Mention the word ‘Rothschild’, and images of wealth and power, vested in a centuries-old European banking family dynasty, come to mind.
Today, Rothschild & Co is one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory groups, employing 3 400 people in 40 countries.
Heading the company’s South African support functions is young chartered accountant Thevendrie Brewer, the chief operating officer of Rothschild Global Advisory in South Africa.
She is also the deputy chair of the Netcare healthcare group.
Brewer has a reputation for fiercely focusing on the job at hand and, for a full hour, she devotes herself to an interview that’s punctuated by peals of laughter and candid insights into the balancing act that comes with combining finance and family.
“There are only 30 people working in the South African business of Rothschild, yet we are pretty well known in the group for punching above our weight,” says Brewer.
“We are top of the league tables in South Africa from an advisory perspective.
"What differentiates us from the balance sheet banks is our ability to offer independent, expert and impartial advice, coupled with a deep understanding of the local environment,” she adds.
LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Business tip: Do what you enjoy – something that fulfils you, irrespective of the pay or the title.
Mentor: Rothschild CEO Martin Kingston, who has always supported and challenged me.
Inspiration: My parents, who always strived to learn more and taught me to do the same.
Favourite book: I am currently reading When Breath Becomes Air by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi.
Wow! moment: Becoming deputy chair of Netcare last year, at the age of 44.
Life lesson: Living with grace and gratitude, but always with purpose.
Her leadership role at Rothschild, which consumes 75% of her working week, involves managing business operations that range from legal and financial issues to infrastructure and human resources.
A great deal of her time is spent on developing strategies for clients.
At the moment, a top mining house in the country is one of Rothchild’s clients, “so we’re developing a strategy around the Mining Charter in terms of its position in it and how the company communicates that position”, says Brewer.
Such advice requires a huge amount of background information about South Africa’s economic, political and social situation.
Brewer’s job is to read intensively, follow the news and interact with knowledgeable people in all sectors that will help Rothschild advise its clients.
Ahead of the ANC’s policy conference last month, she was tasked with studying all of the party’s policy documents as a client wanted her to explain the implications of the documents.
“We feel that the positions taken on land reform and the Mining Charter will be critical to the political and economic landscape going forward,” says Brewer.
Rothschild advised Walmart when it decided to invest here by explaining, among other things, the regulatory environment and BEE compliance rules.
The rest of Brewer’s working week is taken up by Netcare, where she chairs the audit committee and sits on the board as its deputy chair.
Brewer says she is fortunate to work at Netcare alongside chair Meyer Kahn, as well as with Rothschild CEO Martin Kingston.
She worked with Kingston at Deutsche Bank in 2000 and moved to Rothschild at his request in 2008, and he has continued to mentor and support her.
“I’d not be who I am today or achieved what I have from a work perspective without him,” she says.
But the pressure after her two sons arrived – she’s a dedicated, hands-on mother – became so intense that she resigned and later accepted the position of nonexecutive director on the Netcare board.
“Martin invited me back to Rothschild in 2012 by offering me an eight-hour week – and look at me now,” she chuckles.
Durban-born Brewer was raised by “university-educated parents who gave me the same opportunities as they gave my older brother.
They let me make choices, which was culturally unusual at the time.”
It’s no wonder the chief operating officer doesn’t like the term “previously disadvantaged”, as she says she was given “every possible opportunity”.
Brewer is able to manage her hectic work schedule “because my husband Grant is so supportive. He knows that so much of my identity is based on my work.”
She describes managing multifaceted roles as “changing gears all day long. I start by getting the boys [eight and 11] up, their lunch boxes made and then it is off to school.
"Then I put in a six- to eight-hour working day. I collect our sons from school several times a week and spend the afternoons with them. I sometimes read while cooking and then work some more once our sons are in bed.”
She relaxes by going to gym four times a week and playing squash with her family.
Fancourt in George, where the family walks, swims and cycles, “but does not play golf”, is a favourite place for holidays, as is Mauritius.
Brewer ends our interview by emphasising how critical entrepreneurship is to growing our economy.
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