Twenty years ago, on Monday November 30 1998, Sanlam’s debut on the JSE was treated as a dress rehearsal for a much larger one to follow in July 1999: that of Old Mutual, then the most powerful life and investment business in Africa. At the time, you’d have given long odds to anyone who believed that Sanlam would add more value than the Big Green over the next 20 years and prove to be a better investment, into the bargain. Yet this is exactly what happened. There was no clue of this when Sanlam listed on the JSE, creating 2-million new investors overnight as its policyholders were also given free shares. At the atrium in Sanlam’s head office in Bellville, trapeze artists flitted about on high wires, while its staff drank champagne. "I don’t think there has been a demand for it," said Investec insurance analyst Andrew McNulty at the time. And yet Sanlam, which had a market value of just R15.7bn on that Monday, is now worth more than 10 times that, at R172bn. Back in 1998, you’d also ...

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