René Otto. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
René Otto. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?

Always leave something on the table for the other party. If you don’t, they will look for ways to get even afterwards. And, of course, don’t do bad deals. If you can’t realistically get the desired return, rather walk away.

What was your first job?

I started off as a public prosecutor.

How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?

It was around R800. I spent it on paying rent and the instalment on my car.

What’s the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?

"There is no security in life, only opportunity." I learnt it later in life and it made a huge difference in my career and my willingness to take calculated risks.

What are you reading at the moment?

Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I can strongly recommend it to anyone not scared to challenge the hard-wired ideas they grew up with.

How would you fix Eskom?

By ensuring I have the right people in my team and focusing on a purpose that inspires people, a vision that challenges them and a values-based culture that drives the right behaviour. I would change the culture from one where corruption and mediocrity thrive to one where integrity and superior performance reign.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t live with regrets. Life is a journey full of (sometimes painful) learning and growth opportunities.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?

I wanted to become a professional musician, but my dad said not going to university was not an option. He did allow me to choose what I wanted to study, though.

If you were president, what would you change, tomorrow?

I would cut the salaries and perks of ministers and senior public servants to bring back the "servant" in "public servant". And do away with cadre deployment.

What has been your worst purchase?

Buying Steinhoff shares, and then when the share price started collapsing, buying more at R20!

What is the one investment you wish you had made, or made earlier?

I wish I had invested in a retirement annuity earlier. I only invested when I finished my LLB in 1981. But I persisted with it, in the process benefiting from the eighth wonder of the world: compound interest.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Loyalty to a specific person is overrated. Doing the right thing is more important.

What would you go back and tell your younger self that would impress him?

As a child, I had unrealistic dreams of running in the 800m final at the Olympic Games. As a 60-year-old, I recently competed (in my age group) at the Ironman World Championship. My message to my younger self would be: "Never give up on your dreams as long as you are prepared to work hard for them."