FAREWELL TO A JSE GIANT
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.