Dreams with di­rec­tion

With R2 mil­lion in per­sonal sav­ings as his startup cap­i­tal, Malun­gelo Zil­im­bola es­tab­lished Mazi Cap­i­tal, an as­set man­age­ment firm which to­day man­ages as­sets of R48 bil­lion

Destiny Man - - POWERHOUSE -

With Zil­im­bola be­ing the first-born son of two farmers, the sig­nif­i­cance of live­stock as the orig­i­nal sys­tem of African wealth cre­ation has been in­grained in his spirit – so it was only nat­u­ral that he chose to name his as­set man­age­ment com­pany Mazi, the Nguni word for “cow”. He started the ven­ture in 2006 with just two em­ploy­ees and no loans or in­vestor back­ing, re­ly­ing solely on the sav­ings he’d ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing his ca­reer in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor.

Twelve years later, Mazi has a staff of 30, half of whom are in the in­vest­ment team, and man­ages as­sets worth bil­lions of rands. Zil­im­bola con­tin­ues to lead as Chief In­vest­ment Of­fi­cer.

His start-up plan in­cluded en­sur­ing the business would be self-suf­fi­cient for the first year, so there was no need to worry about gen­er­at­ing in­come in that pe­riod. How­ever, they ex­ceeded their own ex­pec­ta­tions and rev­enue started stream­ing in just six months af­ter open­ing.

Born in Klerks­dorp and ed­u­cated in Mahikeng un­til ma­tric, Zil­im­bola grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) with a BSc in quan­tity sur­vey­ing and BCom Hon­ours in fi­nance. He was sub­se­quently re­cruited by Investec As­set Man­age­ment as an An­a­lyst and stayed with the com­pany for five years be­fore mov­ing to Rand Mer­chant Bank as a Se­nior Port­fo­lio Man­ager, where he spent three years. Then he took a leap of faith, aban­don­ing the se­cu­rity of em­ploy­ment to dive head­long into the en­tre­pre­neur­ial space.

This fa­ther of three, who’s ap­proach­ing his

50th birthday, ex­plains how he achieved his re­mark­able suc­cess.

What drove you to start your own business?

My de­sire to show­case black tal­ent. Peo­ple would of­ten re­mark that I was only do­ing well be­cause of the Investec or RMB brand, so I stepped out of that frame­work to cre­ate a space where I could be suc­cess­ful on the strength of my own tal­ent. I also wanted to build a cen­tre of black ex­cel­lence which would de­bunk the myth that blacks don’t know how to man­age money.

What has your business jour­ney taught you about char­ac­ter?

One of my big­gest per­sonal dis­ap­point­ments was ob­tain­ing my de­gree at UCT. Peo­ple had made me feel that when I grad­u­ated, it would be a mas­sive achieve­ment – but when I was handed a sim­ple piece of pa­per, I couldn’t be­lieve that was what I’d worked so hard for.

When I started my ca­reer, I re­alised that it’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on the jour­ney, rather than the des­ti­na­tion, be­cause we of­ten over­rate the goal and over­look what we’ve be­come while pur­su­ing it. It’s the skill, the re­silience, the work ethic and the self-be­lief you build that mat­ters. Ul­ti­mately, that piece of pa­per you get on grad­u­a­tion day and that pay-cheque you get when you’re in a man­age­ment po­si­tion mean very lit­tle, com­pared with the char­ac­ter you’ve built within you, which no­body can take away.

This in­sight was es­pe­cially im­por­tant to me dur­ing my ca­reer be­cause as a high-per­form­ing black pro­fes­sional, there’s al­ways a risk of be­ing pro­moted pre­ma­turely purely be­cause a com­pany wants to win­dow-dress for BBBEE pur­poses. When that hap­pens, what it’s re­ally do­ing is prevent­ing you from ac­quir­ing the skills you need. The dan­ger is that you’ll go into these man­age­ment po­si­tions with­out any depth or ex­per­tise in your area and you’ll be set up to fail. So I turned down many of those of­fers. Be­ing able to stay the course of do­ing the tech­ni­cal work, man­ag­ing the funds and do­ing a great job of it meant I’d ac­quired both the ex­per­tise and a fol­low­ing once I started my own business, which made it rel­a­tively easy to at­tract my first set of clients.


What was the big­gest chal­lenge you faced while grow­ing your business?

The fact that we’re al­ways test­ing new ground: we’ve never seen a black as­set man­age­ment com­pany grow to where we are now. There’ve been busi­nesses that were cre­ated through trans­ac­tions, merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions, but we’ve built our com­pany from the ground up and we keep hit­ting the glass ceil­ing.

Every time we break a new record, peo­ple ask: “You’ve got R20 bil­lion in as­sets – why do you want more? You should be sat­is­fied be­cause you’ve reached a level no black business has ever reached be­fore.” We’re no longer an emerg­ing com­pany – we play in the main­stream. Yet the stereo­type per­sists. Coronation has R600 bil­lion in as­sets – more than 10 times big­ger than we are – and it keeps grow­ing, but no­body tells them that they’ve achieved enough.

This is a daily bat­tle, es­pe­cially since some peo­ple as­sume we have it easy or reached these lev­els only be­cause of BBBEE. We have to work three times harder than other fund man­agers to dis­pel that scep­ti­cism about our com­mit­ment and longevity, but I have no doubt that we’re go­ing to be around for 100 years.

What have been your proud­est achieve­ments?

Start­ing a business, run­ning it for 12 years and see­ing the growth we’ve achieved in terms of as­sets, staff and the re­spect and promi­nence we’ve gained. We’ve also won a num­ber of ac­co­lades – four Morn­ing Star awards and three Rag­ing Bull awards. These are the

Os­cars of the as­set man­age­ment in­dus­try. We were pit­ted against the big boys, like Al­lan Gray, Coronation and Investec, and we came up on top. Look­ing back I’m proud that we’ve achieved good growth mile­stones while demon­strat­ing ex­cel­lence in business.

Ex­cel­lence isn’t a flash in the pan. You can’t re­lax and bask in your past glo­ries; you have to keep at it – it’s con­tin­u­ous. I’ve tried to in­cul­cate in the team how cru­cial ex­cel­lence and con­sis­tent per­for­mance are.

What are your plans for the com­pany , go­ing for­ward?

I want to grow this business to over R100 bil­lion in as­sets, which is rather am­bi­tious, as I haven’t seen a black fund man­ager build a business that reaches this mile­stone but I be­lieve we’ve got what it takes to achieve it. A part of this plan in­cludes launch­ing a global fund so that we can com­pete with the best in the world. Cur­rently all our clients are South African and we’ve got a Pan-Africa fund that in­vests across the African con­ti­nent, but we want to go into the global space.

At this point, no­body in the in­sti­tu­tional space can ig­nore us – the pen­sion funds, con­sul­tants and mul­ti­man­agers. We’ve made a mark and we con­tinue to per­form, but we want to break into the re­tail space.

What are the most im­por­tant things in your life?

Peo­ple. Over and above mak­ing a profit, one runs busi­nesses in or­der to train, em­power and de­velop in­di­vid­u­als. There’s a say­ing I like – “You should love peo­ple and use things” – be­cause the other way around never works. The ul­ti­mate sat­is­fac­tion is see­ing peo­ple I’ve de­vel­oped be­com­ing suc­cess­ful in their own right.

I men­tor a lot of young peo­ple and see­ing them re­ally start­ing to be­lieve in them­selves makes me very proud. Of­ten peo­ple have abun­dant skills and in­tel­lect, but are held back by self-doubt.

Help­ing them un­leash their po­ten­tial and ac­quire self­con­fi­dence is al­ways a very spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence for me.

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