BACKSTORY: Kalim Rajab, Helen Suzman foundation chair
This week we profile the newly appointed chair of the Helen Suzman foundation
What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?
Follow the advice Atticus Finch gives to Jeb in To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really know someone until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” If you want to be able to close a complicated deal, it helps to understand where the other person is coming from and what motivates them.
What was your first job?
Working as an analyst at Accenture, hoping I wouldn’t be found out for how little I knew.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
It was R15,000. I’m sure I spent most of it on frivolous things, but I do remember setting aside R1,000 to open my first unit trust account.
What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?
You’re not as clever as you think. And that’s ok. Just be humble and curious.
If you could fix only one thing in SA, what would it be?
Gosh where to start? Probably the crime and increasing lawlessness affecting all strata of society.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I write in my spare time, mostly social histories. That’s not particularly interesting — what is slightly interesting is that what first inspired me to become a writer was a correspondence I entered into as a teenager, which I kept up for many years until his death, with one of John F Kennedy’s speechwriters! He encouraged me to read widely and to try to write.
What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?
Not listening to the investment advice beloved of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer. He once said to someone that the best approach to investing on the stock market was to use both your head and your backside — the head to decide which investments to make, and your backside to then sit down and be patient.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?
Probably buying my first overseas investment property. A lot of it was due to luck — the 2008 banking crisis allowed me to buy property at a time when the property market was depressed, and when the upturn occurred, I benefited.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past six months and why did you like it?
The biography of the playwright Robert Bolt by Adrian Turner. The best biographies get you right inside the head of the protagonist — but are also unafraid to highlight their contradictions. The best ones also make you feel as if you are slap bang in that milieu. This book was one of them.
What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
To paraphrase Shakespeare, the success of an idea lies not in the tongue of the teller but in the heart of the receiver. You might feel that your point of view is self-evident — but unless you can convince the other party of it, your idea will not take hold.
What phrase or bit of jargon irks you most?
“I cannot comment as the matter is sub judice.”
What is something you would go back and tell your younger self that would impress them?
That despite the initial evidence, I turned out to be not so bad a dad.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?
Appoint a capable police minister.
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