FAREWELL TO A JSE GI­ANT

Finweek English Edition - - Companies & markets -

WHEN I EN­TERED the in­vest­ment world in the Six­ties the two dom­i­nant stock­broking firms were Max Pol­lak & Free­man­tle, headed by the in­domitable First World War vet­eran Eric Free­man­tle, and the then Davis & Wi­ley, whose se­nior part­ner was “Fish” Wi­ley but was driven by two Sec­ond World War vet­er­ans – Max Borkum, who has just died at the age of 90, and Henry Hare.

The years that fol­lowed the pass­ing of the gen­er­a­tions saw both firms con­tinue to flour­ish, but when Wi­ley re­tired the Borkum/Hare team gave the re­named Davis Borkum Hare a dy­namism that MPF ar­guably lacked. Both firms sur­vive, but sadly as mere units of big­ger cor­po­ra­tions.

Max and Henry made a su­perb team, com­ple­ment­ing each other per­fectly: Henry the in­tel­lect, de­vis­ing in­no­va­tive fi­nan­cial schemes, such as the now frowned-on pyra­mid list­ings favoured by many fam­ily-con­trolled com­pa­nies in the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties to re­alise cash with­out re­lin­quish­ing con­trol; while Max, a su­perb sales­man who was proud of com­ing from an Oudt­shoorn Boere-Jood fam­ily, al­ways dap­perly dressed with a fresh flower in his but­ton­hole, went out and cul­ti­vated the rich and pow­er­ful.

Not that he was a light­weight or mere front man. Max and Henry were mem­bers of a gen­er­a­tion, now fast fad­ing into his­tory, that in­cluded other no­ta­bles such as Alastair Martin and Richard Lurie, who were deeply and per­ma­nently af­fected by the Holo­caust and their wartime ex­pe­ri­ences.

Max never sought po­lit­i­cal of­fice but was a found­ing and loyal sup­porter and fundraiser of the Pro­gres­sive Party and ef­fec­tive cam­paign man­ager for his clos­est of friends, He­len Suz­man.

And when the in­de­pen­dence of the then SA As­so­ci­ated News­pa­pers was threat­ened in 1975 by a takeover – os­ten­si­bly from Louis Luyt, who was gen­er­ally thought to be act­ing as a front for the Nat gov­ern­ment – Borkum put to­gether the Ad­vow­son Trust to ac­quire a block­ing share­hold­ing.

Max, though not big phys­i­cally, was larger than life and en­joyed life. In the old days an in­vi­ta­tion to lunch at DBH meant that one could pretty well write off the af­ter­noon. And he was a familiar fig­ure on SA’s race­courses.

But for such dis­trac­tions Max would have been a worka­holic. Even af­ter DBH be­came part of Mer­rill Lynch, as life pres­i­dent of the firm Max went into the of­fice daily un­til he was well into his 80s. For decades a com­mit­tee mem­ber of the JSE, he also served as its pres­i­dent, a po­si­tion in ef­fect cur­rently held by his son, Humphrey. In re­cent years he was in­creas­ingly frail and the death of his part­ner and friend Henry Hare in 2002 was a se­vere blow. But those of us priv­i­leged enough to know him are poorer for his pass­ing. Our thoughts are with his fam­ily and friends.

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