Finding the Yin and the Yang

by: Patrick Cairns

Date: Mar 15, 2018

“We know that alpha generation doesn’t come in a straight line,” says Alida de Swardt, RMI Investment Managers’ new CEO. “If it was only a science, it would be a linear mathematical equation, but it’s a combination of both science and art.”


Finding this kind of balance across all aspects of the business is key for de Swardt who stepped into the position from 1 March after the departure of founding CEO Chris Meyer.


“Our affiliates are high-calibre dedicated investment professionals – that’s their true passion and a skill they’ve honed over many years,” de Swardt says. “This intense focus on investment excellence can often mean that the business side becomes the secondary priority. But in that lies the opportunity for us. We give them access to the benefits they would have if they were part of a big corporate, while they maintain their complete independence as a boutique manager.”


Having spent 16 years at RMB before joining RMI Investment Managers in 2016, de Swardt is steeped in the owner-manager, entrepreneurial culture of the group. This, is central to her approach.


“We want to breathe our well-tested group culture and ethos into our affiliates,” de Swardt says. “It’s not just about finding businesses that we believe have exceptional talent and potential, but those who are a natural cultural fit.”


The RMI Investment Managers model is founded on the principle of mutually beneficial relationships between the company and its affiliate managers.


“We don’t just want to be known for building the best businesses and focussing solely on generating profits,” de Swardt says. “We want to be known in the sphere of asset management for being the partner of choice, based on exactly the same qualities that our group was founded on. We are in it for the long run.”


Although de Swardt has been with RMI Investment Managers near its inception, she is not taking her relationship with the affiliate managers for granted. She has committed to spending the first few months in her new role engaging with them to reconfirm their goals and growth aspirations.


“With our affiliate portfolio now largely complete, we are entering our growth phase as a business, so I want to fully understand the expectations they now have from us and that our objectives are clearly aligned,” de Swardt says. “My goal is to further strengthen our trusted relationships with them and earn their respect, as I believe one can only successfully influence and challenge businesses once deep connections have been formed.”


“We recognise that our affiliates are not all in the same life stage of their business and we therefore endeavour to assist them where most appropriate and relevant,” she adds. “It is about finding a unique rhythm with each of them, rather than assuming a blanket approach will work.”


For de Swardt, this must be an ongoing process of learning.


“I think our model will evolve as we understand what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “We’ll keep on tweaking it through constant listening and consultation because we’re willing to adapt and try something different when necessary.”


This is an approach that she would like to see the affiliate managers adopt within the management of their own human resources as well.


“In asset management, your biggest asset is your talent,” says de Swardt. “It’s a people business. Yet I’m not always sure that we prioritise the importance of people skills coupled with technical capabilities.”


This is not just about specialist training in the technical aspects of their jobs, but appreciating the need for diversity and the development of softer skills.


“In business, people tend to employ individuals like themselves which can easily result in group thinking,” says de Swardt. “We should be mindfully seeking out diverse talent in terms of skills, experience, backgrounds and personalities to ensure we are constantly challenging our approach and thinking”.


“We need to be even more mindful of having this eclectic mix in smaller businesses,” she adds. “If you only have 15 people in your team, this risk is even more amplified.”


De Swardt herself recognises that as a woman in a very male-dominated industry she naturally brings a different perspective.


“With our business model mainly being a relationship one, I absolutely believe in the inherent female insight when it comes to working with people,” she says. “But it’s not about being soft and gentle. It’s about the yin and yang in driving results which I think comes more naturally for women”.


“There’s a lot of research that shows that diverse workforces achieve so much more,” de Swardt says. “It’s about having enough women, enough men, enough racial diversity, enough skills variety and enough left and right brain thinkers. It’s from this eclectic mix of people that true creativity gets unlocked.”


About the Author


Patrick Cairns

Financial Journalist, Moneyweb


Well-known journalist Patrick Cairns has worked in and around the financial media for over 15 years. He is one of the most respected commentators on South Africa’s unit trust and exchange-traded fund industries.