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27four Investment Managers Aren’t Afraid Of The Big Boys

Entrepreneur spoke to founder Fatima Vawda about how she managed to build the company into a business with a turnover of R80 million in less than a decade.

GG van Rooyen

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Fatima-Vawda

Vital Stats

  • Player: Fatima Vawda
  • Company: 27four Investment Managers
  • Turnover: R80 million
  • Established: 2007
  • Visit: 27four.com

Key learnings

  • Build your brand and build your reputation. These really matter if you want to grow your business.
  • Don’t chase every opportunity. Diversification is risky. Think carefully about how you want to grow.
  • Service is key. Pay attention to the details. Be organised. Finish what you start.
  • Hire the right people, and then give them room to grow. Reward them handsomely.

The financial services sector can hardly be described as under-populated. In fact, it is a space dominated by some very prominent players, so starting up a business in the industry isn’t easy.

“Getting clients isn’t hard when you work for a big organisation,” says Vawda, who started out in a large corporate. “Brand counts for an awful lot.”

For Vawda, however, the prospect of sticking to the corporate track and making her way up the ladder didn’t appeal. She wanted to start her own thing.

Of course, this was a tremendous gamble. After 11 years in the industry, Vawda could have landed a safe and lucrative position within a large company. Instead, she founded 27four, rented office space in Rosebank and pushed all her savings into the business. It was a huge gamble.

Related: Sigma Capital Is Built On Not Settling For Less

But the gamble paid off. In less than a decade, 27four has grown to a company of more than R80 million in annual turnover and assets under discretionary management of a whopping R23 billion. How did it happen? Vawda credits the following:

1. Having a great reputation

“If you want to build a great business, you first need to work for great businesses,” says Vawda. “I worked hard for eleven years, gaining knowledge and building a reputation before striking out on my own.”

Moreover, working in an industry allows you to network and identify business opportunities before you even start your own company.

“You need to leverage your connections when building your business,” says Vawda. “I left the companies I worked for on good terms, which meant that I could go back and do business with them.”

In fact, Legae Capital, where Vawda worked prior to starting 27four, was eventually acquired by her company.

“You also need to put yourself out there,” says Vawda. “You need to position yourself as a thought leader. 27four is involved in some industry or community event virtually every week of the year. We spend a lot of time and money marketing the company, all with the aim of creating a brand that people recognise, respect and trust.”

27four has even entered into a relationship with Soweto TV, through which it sponsors a weekly investment show called Money Moves with 27four Investment Managers, which aims to improve financial literacy.

“We’re not afraid to take a stance and be seen as activist investors,” says Vawda. “Even our name is derived from the date of South Africa’s first free election. We want to play an active part in improving South Africa, and that goes a long way in defining who we are. It helps position our brand.”

Related: 5 Truths Women Need To Grow A Successful Business

2. Finding (and owning) a niche

“Even though there were already a lot of players in the industry, I believed there was a gap in the market for a smaller player. Financial services were concentrated in the hands of a few corporates who couldn’t really offer a personalised boutique service,” says Vawda.

“Moreover, I realised that there was very little transformation taking place within the financial services industry, so I thought there was an opportunity for a company that could help facilitate transformation.”

So, one of the first offerings from 27four was a black asset-manager incubator programme that provided large asset owners with a risk-managed solution that could assist in transformation while keeping risks low. It is an area in which 27four is still a leader today.

The company has grown significantly since inception, but its product offering has remained fairly simple.

“Growth doesn’t necessarily equal diversification. You just confuse the client by making your offerings too complex. It is tempting to chase every opportunity that comes your way, but you need to fight it. Our aim is to stay focused on what we’re good at. However, we also want to grow market share and improve our penetration,” says Vawda.

“If you want to scale your business, you need to be able to provide new clients with the same level of service you offered when you were just starting out, so our focus is on developing the processes and systems needed to roll our offerings out to more people. Reporting to five clients is not the same as reporting to 5 000.”

27four-Investment-Managers

3. Hiring (and rewarding) the right people

It goes without saying that, as a business grows, you need to take on employees who will be able to provide the same level of service to clients that you do personally. This isn’t always easy.

“We make it attractive to work here. We offer a market-related salary, as well as other rewards in the forms of equity and bonuses. Our employees also get to travel internationally quite a bit. It’s important that the team travel to global conferences. We aren’t making widgets. Our business is intellectual in nature, so being on top of the latest developments is important. We always need to expand our knowledge.”

27four aims to attract two kinds of people. “It’s crucial that you attract the right people. Not everyone wants to work in a smaller company. Some prefer the corporate path.

“We look for people who have had the same sort of path that I did — who started out in a corporate organisation where they gained knowledge and experience — but who are now looking for a smaller environment where it’s easier to take part in making strategic decisions. Then we also look for new people who are smart and educated, but who can join us at a young age and do some learning here.”

Importantly, Vawda actively aims to make the organisation as diverse as possible. “If you want to be relevant and truly understand your client, you need a team that reflects the diversity of the larger society. This is especially important in a melting pot such as South Africa. If you don’t transform and embrace the nature of the environment in which you operate, you will become irrelevant.”

Related: How Fashion Start-Up ToVch Built A Brand Presence With Only A Little Budget

4. Offering great service

It goes without saying that it’s important to offer good service, but it is worth pausing to consider what that actually means. Most companies claim to provide great service, but how many actually back up this claim with proper action?

“So much of so many businesses actually comes down to servicing clients,” says Vawda.

“It is the foundation of a lot of business. For me, this comes down to paying attention to the details. Many companies fail because they don’t get the basics right. You need to finish what you start and always be organised.

“Every day at 2pm, an email goes out to the whole company that simply asks: Have you connected all the dots? It reminds everyone to follow through and provide a great service at all times. Turnaround times need to be swift. Since the company started, we haven’t lost a single client, and we’re incredibly proud of that. It means that we offer a service we can be proud of.”

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.

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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?

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I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.

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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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