On this edition of A Woman Belongs, we have a conversation with Peggy Sue Khumalo. Now former chief executive of Standard Bank wealth South Africa. Peggy Sue has an impressive career which spans from being crowned Miss South Africa, achieving an honour’s degree in economics and political science, and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Manchester, followed by a long-standing career as an investment banker who started her investment career with Investec and spent 17 years at the company.
She started as an analyst within the fixed income team with Investec United Kingdom. She then returned to South Africa and joined Investec corporate in institutional banking. In June 2011, she was appointed as a member of the general management forum exco for the Investec bank limited and in 2013 was appointed head of public sector and BEE financing for the group.
In this two-part conversation we share part one where we talk about her home and upbringing, her education, her purpose and her banking career.
O: So Peggy, you were raised-up by a single parent in KZN and in an interview with 702, you said your mom works as a domestic worker, and your first job was a domestic worker as well. You also attended boarding school in Pietermaritzburg, but you also mentioned that you lived with your mother on somebody else’s property.
From a young age, you’ve always had ambitions to become a leader, and, there’s something just amazing about coming from such humble beginnings, but aspiring for more, aspiring for leadership and gunning for it and coming from little working your way up, entering into spaces where others would find intimidating. It’s quite a brave journey. Where would you say that influence came from?
PS: Thank you so much. First of all, I think I’m still honoured Olwethu, to have this interview with you. I think, you know, for me, the humble beginnings in Northern, Kwa-Zulu Natal in a little town called Newcastle. I was born and bred on a farm, where my mum worked as a labourer or a maid back in the days, that’s what it was made reference to.
I think watching my mom go through a lot of hardship and struggle, really motivated me to say, look, as little as I was, there were a lot of things that were happening around me that didn’t look normal, didn’t feel normal, didn’t feel as though there was equality in terms of how we were all experiencing life. And so having experienced the harshness of a, you know, domestic environment in an apartheid South Africa way. You know, mum was working very long hours, there was no replication, in terms of appreciation, in terms of what she was doing, it was just in and out. You had to be there for very long hours at the end of the day, she was working for a bag of mini meals and also the fact that her family could live on that farm.
So I was growing up in these things that were shaping me as a little girl. I mean, I used to go and work with her in the kitchen as well. She’d tell a story, where I messed up more than cleaned, because as a little girl you were exploring obviously things in the kitchen and things that you were not accustomed to, because we were living in the back room of this massive, massive property.
And I must say that I think, fast-forward, and just as I was growing up, going to boarding school in Pietermaritzburg, and that for me was also a massive stepping stone into a very different world coming from a farm where you had no water, no electricity. All of a sudden you’re walking into a bigger city or town, and all of a sudden there’s a light switch and there’s a shower where you can actually literally jump in and shower, and all of this was just opening up my world to what was possible.
I was very excited and I must say perhaps boarding school was a big turning point in my life around just, ‘’oh my gosh,’’ there’s a bigger world out there, a bigger world where I see myself play a role where I see myself become quite a champion for change in my family, especially for my mom. So, after high school, Mamma, you know, picked me up and I joined her in the east of Johannesburg where she was working, or she had been working there as a domestic worker for over 10 years. I think, I just, every day I got up, I thought, wow, I saw this as a little girl, I’m coming back into it, but what is different, to now versus then? And I think what was different is that she had afforded me an opportunity to be educated.
I think that was what I leaned into, I was like with this very little, or very low level of education, which was matric, back then I can make a difference. I can shape a new life for me and her, and when I got Mrs Renee, who was her employer at the time. Obviously my mom was trying to negotiate a situation where she could pay for my studies, whilst I lived with her on the property and she was having none of this, you know. She turned around and she said, “look, if your daughter wants to live on the property, she has to work with you. So, you know, I’ve got quite a big home, and I’m sure you could do with an extra pair of hands.”
So that was the end of that conversation, you know, whether, and I remember mom asking me, if I had to pinpoint what it is that I’d love to study. I kind of, I suppose I had no idea in the sense that, you know, the conversations back with my grandmother on my maternal side were all about nursing and teaching. And those disciplines were not disciplines that I wanted to do, I felt that everyone was trying to make those choices for me. I didn’t expand my thinking beyond nursing and teaching, and so, in mom asking me this question and thinking, I don’t know, but anything that would empower me and further me, something that I would lean into.
I remember the employer talking about a secretarial course or something, you know, maybe I could do that and then become a secretary to her, because they had family owned businesses. So she was thinking of what role I could play, um, in the business that she was involved in. But, for two years, I did it for two years, working with my mom as a domestic worker. It was probably the most frustrating time of my life because I was a teenager. Like, I mean, I was in my teens, I finished school when I was 16, turning 17 that year in December. I was very frustrated, I was. I thought, wow. You know, my friends, you know, I was hearing great stories. Some of my friends who were getting scholarships to study mechanical engineering, some of them were going overseas to pursue, a diploma in teaching, which is phenomenal, and I was just very frustrated, and the two years for me was so long in my life, but I was so determined that this is not going to break me because it could have broken me.
I had these high hopes of what I wanted to do to change mom’s life, how I wanted to change my own life, and something like that can break you, cause you wake up every day and you’re very enclosed. You’re not in a community, you’re isolated, you live in a white suburb, but you black.
So those are the things that I was thinking about all the time. Like, you know, we have no community as my mom, we’re not known, we just number in a very big setup, but we just number being black people living in a white suburb. There’s danger and risk to that as well, so venturing outside of just that property was not something that I wanted to do, frequently because I knew what the risk, you know, I was putting myself into. So, I think the influence really was just, I always say that I feel my success, has mirrored the struggles, and hardship of my mom’s experiences being a domestic worker, being uneducated, not by choice being uneducated because the system rendered her to be a child labourer on a farm so that her family could live on that farm.
Through that, she obviously was not afforded the opportunity to go to school. I think also from a family tradition, Zulu family, it was around that whole tradition around a girl child, she would be the sacrifice person and her brothers were then given the opportunity to go and, you know, go to school. So, I always say that I think the influence really has come from my mom watching her persevere, and being very determined through it all, to afford this one and only child that God had blessed her with to get an education as basic as it was. I mean, I always say when I see my daughters at St Mary’s and coming from, my schools, the public schools that I went through that, you know, surely, you know, they did a great job and hopefully I haven’t turned out that bad, you know, because we are all products of, of public schooling and we gave it the best that we could.
So I would really pinpoint, mom’s influence on my life and it’s, it’s influencing in a very different way in that it was more the struggles, and the hardship that I saw her go through that just really propelled me to say, if there’s one thing I need to do, is to change this, not only for myself, but also for her. I was very determined to do that, and I think, when I finished the two years of domestic working, I told them I’m going to go find a job, and she looked at me, and she thought two years out of high school, you’ve never worked. You’ve never studied where you’re going to find a job? And I said, you know, mom, I’d rather go and pack groceries at a retail store, than continue working as a domestic worker.
So the risks that I talk about, of then having to venture out of this home and be, you know, walk through a white neighbourhood into, you know, the Springs town was a risk, because, you know, it was just, yeah. I, I mean, there’s,
O: You don’t know whether you’re going to come back…
PS: Exactly, exactly. Those certain incidents that took place that, you know, I just, wow. I was like,. You know, what was I thinking? What am I doing? And so I took that risk, I went around town, I looked for a job. I was turned down, obviously I had no experience, and there was this, I always say, you know, Matthew was a guardian angel because he had just come from exile in the US and he was starting up a business in the town of Springs.
He was running a sort of a boutique, hair salon, and I walked into the shop and he looked at me and he said, did you not read the sign? I think he had a sign on the door that like, they don’t, there’s no jobs available. I said to him, look, I know, but I’m looking for something, anything like I can even scrub the floors or anything, and, he said to me, “look, go away and I’ll think about it. Maybe come back next week.”
And I, and I was dead held on that, as like, okay, you see, I can come back next week. I’ll come back next week, and I came back the following week and he said to me, look, I think I have got an opening to be, you can assist the hairdressers, you know, you can wash the hair. I was like, my gosh, I’ve never washed hair in my life, the only hair I wash is mine obviously. And, you know, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation, cause my hair was as bushy as it is now. I just decided to wear my natural hair, and I thought, look, you know, and I started.
I think he gave me a stepping stone into a world that I never thought existed, and all of a sudden, as meeting people from eKasi from KwaThema, from eTsakane you know, they didn’t know who this person was. Like, even when I speak, sometimes they look at me and they think, okay, like, but who is she? like which community does she come from? And I, to explain, you know, I’m from KZN, my mom works, in the suburbs of Springs. So we lived there and, you know, it was a struggle. It was a real struggle, people just were not like connected to that. You know, they were like, okay, shame, , this is hard, but obviously the situation at the time, I mean, these were the early nineties before 94.
We hadn’t even had our first democratic election, so there was no change in this country. It was actually a very volatile time, and so I worked, I met people. You know, the person that I met was a gentleman who ran pageants in the town in Johannesburg, he offered me an opportunity to enter something called “Miss Ellerines.”I remember going back home, having this conversation, my mom was like, Nope. It’s not happening, we don’t know who they are, about modelling. She knew nothing about modelling. I mean, anything around modelling was just really not something that she understood. So every day I went to, you know, to work, this guy was so consistent. He was also a friend of Matthew, and I think that’s where the trust came in, because I thought, okay, I trust Matthew, you know, he’s been so kind to me, if this is his friends with means, you know, they’re authentic, they’re doing real things.
He would bring me out albums of pictures, of girls that he would show me that, you know, this one went on and did this, this one went on and did this. So eventually I gave in, and I said to my mom, I’m going for it. I know you’re not supportive, but I really pray that you would come around this, but I’m going for it. And I went for it and I, and I entered Miss Ellerines, which I won. I think the issue about that particular title is that it wasn’t about the fact that I won the title, It was the empowerment around it. The fact that I was able to win furniture, and in this little setup we had at the back of this massive property, all of a sudden mom had a television set.
We didn’t have that, all of a sudden she had a, you know, a small table and chairs, so that at least we can have our meals instead of sitting down, you know, so it was just, for me, it was, it’s always stands out as something that I really honour and appreciate, more than miss South Africa actually, because I think it, all of a sudden was, was now bringing back …
O: The humanity into who you are, ukuthu nam ndingumntu. (I am also a person/human being.
PS: Exactly. Exactly, and so, I always say like, it was one of the things that I will always treasure, you know, because it just, there was something about it, and the person who had to drive me to my mom’s employer was a white man, Mr. Uh, you know, Mr Van der Merwe you know, who owned this Ellerines in Springs. He told me he’s closing on Saturday afternoon. I was like, “no, but you’re going to go open and you’re going to take my, I want my prizes today, I can’t wait for Monday. You know, I want them today.” because for me, it was more about showing the evidence to my mom that, you know that I did good. I did good mama, I didn’t go, I wasn’t on the streets. I wasn’t, I just, I did good. So I guess the rest is history, right? As they say. I then ventured off to Johannesburg on my own. I got a flat in Berea, that I was renting. Mom was very nervous around this, getting out of Springs, which is a very small little town, which you didn’t really venture into, because you lived in the white suburbs. Now you are going to Johannesburg, it’s very cosmopolitan. What is going to happen to this little girl? And I remember living in this little flat, and all I could do was pray.
That’s what I did, I think I valued the principles mama taught me and instilled in me around faith. I mean, mama is a prayer warrior. I like if I’m the somebody who prays, which is why sometimes some of the things that have happened in life, I’m like, uh, God, can we have like a real conversation around this?
O: Because I mean, my mom prays, I pray. I was like, dude, why are you napping? Why are you napping?
PS: Exactly, But not now, *not on a Saturday. You needed to protect her. You know, I just, you know, I’ve had real conversations. So I think, you know, that’s the kind of, influence that I had, and as simple as it was, I think for me, it was so profound and so powerful. I value our parents so much, because I think they had so little, but they made the most of it and they didn’t have a self-entitlement around anything. They would go get us, they persevered, they made the most of any situation, you know, and my mama always reminded me when I, the rebellious side of me came out. Do you know the young side, where you are now telling her employer that, look, I think you’re treating my mom, and she’d be like, “‘eeeh, eeeh, yima’ (caution) where do you want us to go? Do you want us to be on the streets because there’s nowhere else to go.” You know? Um,.
O: I want to tap, I want to tap into that a little bit. You know, you mentioned that there was that little bit of a rebellious spirit and I mean, it’s in all of us as we get to that age. And those two years, between 16 and 18 as you’re working, you’re a domestic and you’re watching your mom struggle, and now you like, okay, I have to, I have to do this though.
I’d much rather be doing something else, but there must be some kind of values your mom instilled in you at such a young age that said, there’s a time for everything. There are certain things, like this does not, it’s not forever because the dream was in you, the aspiration was in you, but in that moment, you still put your head down. What values were those?
PS: I think it’s, you know, I, and I think it also has to do with the humble beginnings. I think humble beginnings mould you, in a sense, they teach you the true value of humanity, and the true value of Ubuntu. So, those Ubuntu values, around just respecting and respecting. Yes, you respect the person, but you also respect the situation that you’re in, and mum spoke a lot about respecting the moment, respecting the situation. So, respecting and hard work, because I saw her and she was putting in the hours and without flinching, without complaining.
So for her, it was like, if you want something, you have to work hard for it irrespective of what the circumstances are. So I think some of the values work around respecting others, showing up, you know, we talk about showing up and how well you show up.
I think COVID has taught us just how we needed to show up during an unprecedented crisis, and so the value of just showing up, and being authentic in that showing up, and commit yourself wholeheartedly, irrespective of the hardship, the pain, the way you see it, the lens you use in terms of that particular experience.
I think coming from a farm environment where even living with my paternal grandmother, it was hard. It was hard chores, you know, chores that you had to go and fetch water in a wheelbarrow from the river, you had to herd cattle. It didn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl, we were all grandchildren, we all had to play a role, and so I think some of those experiences, as harsh as they were for a young girl, you know, moulded me into actually appreciating and understanding that you don’t wake up today, and you become the CEO of a company, you actually have to put in all the hard work and earn your stripes.
As Mr. C. has taught me when I was at Investec, you need to earn your stripes. So earning that respect, as a domestic worker, I mean, I wanted to perfect everything, because I thought if there’s anything that I can take away from this experience, is to just to make sure that from a house working perspective, I know how to do it, and I do it so well. Even now, you know, I obviously do it in abundance actually, because everything needs to be in a certain way, but it’s the way, you know, my mum, her employer was as well. She wanted her things set up in a certain way, she wanted to, literally, if she walks in, and she does this, they mustn’t be dust anywhere. You’re like, “ah! dust comes anytime,” but she would tell you, “but they shouldn’t be dust,” you know, the follicles of dust fall all the time.
So, I think those are some of the values, and that’s why as a person, I am very passionate about the moral fibre that I think has been eroded in our society, around the values of Ubuntu. I think also COVID, I mean, I asked myself all the time, when you look at how organized, the Jewish communities have organized themselves, around making sure that they support and even Discovery, would they have a massive vaccination campaign, then you look at the Muslim community and how they’ve set up the drive-throughs because they all believe in the principles of, if you give back, you get more, right. You get more in abundance, you know what you’re so you get back and I’m thinking, we also grew up on those values. We also had those values that you need to take care of each other.
You need to stand up for each other, you need to, support. I mean, there was a time where you couldn’t really distinguish between your own set of parents, who are your real biological parents. There are values in every other family that was close to you, because everyone was uBaba (a father, father/figure), everyone was uMama (mother, mother figure), everyone was my uMalume (Uncle/aunt figure).
These days people, you call them Malume they take offense, you know, they, they don’t want to be called that, and I’m thinking, how do we re-engineer that? Even though times have moved on, even though times are different, because some of those uBuntu values, still matter, and they count a lot, especially when you’re going through a crisis like this.
O: Absolutely. I want to come to that, um, to that conversation around, the CEO, Stephen, the former Investec CEO, Steven Karshiff.
So you were offered a scholarship to go study economics, by former president Nelson Mandela, who picked up the phone and said, “Hey, Steven, I want you to give Peggy Sue a scholarship.” And you subsequently also earned a BA honours degree in economics and politics, political sciences, and a master’s degree in economics from the university of Manchester.
Prior to this, you were running a PR and communications company. So your path hasn’t been linear, you have literally, you’ve been working since then, since when that offer from somebody who’s kind of career path was, you know, not so dead straight, not so decided for her. You managed to hustle your way through life and to get what you wanted at every turn.
This guy says, “cool, I’ll sponsor you.” But you know, he sat you down and said, you have to choose between the two disciplines in banking, financial markets or economics, and you’d have to go back, and then you’d have to go back and work in his company.
What choice did you make then? and why that choice? Was that not a big challenge for you to be like, snap. I have always had to decide for myself what I want now. Somebody telling me that I have two choices?
PS: Yeah. So that was quite a, it was a turning moment. Another sort of defining turning moment because I thought, wow, to date, I’ve always kind of charted my own plot. I kind of defined what destiny would look like as far as I’m concerned, and all of a sudden there is this massive opportunity, and obviously I am so indebted and so honoured that Tata Madiba took that interest in me.
Actually I became a beneficiary of his legacy, because I don’t know if he didn’t actually take the opportunity to find me a scholarship, where I would be, or what path my life would have taken. I’m hoping that I have still landed on the right side of life. Yeah, so there’s this massive moment. There are so many odds against you. People are saying different things like, she won’t make it, you know, she comes from a rural schooling in Kwa-Zulu Natal, she’s going to an international university. She’s never been to university, in South Africa.
I mean, I had not been, you know, the only thing I managed to do was a diploma in PR and communication with Damelin, which I won during my Miss SA as a prize. So having that conversation with Tata Madiba, where he says, “okay, Mr. Karshiff is now going to be sponsoring your studies.”
It’s a bank, and Mr. Karshiff sat me down and said, “look, if you want to be, you know, if I sponsor you, yes, I’ll sponsor you. But if you need to, you know, study something, it’s got to be within, you know, banking and economics.” I’m like thinking, what if I want to do business studies? Cause that’s what I wanted to do, really empower myself from a business perspective. I really, this is something that I really wanted to do because, one of my childhood dreams was to be a lawyer.
I used to watch this program on SABC called the “uDeliwe.” I don’t know if you remember that drama, and I wanted to be Deliwe, because I thought, wow, she stands for justice, she is the voice of the people, she uses a legal mind, and I wanted that. I was like, oh my gosh, I told my grandmother, every day when I went to sleep, I’m going to be Deliwe one day, and she was like, yeah, okay whatever, you know. So I’m thinking, I missed that childhood dream. I didn’t become a lawyer, let me do business studies because you know, I’ve become a South Africa, I’ve done this PR thing.
I’ve met business leaders who were doing so well, one of the most iconic, black businesses that I met when I was in that space was, the guys who started Sasol, right. The Sasol Excel network. I was like, wow. So it’s possible for black people to own businesses and run businesses. That was obviously before I even got to know about, the legendary and phenomenal, uBab’u Maponya from Soweto. Who to just, you know, kind of league of places, soul, and may his soul rest in glory and power.
Those are the people that I met, like Maurice Radebe, Dominique. I said, wow, this is possible. They are running, and they actually contracted us to do their PR for them because they believed in us as well, as black females, cause I ran the business with Joanna Maralemela. So we were like, oh wow, this is phenomenal. So here comes a Jewish white man telling me, “no, no, no, no. If you’re going to study, these are the two disciplines. It’s either banking or economics.” or if I went and I was like, okay, you know what, I’m going to go do this, but when I do it, I need to do it well.
I must tell you, all the way there were many moments in that journey, where I doubted myself, when I called home, I was in tears, because first of all I was missing my mom and family and that was a big factor for me, cause I was all.
O: All the way in the UK!
PS: Yeah, foreign country on my own, didn’t know many people, didn’t have a network, nothing. I was just there on my own, the weather was so depressing for words, I mean it rained every day, it was cold, and you know we are very sunny in our mood, in everything. Like, I mean, this kind of weather is what really gets us off, as South Africans. All of a sudden you in this, you know, gloom and you can’t tell between night and day, you know. You go to sleep, it’s dark, you wake up in the morning it’s dark, and then it’s this thing that I need to get my head around.
I remember making an example to a journalist one time, and I said, in economics where they were trying to tell us about supply and demand, and how when the two meet each other, it’s equilibrium. I mean, I didn’t learn that at school, I didn’t learn economics at school, I did biology, geography, math. The basics that we all do when we go through schooling, schooling life, and so all of a sudden I have to make sense of all of this.
O: There’s so much we take for granted, how much language and just, that foundational understanding is to young minds, like to have to wrap around that at a later stage is a lot, there’s so many gaps that are unfulfilled.
PS: Absolutely, and so I just, you know, I found it so difficult. Again, yeah, comes my unbelievable mom and all she kept saying to me, “you know why you’re there, you’re going to make it, I believe in you, and if I believe in you, you’re going to make it.” For first year through it, then Steven says, I must work in the bank to get experience. Then I started working in the London, Investec. I was like the new kid on the block from an investment banking perspective, everyone was intrigued by the South African banker, with the Zebra as its icon. People couldn’t just tell who these guys are? What are they about? And so it was an exciting time, but from a recruitment perspective, obviously the belief was that they were going to get the best in the market.
So they were going into universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and yet here comes a black woman from South Africa. So having studied in the University of Manchester, Steven, I just have so much, I have a depth of love and respect for him, because as much as he supported and mentored, and ultimately sponsored me, he never gave anything to me on a silver platter. He always wanted me to push myself beyond what I could, you know, I was able to do.
So, when I had to interview, to get into the London office. He made me do that on my own, and he was like, “I don’t even want to know about it. I don’t want to know what is happening. If you want to be in asset management, you go for it, you do the interviews.” And I appreciate that so much because I think in a way, given my profile, given the fact that I was sponsored by Nelson Mandela, everyone could have just made it so much easier, but they just didn’t, you know, and I, and I have a lot of appreciation and I lean into that a lot.
Even in how I’m raising my daughters, I think about that, and I think, you know, if things got to be earned in life, you’ve got to respect, you know, what you want to go to be very gutsy and have grit and really be unapologetic. And I think that’s why in my career in banking, I’ve been unapologetic about what I want as the leader, and what needs to happen around me. So, yeah, I think, you know, it was just a moment where I needed to accept that, perhaps this is the purpose and plan that God has always had for my life, because now it’s what, 20 years in banking.
I hope that one day, when I look back and think of a legacy, that I’ve left in banking, you know, or that I ultimately live in a bank, cause I’m not leaving banking anytime soon, even though I’ve left Standard Bank. I’m not leaving, because I believe that there’s still so much that needs to be done, especially when it comes to the empowerment of black professionals generally, but also gender when it comes to empowering black African women, you know, Olwethu people talk about a seat at the table.
I think a seat at the table is great, but for me, yes, we can have a seat at the table, but it’s the voice, it’s about heeding and listening to that voice, and making sure that that voice is heard and respected, that it’s understood, because the other thing about African women, we’re always told, we don’t quite understand, you know. When you’re sitting in a boardroom around people, they don’t quite understand, but you might be saying it, not in the polished language that they will put it in, but you’re saying the same thing, but you just never understood.
So I think there’s still a lot to be done in that space, but you know what I think reflecting back on a decision that was not made by me and owned by me, but it was made by default because it was a scholarship. I also had to adhere to some of the T’s and C’s of the scholarship, I have no regrets. It’s probably been the best time of my life, because for the first time I was also given an opportunity to really look at banking through a lens of community.
What is it that I can do with this new found knowledge, to empower and be more inclusive in how we do banking in this country. To have conversations with my mom around stock markets, you know, we don’t have those conversations. One of the things that Steven and I used to fight a lot about was, that you would have young professionals come into the trading room, and when they are black, there’s nobody who’s taking a leap of faith in them and that they will fail.
They’ll choose the wrong stocks, and the book won’t grow, and the book will fall. But they will do it because they are smart, they are Cum Laude, and he said to me, “you know, Peggy Sue markets is not about that. It’s not about the fact that you can compare them to their peers, that they come from the same schools, or they come from the same university and that they’ve done much better. It’s instilled from a very young age.”
So when we have Chavers on a Friday, we have a six year old to a 75 year old grandpa sitting around the table, having conversations and grandpa /grandfather saying to the six year old and actually going to buy Pick ‘n Pay shares. I want to get out of my Shoprite shares, so this young boy or young girl is starting to understand the mechanism, and the mechanics around this at a very young age. We don’t have those conversations, we don’t have that privilege of having those conversations because our parents don’t know about stock markets.
I mean that, and so we had these fights, but I must say that moment was quite profound, when he started explaining it in that kind of analogy for me. I started leaning into that and saying, you know what, then we need to change that. We need to start creating those platforms and spaces, where young people are starting to talk about what does buying shares mean?
Should we do such education for our own employees? Because also across in a bank or in any corporate environment, you’ve got a cross section of people working. You’ve got, bomama nabo baba (the older/elder women), who would never have those conversations around shares, and when you start giving them B shares, it used to break my heart.
When they get B shares, they don’t understand, and then they sell it. They sell it because they need to fulfil whatever financial needs, but nobody was telling them, if you hold out on your shares, that the pay-out at the end will be bigger than when you just chipping into your share portfolio and selling out. So, I’ve had to play a role in that type of, you know, sort of championing and saying, I will champion the financial literacy and financial education to the broader society and broader community. So, I truly believe that, you know, as much as it wasn’t a decision that I owned and made, it was a purpose and a plan, by the divine that, you know, rules the universe, because for me, most fulfilling space that I’ve been in my time, in my entire life.
O: I mean, banking is also, especially private banking is predominantly white spaces. I’m sure when you stepped into this space, you mentioned that it was daunting, it was overwhelming. It was nothing like you’ve ever seen, and now it’s golf days, it’s horse races, it’s dinner dates, it’s both, you know, the boats days and it’s very white spaces.
Did you ever find yourself, or do you ever find yourself struggling with that feeling of being avid, as a black woman?
PS: I think I had to, I had to make a decision quite early in my career. When I started seeing the trends around, obviously, what makes you a successful banker, you know. What are the attributes to you being, you know, termed as a successful investment banker or what they call a deal maker, right. So the things that you’ve mentioned, the cost, you know, playing golf, having late night dinners, and this was even before I was a mother, I was single, I was fabulous, I was loving the space, but I think I had to make a decision. Yeah.
O: So you’re still fabulous just by the way.
PS: Thank you. Thank you so much, and so I had to make a decision for myself in that I didn’t want to be caught in this very materialistic way of living, because that had never been part of my footprint, you know. It has never been part of who I am, so when, you know, they said, let’s play golf and go and do lessons. I thought I’m not going to be instructed by my colleagues in the bank to do that. If it’s something that I ended up loving then great. The late night dinners, yes, we did that because, you know, you needed to obviously, talk to the decision makers around the deals that we were going to execute, but I was very true to who I am.
The values that mama instilled in me about also as a woman, as a young woman, how you look after yourself, how you need to manage yourself in different situations. Always got you as a person over and above everything else, and even if it comes to making money, it’s not about your soul. It should never be about your soul.
So as a black woman in banking, you would understand Olwethu, just some of the stuff that one experiences, you know, men thinking they can, get their way, because you know, you need their business kind of thing. So some of that, I needed to be very strong, very principled, and I was very grateful for that. But I think these, some of the things that happened, I just really had to make a very conscious decision, in terms of what do I want to associate with my brand equity?
Do I want to associate some of the stuff that goes on, and then sometimes becomes very ugly and murky, and you can’t really tell, is it business? Is it not business? And so I was very hard with myself, and did things that I wanted to do, and in fact, what I started doing was, I started creating experiences that I know us, as black people, those experiences, you know, bring the best out of us, but we also get enjoyment.
So instead of saying, you know, we’re going to do golf, my black clients don’t do golf, my female black clients in particular. So, what, what makes them get up in the morning and feel, what, if I had a day of this magnitude, of this kind, this would be great. So we started doing things like a spa day, you know, where women can go and have a dialogue talk and then maybe a spa after that that’s something relatable, right. And more increasingly, with the stressful jobs that people have, there was something that they leaned into. Then I started thinking, okay, fine, It’s also becoming quite a privileged experience. Let’s have a conversation, where you talk about women leadership. I started the first women leadership conference at Investec, and I ran it successfully for eight years.
Where you’re inviting different leaders across the spectrum, who could really share the experiences, to mentor up and coming young professionals within banking. I started making sure that on a Saturday, when it’s the Soweto Derby, let’s go experience that, but experience it our way. So we’ll hire our suppliers who will be black businesses, we’ll hire taxis from the taxi owners, and get into a quantum the way we will do it.
Those were some of the experiences that I thought were authentic and relatable to us, and if we need to go out for dinner, not really, but more lunch, let’s go to Soweto. Why should we go to Sandton? Let’s hire a quantum, we’ll make sure that our clients are safe, we’ll make sure we say, and let’s support black businesses in Soweto, and spend the afternoon. So those are some of the things that, you needed to think about, but I think when you know who you are and what really grounds you as a person, it becomes easier.
I used to say this to myself, and I still say to my mentees, don’t be taken up by the glamorous side of banking, the drinking, have a glass of wine, you meet a person for the first time. They like a glass of wine, don’t do that. You need to still hold your own, because after one or two glasses of wine, life can really degenerate.
First impressions are so important, and so I used to see them when they come into the CA program, you know, they hit play. So, come from WITS, they come from UCT and somebody will offer a glass of wine, and next thing, it’s two or three glasses of wine, and it’s like, Ooh, okay. How do you hold a conversation with these potential employers now, that are around you? So, those are some of the things that I just had to learn quickly.
Also, I think, you know, what banking taught me was that, as male and as white, as it’s been, was that I’m not going to fight that, you know, fight that I think it’s exhausting, you know, fighting and trying to fit in a box, and trying to do things the way people are doing things. I just thought, you know what, I’m not putting my head down, I’m going to learn as much as I can, I’m going to do things differently, and I’m going to put out the best version of myself into the Banking space.
I think when you really lean into who you are, and you put out the best version of yourself, true magic really happens. So, I saw the opportunity of a lack of diversity, a lack of gender equity, more as an opportunity than a barrier, because I was like, I don’t want to fight to fit into boxes, what I’m going to fight for is to do, you know, do my work the best. There must be areas of questions around what I’ve delivered, and you must understand with me as well, I think, you might, and I used to talk a lot about this, because she was just phenomenal. Not only is she intelligent, but also, you know, how, when she showed up, she really showed up. Right. I mean, I used to go like, oh my gosh.
Be at your best, and we used to talk about this and say, you know, sometimes we even have to overcome who we truly are first, because every day when I walked in, there was that barrier of, she was a beauty queen. So like, you know, is there anything beyond that? Even though your credentials, people were still putting your credentials under the spotlight and questioning. So, I had to overcome a lot of that, I overcame a lot of that.
If I could quickly share with you as I was in London, and working with these investment bankers from Merrill Lynch, obviously Merrill Lynch, the biggest investment bank in the city, and there was this courteous South African I’m offering tea, you know, like coffee, next thing. I mean, it just, it was incredible. Just the switch. Next thing I just became the permanent tea girl, you know, everyone was looking at me every time they wanted something to drink, and I walked around, I thought, what have I done to myself? And I thought that day forth, I will not under any circumstance offer anybody coffee or tea in a boardroom. I will not, or in a meeting room.
In fact, I became known for that by some of my colleagues, who would turn around and say, “if you want Peggy Sue is,” and I would be like everyone can make their own coffees. I mean, if you want coffee, you know where the coffee machine is, because I just thought, wow, it just changes the dynamic and how males, you know, kind of cast their eyes.
So even in the conversation that I was presenting a paper, it was like, ‘’okay, moving on.’’ So, it’s little things like that, that you’ve had actually become a disadvantage. So if you don’t, you know, you refuse to make coffee, it doesn’t make you any less because men refuse to do that all the time and.
O: Thank you for watching part one of this conversation, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when Part 2 is live. It promises to be even more insightful and extremely informative.
*Peggy-Sue and I connected over the memories we share with the late Makoena Mabusela-Leshabane. We reference her quite often in our conversation. May her soul rest peacefully.