Joining Investec early in his career was not only his ‘lucky break’; the years he spent in the vibrant, energetic, performance-driven environment of the bank moulded him for business, believes alumnus Wouter de Vos. He has since made his mark running the Atterbury Property Fund for five years before returning to the Real Estate Private Equity space to set up his own boutique real estate investment and advisory business, de Vos Capital. Now he is setting his sights on expanding this business in Europe. Read more about his career, his goals and other interests…
Q: Briefly summarise your career since graduating from UP, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I started my career at Allied Bank, which rolled into the ABSA Group. A friend of mine was a head hunter and asked me if I would be interested in going for an interview with a ‘new’ bank called Investec. If anyone ever asks me what my ‘lucky break’ was, I always say it was joining Investec. We basically started the Pretoria office, and I spent the next 15 years in an organisation that moulded me for business in a vibrant, energetic, performance-driven environment – and I enjoyed every minute of it! I relocated to Investec Cape Town and Stellenbosch in 2008 until I left in 2012 to start a small private equity business with a few friends.
Atterbury CEO, Louis van der Watt, approached me in 2014 to run the Atterbury Property Fund, which I did for five years until I decided to move back into the Real Estate Private Equity space. So, I am fortunate that I learnt and gained experience in a corporate, moved to a smaller company and now run my own business; with the ability and flexibility to balance all the other important elements in my life.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: We all know a degree opens doors. To have a great university’s credentials on your CV is invaluable! One of my biggest personal assets is my wide and extensive business network. While I was studying, I resided at the College House Residence, but I also spent a lot of my time at Radio Tuks, doing sport and participating in as many varsity activities as humanly possible! This is where the networks started. The decision makers in business are often old varsity connections.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: All my life I’ve regretted not studying further. I obtained my BCom and started working straight after the mandatory national service. I was really lucky that I got a break at Investec, because unless you are a highly qualified financial person, it is very difficult to get into the financial industry. As much as my career was relatively successful, I often think what it could have been had I become a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Financial Analyst or studied for a Master’s in Business Administration. My advice is not only to hit the studies hard while you can, but also to study what you love! In our days, career choices were often dictated by our parents or society. Who would have guessed that 20 years later some of the largest and most successful companies in the world are often run or founded by clever creative, artistic and entrepreneurial people instead of bankers, lawyers and accountants!
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: Company culture and values. This is the glue of the DNA and attracts talent. Talented people are what business is all about!
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?
A: I start my day with Business Day and a good cup of coffee. I read a lot of financial magazines and news on the go. Bloomberg is tops! I also subscribe to Flipboard on my iPad where news and good articles from around the world are consolidated and constantly refreshed.
I also enjoy reading a lot of biographies as well.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I’ve learned to approach life pragmatically. So if it is teeing off on the first hole, or to chase and close a good business deal, I love and live in the moment. I had a health scare in 2012 and events like this drastically impact your outlook on life and what really matters.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person - in any domain - who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: This is going to be such a cliché, but Elon Musk fascinates me. Not only are his products beneficial to social and environmental improvement; his ideas and dreams are literally reaching for the stars! If I ever get to meet him, I would like to understand his mind space. At what point do you believe that totally crazy idea that will cost billions of dollars, is a go? Is it cleverness or just plain boldness that paid off?
Q: Going forward, what would you still like to achieve?
A: I enjoy all aspects of my life at the moment. I am quite active, play lots of golf but also work hard. I have started doing quite a bit of business in Europe and would like to expand this into a meaningful business. My wife and I love travelling, and hopefully things will return to normal at some point so that we can continue exploring places that we have not seen before. So, looking ahead, I hope to maintain an equilibrium between the ‘want’ to do’s, ‘have’ to do’s and ‘can’ do’s!
Q: COVID-19 has turned the world upside down: In your opinion, to what extent is the pandemic likely to impact globalisation/international trade, relations?
A: COVID-19 was a reset in many ways. I personally believe when we ultimately look back, the only thing that will have changed, is the way we do business, not business itself.
There are other, more direct factors - such as poverty, wars and Donald Trump! - that will impact globalisation and trade relations negatively.