After a protracted disciplinary process t hat eventually resulted in a dismissal that raised more questions than answers, former principle executive officer John Oliphant has called time on his association with t he Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF). He is now in the process of setting up Gaia Investment Partners to fulfil something very close to his heart: infrastructure investment. When untena GEPF? Late last year I was reflecting on my own future and plans for 2015. In that process I came to the conclusion that I would be better off and energised in a new venture than to continue to pursue the matter further. Regardless of the merits of the case for or against me, these issues tend to divide the team and the board, and that is not good for the organisation. I therefore felt it would be better for the organisation and I to start 2015 on a more positive note than being engaged in meaningless legal arguments. There is also a new board, and I felt it was unfair to them to carry the burden of previous board decisions. The new board should just install new leadership and rebuild the organisation. did you rea lise it was ble to go back to the Do you thin k you we re unfai rly treate d by the GEPF? I think the whole matter could have been handled differently. I had a good relationship with the board under Arthur Moloto [the chairperson responsible for suspending him]. I put in a good innings: I came in when the fund had assets of R700bn and we got that to R1tr under my watch. We also initiated some good programmes: the developmental investment framework and the Code for Responsible Investing (CRISA). So I am proud of my track record. However, I wish to make it clear that it was a disagreement over an issue – I am not fighting with the GEPF. I became the head of investments at the age of 26, and the fund’s principal executive at the age of 30. So this was an organisation that saw something in me and believed in me. They gave me an opportunity to run a very important institution at a young age, and I am grateful for that, despite the disappointment at the end. What are your plans for Gaia Invest ment Partne rs? We all have a responsibility to build South Africa. I put in a good innings in the public sector, and I’m going to put in a great innings in the private sector. Africa is, in many ways, the last frontier and it’s stif led in terms of energy and infrastructure.
I see infrastructure as a stand-alone asset class. It consists of long-life assets that can match long-life liabilities for institutional investors l ike pension f unds. So I am teaming up with Fieldstone Africa, who have dealstructuring experience on the continent dating back to 1990, and are one of the most experienced in terms of doing energy and infrastructure deals.
We think that SA’s energy market is the opportunity of a l ifetime for investors, so we’ll be starting in the r enewable energ y s pace. We a r e confident that we will conclude about R1.3bn worth of deals before t he official launch of Gaia. And we intend to have all the expertise – technical and f inancial – in house in order to assess and manage these investments properly. So if a turbine breaks down, we have the engineers who know exactly what needs to happen to get it back up and running.