Seven years ago, Fa­tima Vawda founded 27four In­vest­ment Man­agers, a mul­ti­man­ager in­vest­ment com­pany, with one client and a com­puter. To­day, she heads up a mul­ti­mil­lion-rand busi­ness, writes Sue Grant-mar­shall

CityPress - - Business - See Women on Wealth on CNBC Africa (DSTV chan­nel 410) on Wed­nes­day at 9.15pm for an in­ter­view with Miss South Africa 1996 Peggy-Sue Khu­malo who is now an in­vest­ment banker with In­vestec

‘Hello!” The boom­ing greet­ing comes out of left-field as I’m ad­mir­ing a pretty, glassed-off lounge fronted by two quirky stat­ues of Nel­son Man­dela and a sign that reads: “This is not the 54 on Bath ho­tel. It is 27four In­vest­ment Man­agers.” The com­pany shares the same premises as the ho­tel in Rose­bank, north­ern Joburg, and the hearty wel­come is com­ing from an open-plan of­fice through which Fa­tima Vawda is strid­ing briskly.

It’s where she works with her staff – right there at the front door. The mes­sage it sends is that this is a place where things hap­pen im­me­di­ately and pro­fes­sion­ally.

As we zip off to the board­room, we pass au­then­tic African art and many framed awards, some bear­ing Vawda’s name, oth­ers that of her com­pany.

The lat­est one comes from the Africa As­set Man­age­ment in­dus­try. Its award, Africa AM an­nual Power 50, is given to the 50 most in­flu­en­tial, in­no­va­tive and pow­er­ful fig­ures in the in­dus­try.

It’s the sec­ond year in a row that Vawda has been recog­nised as one of the top 50 as­set man­agers op­er­at­ing in Africa.

“We look at what the global as­set man­age­ment land­scape is go­ing to be like five years down the track. Six years ago, long be­fore most peo­ple thought of it, we iden­ti­fied Africa,” says the forth­right Vawda.

“Af­ter trav­el­ling the con­ti­nent do­ing re­search in coun­tries rang­ing from Ghana and Nige­ria to Egypt, we felt that the African stock mar­ket would be an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for global in­vestors.”

She was right. So three years ago, Vawda started 27four’s Africa Fund, which to­day stands at just more than $40 mil­lion (R421 mil­lion).

When we meet, she’s just re­turned from the flag­ship Char­tered Fi­nan­cial An­a­lyst In­sti­tute’s an­nual con­fer­ence, which ro­tates con­ti­nents each year. This year, it fo­cused on Africa and it is the con­fer­ence for in­vest­ment pro­fes­sion­als to at­tend.

They need to al­ways re­main cur­rent and must learn about the com­plex risks, op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges fac­ing them.

“We ex­hib­ited there, in Seat­tle, and were the first African firm to do so,” says Vawda.

When she founded 27four seven years ago, one of her aims was to trans­form the South African as­set man­age­ment sec­tor to make it black owned, man­aged and con­trolled.

“The com­pany’s name was in­spired by the day our democ­racy started on April 27 1994. It seemed to me that ev­ery bit of the South African econ­omy was chang­ing, with the ex­cep­tion of the as­set man­age­ment sec­tor,” she says. “That is why we are ag­gres­sively try­ing to trans­form it.” Vawda’s life story is ex­tra­or­di­nary. Along with her three sib­lings, she was raised in Le­na­sia, south of Joburg, by her sin­gle mother, who sold samoosas to en­sure her chil­dren got a good ed­u­ca­tion. “She was un­e­d­u­cated and un­em­ployed when our fa­ther left us all. We grew up in an apartheid-style four-roomed match­box house, yet we al­ways felt safe and loved,” she says.

Vawda ob­tained her mas­ter’s in ap­plied maths with bur­saries at Wits Univer­sity, where she also lec­tured for two years. She was contemplating a PhD when she de­cided it was time to join the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

She started out as a se­cu­ri­ties trader at Stan­dard Bank, but it wasn’t enough of a chal­lenge for her. “It was too easy be­cause of the suc­cess­ful big brand name. Busi­ness came to you.”

The next firm she joined was Pere­grine Se­cu­ri­ties, “a group of tal­ented in­tel­lec­tu­als and en­trepreneurs”.

Fi­nally, she founded Le­gae Cap­i­tal, an in­di­rect sub­sidiary of Wiphold. But af­ter spend­ing 12 years work­ing in or­gan­i­sa­tions, she felt it was time to do her own thing.

She took premises at 54 on Bath, and started “with noth­ing” but her “name and one client”. “Now there are 20 peo­ple work­ing here,” she says. 27four is the ma­jor­ity share­holder of Pioneer Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning. Vawda is also the ma­jor­ity share­holder and chair­per­son of Le­gae Se­cu­ri­ties.

It was the first black-owned and man­aged stock­broking firm to be reg­is­tered as a mem­ber of the JSE.

Since 2007, Vawda’s com­pany has been suc­cess­fully man­ag­ing a unique range of fund in­vest­ment port­fo­lios, both for re­tire­ment funds and for in­di­vid­ual in­vestors.

Its prod­ucts in­clude main­stream so­lu­tions as well as niche prod­ucts such as hedge funds and sharia com­pli­ant port­fo­lios.

Vawda says 27four’s edge in the mar­ket­place is gained by in­vest­ing gen­er­ously in re­search into new prod­uct devel­op­ment as well as new mar­kets.

“We also in­cu­bate start-up as­set man­agers and, as you’d ex­pect, our mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of them needs to be more com­pre­hen­sive than with es­tab­lished man­agers.”

She makes a point of sourc­ing in­vest­ment skills and tal­ent from bou­tique man­agers, “be­cause they are of­ten more nim­ble, seize op­por­tu­ni­ties quickly and so can de­liver bet­ter re­turns”.

27four’s phi­los­o­phy con­tin­ues from what it was when it was a start-up. “Don’t put all your eggs in one bas­ket by in­vest­ing in a sin­gle-man­ager fund. That ex­poses you to risks as­so­ci­ated with one in­vest­ment house,” cau­tions Vawda.

This mother of two lively pre­teens who at­tend Sa­heti School in Bed­ford­view, eastern Joburg, en­joys noth­ing more than trav­el­ling with them and her hus­band.

They’ve been to In­dia, China, the Mid­dle and Far East as well as Europe and sev­eral coun­tries in Africa. “I think we’ve seen half the world,” she chuck­les. Her read­ing pas­sion is bi­ogra­phies, be­cause she loves learn­ing about “how peo­ple be­have”.

“Ama­zon en­trepreneur Jeff Be­zos al­ways kept an empty chair next to him in board meet­ings. He said it rep­re­sented the in­ter­ests of the cus­tomer.”

Vawda also quotes Bill Clin­ton, who said: “Hold your shoul­ders high and deal.”

It’s an ap­proach she seems to have fol­lowed suc­cess­fully.

POW­ER­HOUSE Fa­tima Vawda

started her com­pany with

noth­ing but her name and

one client

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