BACKSTORY: Abel Sakhau, chief sustainability officer at Sanlam
This week the FM speaks to Sanlam’s chief sustainability officer, Abel Sakhau
What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?
Actively listen to the other party’s concerns and perspectives, and be transparent about your own. Maintaining a positive and respectful tone can also help build rapport and contribute to a more constructive negotiation process.
What was your first job?
Unit manager: air quality. In 2000 I worked for WSP Environmental and my role was to establish a new consultancy focusing on climate change and air quality.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
If I am not mistaken, it was between R20,000 and R25,000. It went towards buying a car and a house in Ennerdale. As a young person, I also spent a fair amount over weekends and on entertainment.
What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?
Start investing in the stock market very early in your working life. Have a long-term view on the returns.
If you could fix only one thing in South Africa, what would it be?
Introduce diverse subjects and reward learners who take vocational subjects. These courses will prepare them for careers based on practical skills, knowledge and training directly related to a particular job or industry. South Africa needs such skilled people to ensure we can kick-start sustainable economic growth and solve the high youth unemployment rate.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I love DIY and cooking Michelin-style cuisine.
What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?
Buying shares on the stock market based on noise without doing proper research. I lost money that I could not afford to lose at the time.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?
Buying a property that required renovation, and then selling it. When I sold the house I got extra joy because I realised that I could make money through my hobby.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently and why did you like it?
I changed jobs recently, and I went back to read The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma. I went from the mining industry to the financial sector, and even though I had the experience and the technical skills, the environment and culture were completely different.
What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Never doubt yourself and your worth because of the circumstances you find yourself in. My sister used to say: “We may be poor now and unable to afford the fashionable attire for you to fit in with your friends. But when you put on the clothes you have, co-ordinate the colours, make sure your shoes shine, and walk with confidence.”
What phrase or bit of jargon irks you most?
People who always remind you of their achievements to win a debate or sway a decision. They use statements like “I worked with so and so” and “In my extensive experience”. They don’t realise that the current situation may require a different approach.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change or do tomorrow?
Act with urgency, be firm and develop clear and unambiguous plans to address crime, youth unemployment and the quality of education in public schools.
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