Edition: February/April 2018
Onto the world stage
Asisa’s top executive gets top recognition.
Leon Campher is a tonic guaranteed to enliven any conversation. The self-deprecating humour and wealth of anecdote, from years of experience in investment management, mix his generosity of spirit into an effervescent cocktail. As much as his companionship can be fun over a drink or two, so does it translate to earnest seriousness in the boardroom; in fact, several boardrooms.
Members of the Association of Savings & Investment SA would be amongst the first to appreciate Campher’s exceptional contribution as Asisa’s long-serving chief executive. More than this comes deserved recognition in his recent appointment to chairmanship of the International Investment Funds Association, the first from Africa in the association’s 30-year history.
IIFA comprises 41 domestic and regional associations of investment funds around the world. Together they represent some $45 trillion of assets under management. Headquartered in Toronto, it has seven technical committees that focus (like Asisa) on specific practices and standards to promote and improve the industry. It interacts closely with the International Organisation of Securities Commissions.
That Campher was asked to stand for election speaks to Asisa’s reputation. Will his appointment for a two-year term mean that he’ll have less time for Asisa? “No way,“ Campher promises: “My wife tells me to keep busy in doing my bit for the industry. She reminds me that she married me for better or for worse but not for lunch.“
Apart from Asisa, Campher serves as a non-executive on the boards of three JSE-listed companies (Brimstone Investments, Sun International and Equites Property Fund). He’s also a director of Business Unity SA.
Always looking to anticipate problems and seek solutions, Campher is a keen listener. The other key to his management style is focus. He learned it early in his career from an Old Mutual mentor: “He’d described me as a baboon in a mieliefield, taking a chomp from one mielie while checking to chomp from another.”
Reaching age 70 in February, this Grey College old boy and Matie graduate reckons on another four years at Asisa. There is planning for succession. Meanwhile, Campher carries on with all the dedication and enjoyment derived “from being able to put something back into the industry”, he says, “and from being able to make a difference for the country”.
It isn’t for the money. As a founder of the modern-day Coronation in 1993, he would have been able to live comfortably from his retirement in 2002. Actually, his financial independence – enabling him to tell anybody where to get off – was viewed as a positive in Asisa’s later formation.
The reshaping of Coro followed a dramatic breakaway of institutional fund managers from Nedbank-controlled Syfrets and UAL. But if there is a common thread, from Campher’s style then to the present, it’s assembling bright people into focused teams. He was a member of one during his 13 years in investments at Old Mutual, then again when he became chief executive of Syfrets Managed Assets.
It was in 2003, after a health scare, that he was called by friends proposing that a body for investment managers be established. They wanted him to run it. At the time there were separate bodies for the life offices, unit trusts and linked-investment service providers. Now came the body for investment managers as well.
“This was simply too many associations,” Campher recalls. “Each would have at least four board meetings a year. That meant 16 meetings, each attended by pretty much the same bosses who were discussing pretty much the same subjects at each meeting.” Also, each association was primarily product-drive. Strategic direction for the industry was absent.
Then, as Campher puts it, Asisa “happened” when Paul Hanratty of Old Mutual and Johan van Zyl of Sanlam insisted that the Life Offices Association be absorbed into an overarching association. Okay, Campher agreed, so long as its board was sufficiently powerful to address industry strategies and be involved with advocacy, leaving it for committees to handle technical matters.
So it came to pass. There were few similar associations in the world – Asisa gained from Australian experience – but still fewer that run such initiatives as an academy to meet learning needs for savings, a foundation to promote financial literacy and a fund for enterprise and supplier development. Or, just as well, to be represented in drafting and now helping to lead implementation of the Financial Sector Code.
“Through collaborative effort, we’ve been able to build the scale necessary for optimal impact,“ says Campher. Take a bow.