Michael Jordaan describes himself as “a very ordinary guy who has been lucky to have been surrounded by great people at crucial times”.
Perhaps he is, but under his leadership FNB quickly became one of the most digitally savvy, innovative, accessible and relevant local banks of recent times.
Jordaan became the CEO of one of SA’s big four banks when he was just 36 – certainly not the mark of an ordinary person.
During his 10-year tenure, FNB was elected SA’s Strongest Brand by Brand Finance; SA’s Coolest Bank by The Sunday Times’s Generation Next Survey; SA’s Top Business Bank by Business Day and the biggest local financial institution on all major social media platforms.
The bank also consistently contributed solid returns to its holding company, FirstRand Group.
Life after the bank
But for Jordaan, FNB is history. These days, he says, he’s become more reticent about giving interviews.
“When you stop being CEO of a large company it is common to experience ego-withdrawal symptoms. In my case it was easy as I also no longer had to commute from Stellenbosch to Joburg every Sunday evening, as I had been doing for six years. Being with my family has completely compensated for the stuff I had to give up.”
A venture capitalist and wine enthusiast who says he “generally has pleasure in learning about things”, Jordaan is trying to live a more simple life and avoid the limelight even though, he explains, having a particular kind of public profile is useful in attracting deal-flow.
These days you’ll find Jordaan at Montegray House, which is in a tastefully appointed building nestled in the gentrified part of Stellenbosch, under old oaks and next to a chic wine bar called Bartinney Wine & Champagne Bar – a boutique wine outlet for the Jordaan family’s wine farm, which is also called Bartinney.
The story goes that in 2006 Jordaan had the opportunity to buy back the family’s 27-hectare farm, after it had been sold to an external buyer nine years earlier.
It is understood that he had paid a higher price than he’d hoped for in order to keep the farm in the family, but it was an emotional purchase that enabled Jordaan to make good on a legacy, and to pursue a dream of making great wine together with his wife Rose.
Standing on the pavement outside his Stellen-bosch office, Jordaan points to the Bartinney Wine & Champagne Bar, and declares: “See what I have to put up with! I love wine and have to try and avoid popping in when I walk past here in the evenings,” he laughs.
On leaving his public life, Jordaan wryly mentions something probability expert turned philosophical author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, once said: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
Jordaan muses that he’s in the fortunate position never to have tried heroin, adding that he also no longer needs to put on a suit to impress directors for board meetings to earn his keep. He is also trying to eat less carbs. “Two out of three ain’t bad,” he quips.
Atka Young, the venture capitalist’s “chief problem solver” at Montegray, says that Jordaan also frequently cycles 70km.
A new venture
Jordaan started Montegray a few months after his resignation from FNB, but deliberately chose to build the firm at a slow pace.
“Everyone advised – and they were correct – not to make any big decisions quickly,” he says.
Montegray Capital invests in start-ups that already have some market traction, but need capital for exponential growth.
“Small businesses with big ideas and great times are my passion,” Jordaan says. “Nothing improves the world as much as a successful new business.”
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the 10 December 2015 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.