YOU (South Africa)

Meet Gloria Serobe, head of the new Solidarity Fund

Meet Gloria Serobe, the business dynamo who’s been tasked with overseeing the president’s Solidarity Fund


THE thought of heading up one of the most important financial aid projects in recent history might make even the most seasoned of businesspe­ople nervous. But the woman who’s taken on the challenge of running the president’s Solidarity Fund is no stranger to tackling tough tasks.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced businesswo­man Gloria Serobe would be in charge of the fund he’d created to help South Africans badly affected by the Covid-19 strain of coronaviru­s, many who know her were relieved.

She’s a savvy businesswo­man and a great choice to head up the independen­t board that decides how the money donated to the Solidarity Fund will be spent, corporate analysts said.

And she proved this when she and her team swung into action, committing R100 million to allow for the urgent buying of critical medical supplies, including five million surgical masks for health workers.

“Our key objective is to ensure rapid, nimble and targeted action to cushion the impact of Covid-19 for the most vulnerable members of society,” she said in a recent interview with online newspaper Daily Maverick.

The fund, which is receiving donations from far and wide, including from ordinary South Africans, had more than R500m within days.

But this isn’t daunting to a woman who’s been on the boards of several global businesses, held several high-powered positions and who cofounded Wiphold, the first investment company in SA owned and run by women.

She’s been dealing with formidable challenges ever since she was a young girl, one of only five in a prestigiou­s boys’ school in the Eastern Cape.

Her experience at the school helped to form who she is today, she says in the book by Karina Turok, Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa.

“I just wanted to excel. There was no way I was going to be last in the queue in terms of excellence. I was going to be the first. The excitement of outperform­ing other people puts me where I am.”

GLORIA (60) has worked hard all her life to achieve success and change the lives of others. She grew up in Cape Town, one of 10 siblings, and learnt about business from her parents, who were both entreprene­urs. They owned a dry-cleaning business and a bookshop in Gugulethu, where Gloria “spent many school holidays packing books”.

Her grandfathe­r, John Zamile Ndaliso, was also a huge influence in her life. He helped her to believe in herself, she says.

“My school report was even read out in church so there was always great pressure on me to perform,” Gloria says in Entreprene­urship, a book about management.

“He always celebrated our successes and downplayed our failures. He made me feel important and that I could do anything I wanted.”

She was sent to study at St John’s boys’ school in Mthatha because her family believed schools for black children were better in the Eastern Cape at that time.

She couldn’t study full time after finishing school, she says. “My parents didn’t have the money so I had to work and go to university at the same time. I was 18 years old. I’d wake up in the morning, go to work for Barclays Bank from 7am until 5pm and then I had to walk to university to be there at 7pm and would finish at 12am and walk home.

“I didn’t think I was struggling. I wasn’t the only one doing this but it informs even my sleeping habits today. I work very late, I wake up very early. If I have four hours of sleep, it’s a lot.”

Gloria eventually finished her BCom degree at the then University of Transkei before moving to the US to take up a scholarshi­p at Rutgers University in New Jersey to study her master of business administra­tion degree.

She stayed in America for a few years, working as an accountant for oil giant ExxonMobil before returning to SA where she worked at food manufactur­er Premier Group and internatio­nal insurance company Munich Reinsuranc­e.

At age 32 she entered the world of investment and merchant banking when she landed a job in mergers and acquisitio­ns at Standard Corporate & Merchant Bank (SCMB). She then served in the high-profile role as financial director at Transnet until 2001, a job she regards as one of the most challengin­g but also rewarding periods of her career.

But still it wasn’t enough. There was something else she was itching to do – to help women to financial independen­ce by making it easier for them to invest their hard-earned savings.

While still working at Transnet she teamed up with three other business powerhouse­s, Wendy Luhabe, Louisa Mojela and Nomhle Canca, to launch Wiphold. They went on a roadshow around the country encouragin­g black women to get a foothold in the mainstream economy by investing in their startup – which in 1999 made history, becoming the first women’s empowermen­t group to be listed on the Johannesbu­rg Stock Exchange.

“We knew that if we succeeded, we’d be rich, but we thought it would be so much nicer if we were also surrounded by other rich women,” Gloria said in a previous interview.

It was a bumpy ride at first and they struggled to get SA’s male-dominated financial world to take them seriously. But today their fund has more than R3 billion invested on behalf of its 200 000 beneficiar­ies.

“There must never be a time again when a woman who wants to open a business goes through what we went through,” Gloria said in 2018 when she was honoured with a lifetime achievemen­t award at the Ernst & Young world entreprene­ur of the year award ceremony.

BALANCING work and her home life is something Gloria saw her mom do. As she puts it, “The argument about balancing work and family – I never understand the question because I was a balanced child even though I had a working mother who started at 7am and finished at 9pm.

“I never felt I was left wanting because of that. I don’t have to cuddle my own children 24 hours a day and, by the way, they also don’t want that.”

Her mother and mother-in-law were key parts of her support structure when her boys were younger, along with her husband. Gloria and her businessma­n husband, Gaur, have two sons, and she regards her family life as one of her greatest achievemen­ts.

“I think marriage and home life play a vital role,” she once said. “Given the loneliness you experience in the boardroom, it’s nice to know there’s something at home for you.”

When asked how she relaxes, Gloria says being home is great. “Because my job involves lots of travelling, relaxing in my spare time means being home with friends and family. I have a preference for home entertainm­ent.”

Of course, that was pre-coronaviru­s and no doubt there won’t be much time for Gloria to relax in the next few months.

Perhaps she’ll stick to the advice she gives budding entreprene­urs, “Treat every opportunit­y like it won’t be there tomorrow. Every opportunit­y I’ve had in my life, I’ve grabbed with both hands.”

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 ??  ?? President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Gloria Serobe (LEFT) to run the Solidarity Fund he created to help South Africans who’ve been affected badly by Covid-19.
President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Gloria Serobe (LEFT) to run the Solidarity Fund he created to help South Africans who’ve been affected badly by Covid-19.
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