BACKSTORY: Norton Rose Fulbright's Marelise van der Westhuizen
We question executive chair of Norton Rose Fulbright Marelise van der Westhuizen
What are you reading at the moment? What’s the one book everyone should read before they die?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, which explores the artistic and intellectual life of Czech society from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and three other Warsaw Pact countries and its aftermath. My favourites include The Little Prince and The Catcher in the Rye. Nadine Gordimer’s autobiography is an inspiring read.
Tell us about a hidden gem in SA that not many people know about.
I took a road trip with my daughters in December from Johannesburg to Cape Town. We travelled over three days. On the second day we passed Richmond, a sleepy little town in the Northern Cape. I decided to break for lunch at the Richmond Café. We had the most delicious, organic produce for lunch in a marvellous setting.
Which phrase or word do you overuse?
"I don’t want another meeting to discuss it. Let’s just get it done."
What’s the worst airport you’ve been in?
The one where your flight is delayed indefinitely.
What is your biggest indulgence?
The money I spend on Kindle books. I do share my Amazon account with my mother though, so two of us benefit.
What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?
My background is in commercial litigation. I therefore rarely do deals in the traditional sense of the word, but of course litigation often involves negotiations to achieve an overall resolution of a dispute. I strive to always leave the room with a friend at the negotiating table.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Work-life balance is perhaps not a virtue but something that is very difficult to achieve. It means different things to different people. I have chased it for as long as I have been in practice. My work-life balance came from an acceptance that I will sometimes have to be at the office when my family needs me and that I will often insist on being with my family when the office needs me. It remains a constant challenge of priorities.
What is the one investment that you wish you had made, or had made earlier?
In January this year I would have said buying Facebook shares.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Popeye. He is often depicted as having no manners and being uneducated, and yet he manages to solve the trickiest problems. I like Popeye for his endless attempts to win sassy Olive’s heart.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I spent a long time in Israel as a child. My father was posted there as an attaché. I started my schooling in the American International School in Herzliya Pituach, a district of Tel Aviv. The exposure to Hebrew at a young age gave me a love for languages which I pursued as a student and adult.
Which living person do you most admire?
There are many. Nelson Mandela is right up there, for his role in SA history and his commitment, influence and powerful leadership. Without straying into political preferences, I thought Barack Obama carried out his presidential duties with impressive candour, humbleness and dignity.
How do you deal with stress? What are your top tips in handling stress?
I imagine life as a toll booth attendant ...