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Stephen Koseff a true business icon

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Steven Koseff’s naming as the Absa Business Icon Award winner caused little surprise, but on receiving the award, there was a standing ovation for a man who embodies what it is to be a business giant.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Sep 06, 2018

The award pays tribute to a business stalwart, one who has weathered many storms, and emerged stronger. Although Koseff steps down as Investec Chief Executive in October 2018, he is the most deserving recipient of this coveted award.

“I’m receiving this award on behalf of a great organisation that was not founded by me,” said Koseff. “There are lots of people in the organisation who made a huge contribution. When building a business, you need to have people like this. [Finance and Risk Director] Glynn Burger, for example, has spent 38 years sweeping behind us, because we could be untidy in trying to do deals. You need people like him to keep you covered.”

Koseff said the trying times South Africa faces is an opportunity to discover its true strengths. “When we talk about the country, I remember the days when Finance Minister [Nhlanhla] Nene was fired, and I thought that was it. We fought quite hard to get a turnaround, and when bank shares dropped 25%, we feared it would happen again the next day, and thought that the country could be spinning into crisis. In fact, it taught us that it’s important for all of us to stand up, fight, and make a contribution.”

Investec’s own history is interwoven with South Africa’s challenges. “When you think about when Investec started in 1976, it was the year of the Soweto Riots,” said Koseff. “It became a bank in 1980, which was also a difficult period. We listed in 1986, and then experienced a crash in 1987.

“I’ve seen five financial crises, but for us, at the end of the day, there is a role to play. Yes, we walk around miserable as a community at this point in time, and we are under assault. However, we have a big role to play in this country. We are entrepreneurial, we can help to create jobs, and we can help make a contribution.”

In addition to the people with whom he has worked, Koseff said that there were more people to thank than reality would allow for. He emphasised the role played by his family and wife, Sheryl. He said: “I’ve had a lot of support at home. I’ve been married for 41 years, and my wife has been there all the way for me. She taught me to try to be a human being, and not fall in love with myself.”

Concluding on a motivational note, Koseff called on aspiring business leaders to make 2018 a year to remember. “Investec started in 1976,” he said. “Look at where it is today and what it has become. Those of you who haven’t started companies yet, get out there and start [them] this year! Start in 2018!”

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