Farewell Simon Marais – the outstanding money manager of his generation

Chairman of Allan Gray SA Simon Marais (50) who passed away yesterday
Chairman of Allan Gray SA Simon Marais (50) who passed away yesterday

Today was bitter-sweet. I got to interview one of my heroes, Harvard Professor, author and father of disruption Clayton Christensen. After meeting briefly in Davos two years ago, I have looked forward to spending some quality with the man whose work and books have made such an impact. But today was also when I got the news that another of the men I admire most had passed away. The chairman of Allan Gray SA, Simon Marais, was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer late last year, a month after turning 50. It was a battle he fought bravely and with his usual confidence. We had lost touch since his move to Australia and the interview from 2008, embedded below, was one of our rare reconnections. But we had picked up again late last year and I looked forward to rekindling a friendship that started in 1997 with our weekly radio chats. He last wrote me in November saying: “Sorry, we have lost a bit of contact. Things are going well for us here in Australia, but I am still coming back to South Africa on a regular basis. I would be great to catch up next time I am back. I will let you know next time I am down – probably early in the new year.” Sadly, that’s an appointment this incredibly humble, smart, optimistic and very special man won’t be keeping. Simon was a big man in every sense – physically, intellectually and emotionally. He was the outstanding asset manager of his generation and while building the company’s strong business in Australia, continued to visit his homeland regularly by serving as chairman of Allan Gray in South Africa. As the notes below reflect, his literally large boots will be impossible to fill. Our prayers are with his wife and children, and his extended family at Allan Gray. It was a privilege to have known Simon Marais. We’ve embedded one of the last interviews he granted, six months ago to Theo Vorster on Kyknet.  – AH    

From Rob Dower, chief operating officer of Allan Gray

I’m very sad to have to inform you that we heard earlier today that Simon has lost his battle with cancer.

The exceptionally positive, brave, caring and open manner in which Simon took on this disease is indicative of the incredible spirit of the man. But there is lots more evidence of his intellect and his strength of character around you in this business which he was so instrumental in forming, and evidence of his warmth and humility in the happy and funny memories of those here who worked with him. Simon was a constant source of inspiration for over two decades with Allan Gray and Orbis, and we carry his spirit with us.

At this point our thoughts are with Simon’s wife Corena, and his boys Martin, Wilhelm and Simon.

Given Simon’s stature, those in Australia and here feel it appropriate to communicate proactively.  The following has just been sent to clients of Allan Gray Australia.

We have lost a great friend.

From William Gray, Chairman, Allan Gray Australia and President, Orbis

It is with deep sorrow that I announce that Simon Marais passed away this evening after a hard-fought battle with cancer. On behalf of all at Allan Gray and Orbis, I extend our heartfelt sympathies to Simon’s family. The exceptionally positive, brave, caring and open manner in which Simon took on this disease is indicative of the incredible spirit of the man.

Simon was a constant source of inspiration for over two decades with Allan Gray and Orbis. Across both organisations, there is a palpable sense of energy, drive and determination to ensure that Allan Gray Australia serves as an enduring testament to Simon. What more can one do than inspire greatness in others.

Times like these are never easy, but we are fortunate that Simon has left our Australian firm in extremely capable hands. There are few better measures of an individual than the quality of the people that surround them, and Simon leaves an extraordinary team that is a true reflection of himself.

Simon Mawhinney, who has established a proven track record of value creation since joining the firm in 2006, will assume leadership of the firm and the investment team while Johan de Lange will continue to lead the firm’s operational activities. In addition senior analyst Dan Abeshouse has been promoted to co-portfolio manager and will assume that role from 1 July.

We have every confidence that this carefully selected team will continue the great work that Simon started, while upholding the same robust investment philosophy and core values that we have maintained over our more than 40-year history.