Talent is probably t he most important asset in asset management, as with any other business. But a s k R o me o Makhubela, chief executive off icer of Vunani Fund Managers and he will mesmerise you on the subject.
Once the chief investment officer of then Metropolitan Asset Managers (MetAM), Makhubela says he’s building something special at Vunani; an investment house with a very capable team with four of the managers being former CIOs. Makhubela recently made new appointments of Patrick Ntshalintshali from Old Mutual and, unsurprisingly, re-recruited two of his former charges at MetAM, Safs Narker and Johan de Kock, who look after financials and resources, respectively.
When Makhubela joined MetAM in 2008, replacing veteran money manager Liston Meintjes, his mandate was to rebuild the shop after the asset manager went down with the economic recession, losing catastrophically in its offshore offerings. As CIO under the stewardship of Robert Walton, Makhubela says he recruited Narker and De Kock to join MetAM right after he too joined and “they delivered brilliantly”. Armed with good talent, Makhubela restructured MetAM and just when he was about to reap the benefits, the Metromentum (Metropolitan/ Momentum) merger to form MMI Holdings happened. Like any major merger, t here are casualties, although Makhubela says he was not one.
“Vunani presented me with a great opportunity to lead the business and take it to the next level and I took it,” he says.
At the time, Makhubela was one of the executives of the newly formed R300bn Momentum Investments where the woes of the merger were most apparent. The merged investments business of MMI was talent from MetAM and RMB Asset Management and culture clashes were sure to ensue and roles duplicated. Sandton was chosen as the base for the head office and Bellville a satellite office, which meant travelling and/or relocation for MetAM staffers. Many stuck it out all the way through the uncertainty, though feeling uneasy, while some decided to leave immediately in a bid to spare their families destruction. Narker and De Kock opted to travel between the two offices for two years but finally gave in and resigned from Momentum Asset Management as the arrangement was beginning to impact adversely on their families.
Momentum Asset Management CEO Sibusiso Mabuza says it is both difficult and disappointing to lose such good talent but concedes it comes as no surprise. He says many of these guys had been leading especially difficult lives due to the travelling and this took its toll on their families. Mabuza says he considered their appointment “risky” in the sense that they could leave anytime a good opportunity in Cape Town arose. He says De Kock had been driving the company’s ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) team after the business restructured last August and was doing a fine job of it.
“Because of t he nature of t hese appointments, we prioritised succession planning and put contingency plans in place, so we were able to announce a replacement for Safs within days and we’re going to announce our new ESG head very soon,” says Mabuza.
He reckons there are no more of these risky appointments but still says anything is possible so succession planning i s st i l l important.