Winning Women – Fatima Vawda: An asset to the deal

2014-08-18 09:00

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Seven years ago, Fatima Vawda founded 27four Investment Managers, a multimanager investment company, with one client and a computer. Today, she heads up a multimillion-rand business, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

“Hello!” The booming greeting comes out of left-field as I’m admiring a pretty, glassed-off lounge fronted by two quirky statues of Nelson Mandela and a sign that reads: “This is not the 54 on Bath hotel. It is 27four Investment Managers.”

The company shares the same premises as the hotel in Rosebank, northern Joburg, and the hearty welcome is coming from an open-plan office through which Fatima Vawda is striding briskly.

It’s where she works with her staff – right there at the front door. The message it sends is that this is a place where things happen immediately and professionally.

As we zip off to the boardroom, we pass authentic African art and many framed awards, some bearing Vawda’s name, others that of her company.

The latest one comes from the Africa Asset Management industry. Its award, Africa AM annual Power 50, is given to the 50 most influential, innovative and powerful figures in the industry.

It’s the second year in a row that Vawda has been recognised as one of the top 50 asset managers operating in Africa.

“We look at what the global asset management landscape is going to be like five years down the track. Six years ago, long before most people thought of it, we identified Africa,” says the forthright Vawda.

“After travelling the continent doing research in countries ranging from Ghana and Nigeria to Egypt, we felt that the African stock market would be an attractive destination for global investors.”

She was right. So three years ago, Vawda started 27four’s Africa Fund, which today stands at just more than $40?million (R421?million).

When we meet, she’s just returned from the flagship Chartered Financial Analyst Institute’s annual conference, which rotates continents each year. This year, it focused on Africa and it is the conference for investment professionals to attend.

They need to always remain current and must learn about the complex risks, opportunities and challenges facing them.

“We exhibited there, in Seattle, and were the first African firm to do so,” says Vawda.

When she founded 27four seven years ago, one of her aims was to transform the South African asset management sector to make it black owned, managed and controlled.

“The company’s name was inspired by the day our democracy started on April 27 1994. It seemed to me that every bit of the South African economy was changing, with the exception of the asset management sector,” she says. “That is why we are aggressively trying to transform it.”

Vawda’s life story is extraordinary.

Along with her three siblings, she was raised in Lenasia, south of Joburg, by her single mother, who sold samoosas to ensure her children got a good education. “She was uneducated and unemployed when our father left us all. We grew up in an apartheid-style four-roomed matchbox house, yet we always felt safe and loved,” she says.

Vawda obtained her master’s in applied maths with bursaries at Wits University, where she also lectured for two years. She was contemplating a PhD when she decided it was time to join the corporate sector.

She started out as a securities trader at Standard Bank, but it wasn’t enough of a challenge for her. “It was too easy because of the successful big brand name. Business came to you.”

The next firm she joined was Peregrine Securities, “a group of talented intellectuals and entrepreneurs”.

Finally, she founded Legae Capital, an indirect subsidiary of Wiphold. But after spending 12 years working in organisations, she felt it was time to do her own thing.

She took premises at 54 on Bath, and started “with nothing” but her “name and one client”.

“Now there are 20 people working here,” she says.

27four is the majority shareholder of Pioneer Financial Planning. Vawda is also the majority shareholder and chairperson of Legae Securities.

It was the first black-owned and managed stockbroking firm to be registered as a member of the JSE.

Since 2007, Vawda’s company has been successfully managing a unique range of fund investment portfolios, both for retirement funds and for individual investors.

Its products include mainstream solutions as well as niche products such as hedge funds and sharia compliant portfolios.

Vawda says 27four’s edge in the marketplace is gained by investing generously in research into new product development as well as new markets.

“We also incubate start-up asset managers and, as you’d expect, our monitoring and evaluation of

them needs to be more comprehensive than with established managers.”

She makes a point of sourcing investment skills and talent from boutique managers, “because they are often more nimble, seize opportunities quickly and so can deliver better returns”.

27four’s philosophy continues from what it was when it was a start-up. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket by investing in a single-manager fund.

That exposes you to risks associated with one investment house,” cautions Vawda.

This mother of two lively preteens who attend Saheti School in Bedfordview, eastern Joburg, enjoys nothing more than travelling with them and her husband.

They’ve been to India, China, the Middle and Far East as well as Europe and several countries in Africa.

“I think we’ve seen half the world,” she chuckles.

Her reading passion is biographies, because she loves learning about “how people behave”.

“Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos always kept an empty chair next to him in board meetings. He said it represented the interests of the customer.” Vawda also quotes Bill Clinton, who said: “Hold your shoulders high and deal.” It’s an approach she seems to have followed successfully. The little pink book

Business tip

Connect the dots, and always finish what you start.

Mentor

My mother. She still keeps me in check!

Best book

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The narrator’s father, Atticus Finch, has a moral compass that I admire hugely.

Inspiration

Elon Musk, the South Africa-born inventor and investor who leads change through innovation.

Wow! moment

That came seven years ago just before I started 27four. I thought: ‘Yes, I can do this.’

Personal advice

Focus on becoming an expert. Being a jack of all trades doesn’t pay. Always give back.

See Women on Wealth on CNBC Africa (DStv channel 410) on Wednesday at 9.15pm for an interview with Miss South Africa 1996 Peggy-Sue Khumalo who is now an investment banker with Investec

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