The AlphaCode launch was an evening filled with networking, engaging discussion and entertainment that filled our new physical space with music and laughter. The evening, facilitated by Simon Dingle, centered around a panel discussion featuring some of the industry’s most celebrated stalwarts, Barry Swartzberg, GT Ferreira, Lauritz Dippenaar, Paul Harris and Willem Roos. AlphaCode member entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pose questions to the founders of top companies in financial services.
These questions led to an insightful discussion surrounding business, innovation and what it takes to meaningfully transform an established landscape. But perhaps the most thoughtful answers followed questions surrounding mentorship, advice and the reflections of senior executives over their years of service to the world of financial services.
One of these questions was aimed at the three founders of what is now the FirstRand Group, and asked them what advice they would give themselves if they could travel back in time to the founding of the company in 1977?
Paul Harris - co-founder, Rand Consolidated Investments
My advice would be, “Don’t think you can have a balanced life”. Forget about it. A lot of entrepreneurs want the [flashy] lifestyle and they want to be an entrepreneur, but it doesn’t work like that. Would I have liked to have had a more balanced life? Well, I would’ve perhaps liked to have had more time to spend with my kids and things like that, but at the same time we [founders of the firm] were intrigued, we were intellectually stimulated, we really enjoyed what we were doing. So… yeah, maybe I would’ve tried to be a little bit more balanced, but not too much more. I’m happy.
GT Ferreira - co-founder, Rand Consolidated Investments
It’s true that if most companies that have grown a lot had realised in the beginning how difficult it was going to be, they probably wouldn’t have done it. You’ve got to go through those steps. I’m actually very happy that I’m not able to travel through time and tell myself what the problems would be. What I will say is, choose something that you actually like - because you will not be successful in terms of money, or otherwise, if you start looking at your watch at 16:30 and you want to go home. Then it’s not going to happen, because there are some other people who are prepared to work until 20:00. Also, follow your dream, do whatever it is, and if the end result is not necessarily money, so be it. Success and money are not always the same thing.
Lauritz Dippenaar - co-founder, Rand Consolidated Investments
My advice would be, “don’t defy gravity”. If something’s gone wrong, don’t defer the pain. Take the pain immediately - the write-off, or if you have to dismiss someone that is the wrong person. Do it. Because gravity always wins. We’ve recently seen the saga in Greece. They kept on kicking the can down the road. Did they gain anything? Absolutely not. It just got worse.
A similar question was posed to the founders of Discovery Health and OUTsurance who were asked about the best advice they have ever received:
Barry Swartzberg - co-founder, Discovery Health
It’s actually a quote about the power of compound interest. People underrate that. They flip too quickly, or sell too quickly. They don’t build things up over time, and if you’re building a business that has assets underlying it, you have to build the thing over many, many years. That’s what it takes in my view, and it’s all about delayed gratification instead of instant gratification. It’s counter-intuitive … but that’s the advice I’d give. [Pay attention] to compound interest.
Willem Roos - CEO and co-founder, OUTsurance
I’m going to put Lauritz on the spot here, but he always told me to think long term. I think that’s great advice. When you start a business, the bullets are flying, but make sure you’re putting the
fundamentals in place and thinking long term. Not a lot of people do - I think many are short-term oriented. Charlie Munger (Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation) also gives great advice. He says, “If you want to become rich you need to spend less than you earn.”
The evening brought together three generations of financial services entrepreneurs. The original founders of FirstRand, second-generation companies such as Discovery and OUTsurance, and AlphaCode’s third-generation members.