BLISSFUL NAIVETY


With the help of my best friend, I settled into Johannesburg. Also, Joburg is closer to Maritzburg so trips to ‘familiarity’ were more convenient than Cape Town. I have been living in Johannesburg now for fifteen years. I love it. I feel accepted and best of all, I have created my own tiny sense of home which I love.


My career flourished, I worked hard and received promotions almost annually. I travelled the world through work and gained exposure and experience beyond my imagination. My parents were proud of me – I was on top of my ‘hill’! With every year that passed since I 2003, my life became more unlike the familiarity in which I grew up. I had surpassed my parent’s expectations in terms of my earning potential and financial security, I travelled more than they had ever in their lives, I wasn’t married although older than they were when they two kids.


I was a fiercely independent young woman who was loving all that life was showing me.


At twenty-seven my Mother felt that its time that I settle down, get married and have kids.


Being the obedient daughter that I am, I got married and attempted to start a family. Alas, my first marriage was unsuccessful and in 2011 we were divorced. Fearing the backlash from my family, I never spoke to them about my marriage issues. I only informed my parents after I left my husband. I did this with purpose – I wanted to own my decisions. I was tired of my parents telling how to live my life. I wasn’t in Maritzburg anymore and I did not have to comply with Maritzburg rules! My divorce led me to crave acceptance as a woman. I felt unloved in my marriage and it hurt when I got unwanted attention from other men but not from my husband. I desperately wanted a child – a daughter and her name would be Chloe’.

I met Peter in 2011 and he showered me with the attention that I so desperately looked for in my failed marriage. Peter was and still is exceptionally intelligent and strong. Although I had just got divorced, I didn’t think that I needed to deal and heal. Besides, what does ‘deal and heal’ really mean?


Rather, I told myself that I just needed to get on with life! We started a life together shortly after we met. For the most part we were good. We had good and bad days, just like everyone else. We had great careers and enjoyed the process of starting a family when our Daughter eventually arrived in 2012. Peter proposed and I accepted although, I did not want to get married again. I thought that a perpetual state of commitment i.e. engaged, could work. Peter has a son from a previous relationship and things were moving too fast for me – a year after my divorce I became a mother to one, step-mother to another and a fiancée’ all in the absence of processing a failed marriage and maintaining the demands of my successful career. Although Peter and I were not married at the time, I viewed him as my husband. Considering my background, I knew exactly what the wives from the ‘hill’ aka the Ephesians woman would, should and must do. I was a committed mother and wife, just not married.


Fast forward two years …


Peter and I were happy to see the end of 2014. Anglo American had just undertaken a company restructure which compromised both of our positions. We had just purchased our family home and had two young children between us. If either one of us lost our jobs, it would compromise a lot of what we valued. I was grateful to have survived it, although truth is, I have no idea how I did. Of the four professionals doing what I did, I was the youngest, last in and most inexperienced both formally and informally. Peter applied for numerous positions and was unsuccessful. The stress of buying the house, moving and dealing with the restructure was tough and the first thing to take the blow of this stress was our relationship. We both wanted to believe that there is no way that things could get worse.


We started 2015 with the ambition to enjoy our new home, focus on our family and careers. We were hopeful. Neither of us expected 2015 to be the start of the worst phase of our lives.

It was sometime in the last quarter of 2015, Peter and I were sitting on the patio after work, exchanging stories of our day. It was a sunny and warm afternoon; the garden was immaculate and life felt good at that moment. Our Daughter was in the garden playing, Peter had some chilled tunes playing in the background. My phone rang, it was a former boss that I hadn’t heard from in ages. He told me that a friend of his owned an asset management company that had just been acquired by someone who intended to expand it to include management consulting. The new executive was looking for a CEO for the management consulting division and he recommended me. He asked if I was interested in exploring it further, I said of course!


As I put the phone down, I said to Peter, “Wow! You won’t believe what that was all about!”. I proceeded to explain the conversation to him and we were both very surprised. Shortly after, I received a call from Daniel Roy who referenced my conversation with my former boss. Daniel said that he could not share much of the details about the company with me, and that I should expect a call from a Mr Clive Angel who would explain further. Daniel said that he was way too low down on the food chain to share details with me. I found it weird and strange that there appeared to be this broken telephone effect of information, but perhaps this is how executive networks are formed? I don’t know. I have only ever worked for corporates so I had no idea what ‘normal’ was in this instance.


Once our Daughter went to bed that night and chatting to Peter, I did not find it odd that my former boss recommended me. He always thought a lot of me, and still does. I worked for him for about five years and it was great. My career grew and matured under his mentorship. I learned the skills that eventually lead me to become an expert in financial modelling and analytics which in turn, got me the job at Anglo American. Working for Anglo American was my ultimate career goal. I remember seeing the huge billboard at OR Tambo international airport which stated how many jobs it created and how its presence was building a better South Africa. I was always extremely passionate about the mining industry; the potential was enormous in this country and so many lives were enriched through it. I was always proud to be part of an industry that makes my Country great, and for that, I wanted to work for the best mining company in the world!


Prior to working for Anglo American, I was always in some form of consulting role. A service-based industry with the business model of selling time was difficult for me being a new mother. I had to work long hours which left me feeling guilty that I wasn’t giving enough attention to my Daughter. The Anglo-American opportunity was a miracle in my opinion. A miracle that I intended to make the most of. The skills that I had learned and perfected were highly recognised and valued. On numerous occasions I had exceeded expectations with my work which led me to believe that I would make a brilliant leader and would offer a different approach to solving complex problems.


I went to bed that night thinking that perhaps the stress of 2014 was over and that perhaps God was rewarding my hard work, diligence and perseverance with an opportunity to excel and grow. I had an open mind whilst being grateful for where I found myself. The next day I received a call from Mr Clive Angel’s office. The assistant was calling to arrange an introductory meeting within the next few days.


Finally having the name of someone who I assumed was at the right level on the food-chain to share pertinent information, I did what any self-respecting ‘interviewee’ would do before a meeting; I internet stalked him. I couldn’t find much about him nor the company that he apparently worked for – Integrated Capital. However, a LinkedIn search showed that we had a friend in common. I called the friend to see if he perhaps knew anything about this venture and hopefully find out more about Clive.


On the call, I was surprised that he had quite a lot to say about this venture. He and Clive appeared to have an existing relationship which appeared to be more personal than professional. He told me that he was initially approached with the CEO opportunity but turned it down as he was about to emigrate. He explained to me that the management consulting company was intended to work for State owned companies and other state departments. He was told that this ‘new’ entity had strong networks within the state. For all intents and purposes, it sounded like he was trying to warn me about something but he didn’t have any solid information that could back it up. He couldn’t provide me with enough information to know that this was a bad idea.


I resolved not jump to conclusions and at least ask Clive the right questions when we met in person. My friend was most complimentary about my ability to fulfil this role so I was eager to at least find out more. Until the meeting with Clive, I was grateful for where I found myself at Anglo and curious about this potential opportunity. In my mind, any opportunity that would result in me leaving Anglo had to be mind-blowing! Anglo was, after all, my utopia - paid well, the people that I worked with were awesome, I enjoyed what I did and I had just survived the restructure so clearly Anglo valued me. Any opportunity would have to exceed these attributes to make me leave.


Prior to my meeting with Clive I rationalised that I knew nothing about this potential opportunity so my position going into the meeting was to simply listen. May strategy was: based on what I am told, I will then ask the questions which I thought would be relevant.

I met Clive at the Integrated Capital offices in the ‘posh’ Melrose Arch precinct.


Working for a mining company, having a three-year-old Daughter and just recently having bought a house, my wardrobe was most undesirable for corporate fashion. I bought my clothes where I bought my food. Whilst shopping at Woolworths or Pick n Pay, I would think nothing of throwing an oversized dress into a trolley filled with fruit and bread. After almost falling once whilst carrying my daughter, I had stopped wearing heels for at least two years.


Arriving at the Integrated Capital offices in my R300 Woolworths dress, a cardigan from Pick ’n Pay and court shoes that were at least six years old and covered in scuff marks, I instantly felt insecure when I saw a few men walking through the office in immaculate suits, cufflinks, Hermes belts and Louis Vuitton notebooks. My heart sank instantly thinking that I was a fish out of water – how can I swim in a pond like this?


One of these men looked at me and asked if I was Bianca. I said yes, and he introduced himself to me as Mohammed. He was speaking to the receptionist on a very casual basis suggesting to me that he frequented the offices – he was enquiring about a person named Eric and Clive. Shortly afterwards, I was introduced to Eric Wood. A few moments later, I met Clive who explained that he would be joining us (myself, Eric and Mohammed) shortly. In the boardroom with Eric Wood and Mohamed Bobat, Eric introduced himself and Mohammed and explained why they were meeting me. They were looking for a CEO for a management consulting company. I was so confused – the broken telephone chain appeared to get more complex – who are you people, I wondered? And why am I meeting you? Who and where is Clive?


I have attended numerous interviews in my past. I expected a HR representative of the person most likely to be working with me, to meet me first and give me context of the position and company. This was my ‘normal’.


So far, this interview process was everything but that. I had come across four different names of people and each represented a different company – Daniel Roy was Trillian Asset Management; Clive was Integrated Capital and Eric and Mohammed were from Regiments whilst my friend told me that the ‘venture’ was Trillian Capital Partners. Confusion reigned in my head, but I told myself to just go with it for now… at some point it will become clear. I will ask the right questions, I hoped.


Mohammed stated that he only had a few minutes and needed to wrap this up quickly. I perceived him as arrogant when he instructed me to: “give me your elevator pitch …. You know a three-minute summary of who you are?”. As if I didn’t know what an elevator pitch is? Really, who still does this? I come from a corporate culture that is not dogmatic nor arrogant and based more on connection in a relationship as opposed to who can intimidate the most! Anyway, I towed the line and deliberately gave the longest, softest and most ambiguous elevator pitch, ever! I laughed on the inside when he said, “okay, that’s good”. Mohammed left after gracing me with his interest for a few minutes.


Eric proceeded to explain the Regiments ‘divorce’ and told me that Clive would explain the rest. Eric was one of three Directors and founders of Regiments Capital. He would be leaving Regiments to join Trillian. His exit from Regiments was from that point on, referred to as the ‘divorce’.


So far, the only resemblance of an interview was Mohammed’s arrogant instruction. The rest appeared as though Eric was selling me something. I know that in interviews, both the prospective employee and employer are effectively sussing each other out, but this situation appeared biased. It seemed that these guys wanted me to buy into something…as opposed to them buying into me.


It was a good thing that I hadn’t gone to the meeting with a list of predefined questions because as soon as Clive joined the meeting he spoke so much that there was no opportunity for me to speak. I didn’t know at the time that this would be the tone and modus operandi of our relationship moving forward; Clive speaks and I listen. To protect myself from any adverse reaction to this thread, I put the following to Clive: please show me where and when in our relationship as manager and employee, I could speak freely and you listened with intent to have my back (supporting me)?


Clive explained the propose structure of the company – Trillian Capital Partners as the holding company which has five subsidiary companies: Management Consulting, Financial Advisory, Securities, Asset Management and Properties. He explained that Integrated Capital were brought in by the shareholders of Trillian to establish the entity hence why he was meeting me. He explained the role of Regiments Capital in the process and described Trillian as ‘half pregnant’ in that although it is a start-up company, Trillian would receive human capital from the ‘Regiments divorce’ and hence, should not have to go through the same development cycle as a typical start-up company. Clive detailed the secured work with Eskom and produced minutes of an Eskom Board Tender committee meeting that detailed negotiations of the Turnaround Program. The first page of this document tabulated down payment contributions per workstream totalling R475 million. At that point, I did not understand the contracted scope of work nor the structure of the execution method, so I assumed that the R475million was the total value for the work. It did not occur to me that it was only the down payment schedule.


Clive further explained the concept of supplier-development partners – he had to because I had never ever worked with the state before and had no idea how this type of work was actually executed. I understood that McKinsey & Company were the leading service provider in that the contract was between Eskom and McKinsey. However, South Africa’s BEE legislation called for the development of black owned entities commonly referred to as supplier development partners. In this case the supplier development partner was Trillian. Clive was strong when he said that McKinsey would not have secured the work if it was not for Trillian’s relationships so the balance of power was in Trillian’s favour. And besides, Trillian was an unknown entity and work at our SoEs required a reputable global brand that would secure good service delivery.


Clive explained that my role would not be too difficult as the work was secured, support would be given via the supplier development relationship in that McKinsey would drive the delivery method, human capital was on the way (from Regiments) and cashflow was secured through the contract. All that I was required to do, was leverage the support and build a company so that it was self-sufficient and eventually stand-alone after three years. Clive explained that the existing contracts spanned the remaining tenure of the current dispensation i.e. with a change in the country’s leadership Trillian’s networks may not be as influential. Hence, cashflow and supporting contracts expired in 2019.


I left that meeting thinking that I had potentially landed with my arse in butter. Also, with the way that Clive explained things to me, I was confused about why our mutual friend came across so cautionary. I was conflicted when I was driving home – I got a sense that the three interviewers liked me, but how could they when they asked me nothing about my abilities, competencies and experience? In essence, I listened mostly, agreed to some salient points and at most, asked a few clarification questions. I had never worked with the state before, so the information about supplier development partners was a bit confusing.


With hindsight, I should have own then about the PFMA and I should have asked questions … but to not be too hard on myself, how would I possibly know this legislation? Never before in my life had I worked with the State.


I left the meeting thinking that something didn’t appear to add up. It seemed almost too easy. This entire ‘interview’ seemed too easy. However, the opportunity to make a difference at Eskom and work alongside the almighty McKinsey was appealing. I thought that I would learn a lot and I was a bit excited of what it could be.


Clive gave me the Eskom pack to read through and said that he would be in contact. A few days later, I received a call from Clive saying that Eric was happy with me and that I now needed to meet Trillian’s main shareholder i.e. ‘the boss’. At our second meeting, we would discuss any other questions that I may have.


The following week, a meeting was arranged for me to meet Salim Essa who owned 60% of Trillian. I met him at his office in Melrose Arch – just a few doors away from the Integrated Capital offices. Prior to meeting Salim, Clive asked for my CV which I sent through. When I met Salim, it was more of the same; I listened and he spoke. Salim particularly spent time explaining the value proposition at Eskom i.e. the SoE needed support to stop load shedding and become more efficient. This program was intended to turn Eskom into a State-owned enterprise that could compete with those of some first world countries. He proceeded to explain that he too had a management consulting background and he told me why my experience in mining was most suited for this position … really, I thought? He was telling me why I was best suited for this position based on Clive, Eric and Mohammed’s feedback and whatever I had detailed in my CV? I thought, wow, okay, this is weird. I felt that I was good at my job, but this was crazy. Towards the end of the meeting, Salim asked me to tell him more about myself; my upbringing etc. I have no idea why, but I launched into this soliloquy of what a good family I come from and how strong my values are.


Leaving the meeting I felt embarrassed that I spoke about emotive things as opposed to staying focussed on competencies and professional attributes. Up to today, I have no idea why I stressed my value system so much. In hindsight, I am glad that I did. From the beginning until now, I have been consistent to what really matters; my integrity. ‘Familiarity’. When I eventually resigned, I hoped that it was clear that there was no going back from my-side.


After meeting Salim, Clive and I discussed the scope of work and he iterated what he had said in the previous meeting; McKinsey’s role, human capital transfer and the security of cashflow for the business. I enquired about the four other subsidiaries which he briefly described in terms of leadership and scope of work. It was clear that I was Integrated Capital’s person. Daniel Roy was going to be the CEO of the Asset Management subsidiary in that Salim had purchased Daniel’s company because it had all the licences etc to start this venture. And besides, it was Daniel’s business so it made sense that he continued to run it. CEOs for the Financial Advisory, Securities and Property subsidiaries would be from Regiments. The management consulting subsidiary was intended be headed by Mohammed Bobat, but ‘the boss’ had other plans for him so the position was vacant. I was the only person entering this venture, effectively from the outside. I had no prior relationship with Regiments, the original Trillian nor Salim prior to these recent meetings.


I asked Clive how it was that Trillian was afforded the opportunity to work on this program i.e. there were many consulting companies that would love the opportunity to be part of such a transformation. Clive told me that opportunities such as these were rare because availability is limited to relationships. Trillian was fortunate to have a shareholder who had such relationships; relationships that ‘opened the taps’.


For a few days after meeting Salim I thought about what Clive had said and I didn’t know what to make of it. When I spoke to Peter about it, we both acknowledged that we didn’t know how businesses worked in these instances – we were both aware that relationships are crucial in making a business a success although we had no idea how business with the state worked. We both could not comprehend cashflows for a start-up consulting company of R475million in the first year. Accepting my own ignorance, I assumed that this is simply how things are done. At the time, I did not think that there was anything grossly misplaced in saying that our shareholder had relationships which opened the taps. Surely a shareholder is invested in making the company a success and thus will leverage any and all opportunities that will favour the business? It seemed plausible.


I spoke to my friend again. In light of the information that Clive had shared with me, I questioned his initial cautionary approach. He said that he misunderstood and in light of what I now knew, he encouraged me to grab the opportunity if it was presented to me. However, he strongly iterated that he knows that I am not someone who takes bullshit. He insisted that I listen to my gut and should I smell the slightest whiff of bullshit, I should run for the hills. I laughed at him and said of course.


A week or two after meeting Salim, Clive called to tell me that they would like to make me an offer.


Whilst waiting for the offer from Clive, Peter and I discussed money. We bought our house on the basis of a joint income and we both agreed on a standard of living that we contributed to jointly. Working for a company like Anglo American was very beneficial - there were significant employer contributions towards our pensions and medical aid. We discussed the likelihood and possible impact of losing these benefits by moving to a start-up. We also discussed our reliance on bonuses – we bought the house knowing that our bonuses would be used to reduce the debt on our home loan and pay for school fees. If I left Anglo American before March 2016 I would forfeit my vesting share options and annual bonus. At the time, it was November 2015. So, to ensure that I could continue with my contribution towards my family and household, I knew exactly what my minimum compensation would have to be.


Eventually I received the offer from Clive. It was roughly a 10% increase on my basic salary from Anglo American which excluded all the employer contributions. In short, I would be worse off financially if I joined Trillian. I was terribly disappointed when I received the offer. I was so excited to be given the opportunity to run in this race, the idea of working with Eskom to help it become a world class organisation was amazing! It resonated with the passion that I had for the mining industry if not more i.e. working directly with an SoE to make the country a better place. I felt torn. I wanted to work where I made a difference to South Africa although I had to financially support my family.


After a few days, I decided that I would approach Clive with my situation. I detailed the financial loss that I would experience if I accepted the offer. I explained that his view of a 10% increase was in fact a 7% decrease in my salary should I keep all things equal like pension fund contributions and medical aid provision. I tabled a few options that ranged from a salary increase to a sign-on bonus. Clive asked to meet with me to discuss further. At that meeting, I felt bullied. Clive said that ‘they’ made a mistake with me because I couldn’t see the bigger picture and clearly, I did not believe in the opportunity. I questioned equity and share options – this was normal for me. For the past five years of my career, I have always had profit share options or equity options. Clive said that the leadership (the way he said it made it quite clear that I was excluded from this club) were still discussing incentive structures and they need people that see and believe in the opportunity. I was not displaying these, he said. He said that clearly, I was not entrepreneurial enough. Clive also said that I had a nerve to discuss incentives when I had not even proven that I had ‘skin in the game’. Clive made it seem as though it as just about money to me. It wasn’t! I had a family and personal responsibilities that I had to look after.


In the car on the way home I called Peter and I was broken. Clive was so condescending and perhaps true in some instances. It felt like he brought a canon to a fist fight! I never claimed to have an entrepreneurial spirit i.e. in none of the ‘interviews’ was I questioned on this topic. On the contrary, all that I had to do was learn from McKinsey and build the Trillian competence so that it would be a standalone company in three years. I was not expected to sell and find work and tightly manage a cashflow – the typical struggles that most start-ups have to prioritise.


What was clear, was that I had a very tough choice to make. Peter and I discussed the issue and we agreed that I should take the leap and go for it. We both agreed that I should prove my worth and then discuss finances with Clive. I felt that three months would be good enough. I would demonstrate my ability and worth in three months and then demand to know what the financial position was. I had to; I have a family to support. My financial baseline was clear for these negotiations in that I wanted to at least wanted to recoup my loss if I left Anglo American and supported this venture.


I know that when you start a new job it’s from scratch and you have to prove your worth. You don’t start a new position from the same base that you exit your previous job. I know this. But Clive’s words stung and were burnt in my mind – “I did not believe in the opportunity”; “they made a mistake”; “I was not entrepreneurial enough”. For the past five years in my career, I have received feedback of how good I was and what great work I compile. In fact, I had never received such criticism before in my life! He was wrong and I was going to prove it to him…

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