Leading the charge for women in financial services

Karin du Toit joined Old Mutual Alternative Investments (OMAI) in May 2010 as the Chief Operating Officer


Karin du Toit joined Old Mutual Alternative Investments (OMAI) in May 2010 as the Chief Operating Officer and is responsible for maintaining and improving the business’ operating capabilities and project managing major business initiatives such as product development and business planning
OMAI is the largest private alternative investment manager in Africa, with over US$4.8-billion (R58.8-billion) under management in private equity, impact funding and infrastructure assets.

Speaking from 18 years of operational, financial and project management experience in financial services, Karin discusses her personal career milestones as well as the opportunities and challenges for women in the industry.

Who is your role model?

I admire and respect a number of people who continuously strive to move the world forward. If I had to pick one, it would be Elon Musk due to his tenacity and passion for innovation. A little closer to home, I have a deep respect for Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the former Public Protector of South Africa. For me, she really encapsulates the essence of women in leadership: deeply principled, fair, compassionate, superlatively smart and having an almost old-world elegance. Adv. Madonsela is also a vocal advocate for the advancement of women and gender equality and has written a number of excellent books on this topic.

What have been some of the greatest milestones in your career/life to date?

I first cut my teeth in the industry by working in the back office (or the “backbone”) of an asset manager. This was incredibly difficult and often thankless work. But I learnt so much about the inner workings of the industry. During this time, I also furthered my studies. I never thought that it would one day lead to the strategic role I now have. Working on a number of small goals, each achieved over time, is my preferred way of moving forward in my career and in life. More recently, I became a mother and it surely is my greatest achievement thus far.

As a female leader, what has been your most important lesson learnt?

Don’t hire just for the sake of filling a position and make sure you hire the right person the first time. Effective leaders hire those who are going to help them succeed, not to fill a vacancy.

Are you seeing an improvement in the number of women in senior management/board positions in South Africa?

Progress in female representation at the top of South African businesses has been slow. Bain & Company’s 2017 report found that the percentage of women in senior leadership roles in South Africa has been relatively flat, with representation increasing slightly from 26% in 2004 to 28% in 2017.

However, these figures are on par with the rest of the African continent, where 29% of senior leadership roles are held by women and, indeed, are better than some developed countries, such as the UK (19%) and Australia (23%). In addition, there have been positive signs of a global shift on inclusion. Deloitte has reported in its 2017 study that the number of executives who cite inclusion as a top priority has risen by 32% since 2014. There is more to do but as leaders focus in on the business case for diversity and inclusion, I am optimistic that the dial will shift at a faster pace within organisations.

What advice would you give to women considering a career in the asset management industry?

The asset management industry is an analytical, detail-orientated and rather methodical world —all left-brain. You have to know this, understand this and be able to thrive in this type of environment. Secondly, you need to find a culture and an environment that aligns with your own values. One spends more time in the office than at home, so it is important that you enjoy the office and the people you work with every day. The industry is still dominated by males but we are seeing progress in this respect and I have equally experienced dynamic, exciting and well-balanced teams where your voice can be heard.

What more could be done to support women’s progression in this industry?

I believe that peer mentorship is incredibly important to ensure that employees feel supported and valued. Mentorship is particularly impactful for women and minority groups. Bain & Company’s 2017 report on female progression to senior leadership positions found that an open culture in which managers provide regular feedback is crucial for mid-career women, who are 20% more likely to feel uninspired by their work. Furthermore, men and women who receive this kind of support are 22% more likely to believe that they are more capable of advancing than their peers.

What are some of investment opportunities in Africa?

There are significant opportunities throughout the African continent, which are driven by underlying demographic shifts (such as the rise of the consumer class), Africa’s natural competitive advantages and significant ongoing supply-demand imbalances. The African Development Bank forecasts aggregate GDP growth across Africa at 4.1% in 2018. This economic growth is encouraging, reflecting Africa’s status as the world’s fastest-urbanising continent, with an average of 24 million additional people per annum projected to live in African cities by 2045.

Add the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement signed in March 2018 and the rising middle class, there is a clear growth opportunity. Infrastructure is standout for OMAI and the AfCFTA presents opportunities in logistics, roads, rail and ports. Africa is highly diverse, with very different economies, governments and resources, and with different levels of risks and returns. We believe the fundamentals of Africa will present continued growth opportunities across a broad range of countries and sectors for several more decades to come. This is a great time to be investing in Africa.

What effects have the recent political changes in South Africa had on the industry?

South Africa has been through a period of low growth but looking forward, confidence is lifting.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has made some key decisions the past few months, including several preferential trade agreements, and has reached financial close on a number of new renewable projects to which OMAI has contributed.

How can African asset managers deliver value to their investors?

OMAI has a long history of investing in Africa, having originated in 1970 as Old Mutual’s private equity arm, and these roots give us an unparalleled advantage in seeking out non-obvious investment opportunities and navigating the complexities of investing in Africa.To create superior and sustainable value in Africa for investors, partners and communities require a deeply embedded local presence (as well as a global network). OMAI has a team of 95 investment professionals and five offices in four African countries. At a time where Africa’s population and economies are growing, it is vital that asset managers are also committed to sustainable development across Africa. At OMAI, our investments make a tangible difference on the continent by contributing to infrastructure growth and meeting education and accommodation needs, creating a positive and lasting contribution to South Africa’s and Africa’s growth prospects.

Staff reporter

Karin Du Toit

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