Born and raised in the US, Donna Oosthuyse was only eight years old when she decided that she would one day live in Joburg. Today, she is director of capital markets at the JSE and talks enthusiastically about SA’s prospects, writes Sue Grant-Marshall
Seven of the 10 executive committee members of the JSE are women, a fact that is not unrelated, suggest some, to it being rated tops in the world as an exchange for the sixth year in a row.
The World Economic Forum recognised South Africa for five years in a row, between 2011 and 2015, as having the best-regulated securities exchange in the world out of the 140 countries it analysed.
Donna Oosthuyse, director of capital markets for the JSE, says it is currently in second position, “and furthermore we are rated number one in terms of financing through the local equity market, which is phenomenal”.
One of the reasons for South Africa’s high rating “is the sophistication of our country’s financial system”, explains Oosthuyse.
“The JSE is an important player within that system because of our good listing rules and market surveillance.”
Oosthuyse, who is tall, friendly and elegant, almost floats into the all-glass boardroom we meet in. The room also seems to float in a building constructed extensively of glass, making it light and airy with breathtaking views over Sandton and the rest of Joburg.
Oosthuyse (58) took on her exacting position last year. She was managing director, chief country officer of Citibank SA and two years off its mandatory retirement age when Nicky Newton-King, CEO of the JSE, approached her.
Several headhunters had already begun circling the dynamic personality thanks to her 30 years of experience at Citibank.
She was part of its country debt restructuring unit in New York in 1985 before going on to head its treasury marketing unit there.
When many a financial head was being rocked by Brazil’s hyperinflation crisis during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Oosthuyse calmly, effectively and creatively worked for Citibank in Sao Paolo as head of derivatives in the treasury.
She was all set for a London post when she told a bank friend that her heart was actually set on Joburg, “and my goods, already on the high seas, were shipped here instead”.
Oosthuyse arrived in Joburg in January 1995 to assist with the opening of Citigroup’s new franchise – it had disinvested during the apartheid era.
“I was really privileged to be here during the early years of democracy. It was a time of great hope and optimism, and when ordinary people could bump into [then president] Nelson Mandela,” says Oosthuyse.
“I sat at tables with [Mandela’s successor] Thabo Mbeki and attended gatherings of political and business leaders who were working together to build the new South Africa.”
She describes the air of excitement and positivity “when we encouraged other investors to come to the new South Africa”.
She is both glad and proud that she stayed here to “try to be part of making a difference. I still feel an enormous amount of positivity in financial markets.
“Daily, I am amazed at what we can do in terms of new products, new markets and new ways of doing things at the JSE.”
She’s blown away by the opportunities that she says continue to exist in South Africa: “We have some of the best business managers you will find anywhere in the world. I realise this when I deal with traders, brokers, regulators and banks.”
The assets of the last-named she describes as being “somewhere between R5.5 trillion and R6 trillion, while the assets of pension funds, insurance companies, etc, are even higher, at about R8.5 trillion.
“So when companies go to the market to raise capital, they tap into that R8.5 trillion pool of liquidity, which is really the bedrock of our financial system.”
At a time when countries such as Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria and Eritrea are positioning themselves to be the gateway to Africa, “we still have the best financial infrastructure and are still the most attractive. But we need to maintain our competitiveness.”
Affecting this are the country’s labour rules and regulations, which negatively affect setting up businesses and investing here.
Oosthuyse was ill in bed and eight years old when her librarian mother took a pile of books to their home in Durham, North Carolina.
“There was a book on South Africa and I can remember the pictures in it as if it were yesterday. That’s when my lifelong obsession with this country began.
“I told my mother then that I would live here one day.”
She graduated cum laude from Duke University in North Carolina and holds a master of arts degree from Georgetown University, where she majored in Latin American studies and economics.
When Citibank learnt she could speak Portuguese, she was asked to go to Sao Paulo, “where I immersed myself in Brazilian culture and made friends outside the expat group”.
Oosthuyse is passionate about horses and, on her early-morning trips to the stables, she was distressed to see “so many homeless street children”.
During her last year in Brazil, she turned her spacious home into a place of safety for 15 babies, hired a nurse and adopted two children.
She brought her two Brazilian children with her when she moved here. She bought a plot in Randjesfontein near Pretoria and settled in with her nine dogs and several horses.
She married, adopted two more children, was separated from her husband and contemplating her mandatory retirement “because I realised I could never work for a Citibank competitor when I decided I couldn’t [retire]”.
“We were a high-performing team and I could not begin to contemplate it being my last job. Furthermore, I have four children aged between 11 and 21.”
Oosthuyse, with her characteristic drive, decided she would take her 30 years of experience working for one of the most successful global entities “and use it to benefit a broader base”.
She welcomed the prospect of a new, “hugely adventurous role at the JSE in such an incredible organisation of such world-renowned quality on the southern tip of Africa”.
“If I’d been asked to be the tea lady here, I’d have done it enthusiastically,” she says.