Investec’s Koseff: ‘They can bleat as much as they like’

Business

Investec’s Koseff: ‘They can bleat as much as they like’

CEO has full faith in his joint successors

Giulietta Talevi

Investec’s future results presentations are bound to be a lot more boring without the straight-talking CEO Stephen Koseff at the podium, but the bank’s shares displayed anything but disquiet at the news of his retirement this week, and the appointment of Fani Titi and Hendrik du Toit as joint CEOs. We asked Koseff why Investec really needs two corner offices ...
We believe that it’s important to have someone on the ground in South Africa who is worried about not only the business, but also what is happening in South Africa, and someone on the ground internationally who likewise worries about what’s happening internationally.
It’s different to maybe one of the South African banks whose main operations are here and then have peripheral operations in the world. We have large relative sized businesses in different geographies. You can also see that in some of our (other) positions we have joint leadership.
We make decisions in teams; we don’t make hierarchical top-down decisions so it fits our style and our culture.Are you prepared for the backlash from those who say you didn’t have the guts to appoint a sole black CEO?
If they come and start with us on that stuff ... we’re a meritocracy, we’re a global firm, we’re very happy with the structure and they can bleat as much as they like.
Investec’s also made lots of other tweaks to its executive teams – involving Ciaran Whelan, David van der Walt and Richard Wainwright, who were all assumed to be CEO contenders.  Are they still committed to Investec having been passed over?
They have proper jobs, those people. Richard became CEO of the bank two years ago. I think he’s doing a great job and Dave van der Walt has been CEO of the UK bank for a while. David’ s had his work cut out post the financial crisis.
So does that make Hendrik and Fani almost ceremonial?
Not ceremonial. They’ve got large co-ordinating roles, they’re out there with large clients, with regulators, with shareholders, with stakeholders. There’s so much work for CEOs to do. I’m still working weekends, 24 hours, whenever people need me. You get pulled into different directions and that’s why you need very focused operators, driving the business. And then the people who actually have to pull all that together and deal with the macro.Are you going to be able to resist piping up at results presentations in future?
I’ll pipe up. But you can ask Richard Wainwright when he took over the bank: I didn’t tramp in his salad; he runs the bank. I’m there to help and support him if he’s got trouble, and if I don’t like something I’ll try and nudge him, but our style is not autocratic. We believe in people having their say. You know me, I love cheeky people who challenge and question me. I don’t want yes people.
How did Investec begin?
When I joined full time we had just bought a bank – Cape Trustees and Executors (in 1980) – we had a million rand of capital and R3-million of total assets and (it) employed two people. Investec had another eight or so.
Until that we were just a leasing company. We merged with a company called Metboard in 1984. That’s where we started doing wealth and asset management and the rest of stuff we built or acquired over the years.
Are there things you wish you had or hadn’t done?
We made some mistakes – we bought Fedsure in 2000, it was a very tough acquisition, it didn’t go down so well. And we bought Kensington in 2007 and had a tough time with that but we’ve traded out of all those issues so they’ve been great learning experiences.Investec has underperformed local banks and some would say it’s because you went overseas and didn’t stay local …
We grew hell of a fast from 1980 to 1998 – 25% per annum we were growing and we went from a nothing share price to some helluva price – and then you had to grow into the share price. Now we’re probably undervalued but we have a very strong global platform: we manage R2.7-trillion, we have GBP£50-billion in balance sheet assets, we employ 10, 000 people.
We’ve done what is very difficult for most to do: we’ve gone and competed outside our core, internationally and we built proper platforms. We have one of the best wealth businesses in the UK and we just have to get the (UK) bank straight and it’s coming.
Some fear that Investec will lose something when you go ...
Look, we’ve been here a long time; we’ve got very good guys to take it to the next level. With most founder organisations it’s always a difficult transition and we’re happy with where we’ve got to.
People have to understand what we’ve built and what profiles people (like Hendrik and Fani) have in their respective markets. Yes we talk to the media and shareholders, we talk to the staff and we’re still around to do that but those are the guys who run with the ball.

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