to earth, very humble, and very much to the point, which is another thing.
They can’t measure us. I didn’t go to Harrow or Eton. I went to Pretoria Boys High but they don’t know where Pretoria Boys High fits into anything, so it’s very hard for them to judge us.
Are you a member of any of the London clubs, for instance?
Am I a member of a club? I may be an honorary member of the Jockey Club in the U.K. because of the Derby and I’m really, quite humbled by that. The Jockey Club in the U.K. is like royalty. I think people would rather be a member of the Jockey Club than a royal, so that’s humbling.
As a South African you look back home and there’s doom and gloom, concern about the political leadership etcetera. Do you get a sense – sitting 9 000kms away – that the problems are fixable, or are we on a dangerous path?
Oh, Alec, as long as I’ve been alive and as long as I can remember, South Africa’s always been in the shit. From BJ Vorster’s days, I remember people were saying, “No, we have to get out. This is going one way.” From (Hendrik) Verwoerd…I can go back through history. We’ve always been in trouble. I think South Africa will change. It may not be as we are used to. Countries don’t vanish. They continue. They’re just different and I think that for those who love the country dearly (as you have pointed out, there are no ex-South Africans) we’ll always accept it. It’s our country. It’s our place of birth. I met someone the other day who hadn’t been back for 20 years. I looked at him as though he was mad. He asked, “Why are you looking at me?” I asked, “Well, why wouldn’t you go back?” He said, “There was just no need”. I said, “It’s not about a need. I’m sad for you that you haven’t bound with the geography of that place”.
For me, it’s a very emotional thing – South Africa. I love that country dearly. I just have a job to do at the moment, so I spend most of my time here but I do spend a lot of time in South Africa.
Bernard, let’s hear your favourites. One-word answers.
Your favourite football team.
Liverpool and they’re in the shit.
Favourite horse race?
You’re joking. Actually, there is one that challenges the Derby, and that’s the Queen’s Plate. If ever you’re in South Africa and wanted to win a race, it would be the Queen’s Plate. The Derby is the greatest flat race in the world.
Favourite racehorse that you’ve owned.
That’s Ingleside. I think he won six Group 1 events. I called him Ingleside because Cousin Brian Kantor lived in Ingleside Road in Camps Bay.
Your favourite executive who doesn’t work for Investec?
They’re too many to mention but I’m a bit biased. I’m quite close to Markus Jooste. I think he’s unique. He has everything.
Markus Jooste, the CEO of Steinhoff. Your favourite other company i.e. not Investec.
I have a high regard for Bidvest.
So, you’re hedging your bets there on Joffe and Jooste.
You’ve been around too long, Alec.
Favourite other bank.
I’ve never dealt with another bank. I know that when I was a youngster and I started at Investec, Mr Black who was the manager at a Barclays branch saved my bacon one day when they wanted to take my house away. We had nothing then, so I must say Barclays.
Favourite music band.
I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash the other night. I nearly wept. They are so old, but they are brilliant. Pink Floyd, Crosby Stills & Nash, and The Beatles – all of them. I love music. I love early music. Those would stick out for me.
Favourite rugby player, with the Rugby World Cup coming up.
I like our fullback. I think he’s a bit ‘mal’. The guy is all over the place. He just has to be a bit more consistent for the World Cup – Willie le Roux. He’s a great player.
How far do you think the Springboks will go in the Rugby World Cup?
They can win. They have great depth.
Are you taking the 8-1 about them, then?
Your favourite restaurant in London and Johannesburg. You mentioned them very quickly. The one in Cape Town?
The one in Cape Town is Mano’s – a very dear friend of mine in Green Point. Most people in Cape Town would know Mano. It’s just great, very simple, down to earth Mediterranean-type food. Mano is a great cook/chef. He can make you anything you want. He’s terrific. It’s a wonderful place.
Troyeville Hotel. Again, Portuguese cooking, again (that’s why I look the way I do). The Troyville Hotel is fantastic. Every time I go back, I only have meetings there. I also talk to the young talent that we have, so I have about 80 of them in the bar there twice or three times per week. We talk to each other, I stir a bit, and I try to raise some of the issues.
Young Investec talent?
Yes. That’s the only way in which I can really keep in touch with what’s going on. In fact, I’m going back in ten days’ time. I have Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night at the Troyeville.
Your favourite restaurant in London?
We tried to buy a bank from a guy named John Duffield in 1993/1994. We had signed the agreement, but we needed Reserve Bank approval. After a year he said, “Look, I can’t wait anymore”, but he used to take us to Signor Sassi, which is in Knightsbridge. A wonderful restaurant and it has become my local in London. I’m a creature of habit and they know exactly what I like. They’re my friends actually, so I’ve never really bothered being shy. The only people I got close to was the wine steward or the waiter. Those are my mates.
Just to close off with, a more sensitive question. You have lots of talent in South Africa – young people who think deeply. Clearly, some of them would be concerned about the country. If they told you they were looking for other pastures, how would you advise them?
I’d say, “The door’s always open in London.” They know that. I would never turn my back on any one of them that wanted to come to London. We would bend backwards to take them here if this is where they wanted to be, but the weather’s pretty lousy as you can see. As bad as things look there Alec, I haven’t had phone calls. I haven’t heard people talking and I would normally know very quickly if there was a new wave of emigration. I think it’s a very hard country to leave and those who are there now are there to stay.