Stephen Cranston Writer & columnist

I always imagined that shareholder activists would have the personality of rottweilers or, perhaps, of highly strung Irish wolfhounds. So I was surprised at the Liberty AGM to see that role played by Sidney Place, the world traveller and organ player, who is more like a slightly bad-tempered cat. Place rose through the ranks of the old Liberty Asset Management in the 1990s, so he remembers the glory days of the group — and the unbelievable publicity generated by its founder and chair, Donald Gordon. Place admitted to me that it was hard to know how well the group was doing as the results were extremely opaque. But Liberty enjoyed a high rating not least because it owned international property and insurance assets at a time when exchange controls made things extremely difficult. And it controlled big chunks of the SA economy through the old SA Breweries, Standard Bank and Gold Fields. So analysts did not pay much attention to the life insurance business itself.Now that Liberty has sh...

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