Tony Norton, MD of Standard Merchant Bank addressed our MBA class. He talked about merchant banking and corporate finance- stock exchanges, raising capital, mergers, acquisitions financial instruments, risk and reward, and corporate valuations. I knew definitively that I wanted to go into investment banking.
When the first opportunity arose I fortuitously joined SMB. Most merchant banks only hired accountants and lawyers. I was neither, but I did apply the week after their computer financial planning expert had resigned. As it turned out I hardly did any work in the financial planning, but did introduce PCs (once they were invented) to the bank. Visicalc and Excel revolutionised how we assessed transactions, moving us away from laborious and repetitive manual calculations, allowing us more time to think and interpret the results.
I had no financial/ accounting exposure prior to the MBA, a skill that I learnt sufficiently to work with and interpret, rather than draw up financial statements. Black Mac/ Big Mac- Ian McGregor can take the credit in respect of accounting, Paul Strebel for finance. I recall meeting Paul at the end of term one, before starting with his course on finance proper. I had passed the basic finance/ banking module, complaining that the marks didn’t reflect my ability. He was taken aback, thinking I was asking for more marks. But I felt that the marks were too high, as even though I may have managed to obtain the correct answers I didn’t really understand what I was doing. He laughed- it was the first time any student had complained that his marks were too high and encouraged me to continue- I did.
Some years later, I made an investment with one of my class-mates. It turned out to be the best financial investment of my life.
After a 20 year stint in my own business in which I utilised many of the skills learnt during the MBA, I returned to corporate finance and listed corporates at The Bidvest Group Limited, reporting to the CE Brian Joffe whom I had while at SMB. My role was multifaceted and included creating The Bidvest Academy an executive leadership programme for our young executives, many of whom had never had formal financial or business training. I was most fortunate in this role to work With Prof Andy Andrews who was previous head of WBS and the backbone of our programme- a wonderful individual and friend.
Prof Herbert Sichel too was a major influence. His exposure into the world of statistics and the use of statistics in business bolstered and complemented my financial understanding.
The WBS was undoubtedly the best and most important investment of my life.