Start main page content

Skills, education and unity – not populism – is what South Africa needs right now

- Wits University

Investec CEO, Stephen Koseff, tells graduands that together, under the banner of a common purpose, there are no limits to what South Africa can achieve.

South Africans need to work together and find a new social pact that transcends ideologies and backgrounds and unite under a common goal to tackle the problems that we are facing today, and will be facing in the future.

This is the message that Stephen Koseff, CEO of Investec Bank, gave to the July 2017 Graduands of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, when he addressed them on Thursday.

Koseff, a Wits University Alumni, was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce degree at this graduation.

Speaking about the current challenges South Africa faces, Koseff said today’s students have a huge role to play.

“I urge you to understand that populism is never going to work for us. Education and developing skills are going to work for us. You guys have developed skills. You can help our society make a massive difference,” he said.
Koseff said South Africa is currently at a critical junction, but that, united, we can overcome our challenges.

“Together, under the banner of a common purpose, there are no limits to what South Africa can achieve,” he said.

“There is an urgent need for a new social pact, that transcends ideologies and backgrounds. We need to rebuild trust. Let’s not fall prey to the negative narratives that are designed to divert attention from the real issues. Instead, let’s rather reframe the challenges facing our country within the lens of shared values. We must unite under a common goal and tackle the problem with innovative thinking and bold and pragmatic leadership. We must agree, simultaneously, to grow and transform our economy.”

Referring to the current climate of corruption and distrust between politics, business and the society, Koseff said that he was worried about some players making business the scape-goat for all the ills of our society.

“Particularly slogans like “White Monopoly Capital”, “Fake News” and “alternate naratives”. They are actually used as a ruse and a distraction to enable rent-seeking and looting,” he said.

“Business is not the enemy, it is the key to creating jobs and enabling transformation. It is for this reason that business, labour and government must partner to create the right kind of growth, to achieve the desired outcomes.”

We need to create a deracialised, vibrant, diverse and globally competitive economy that enables all South Africans to have the opportunity to participate in the economy and earn a sustainable livelihood.

“Some will call this inclusive growth, others prefer the term “radical economic transformation” – not a term that I really like, but I attempted to redefine it, because this means different things to different people. Ultimately the task is to ensure “accelerated inclusive growth” – one that supports transformation and job creation. That is what I believe is necessary to uplift the majority of our people out of poverty.”

Koseff said that, as a society, we need to build on our successes.                                            

“We have a strong and vibrant democracy, a free media, disciplined macro-economic policy an independent judiciary and central bank (I hope, after yesterday’s statement), which has done an admirable job in keeping inflation in check … We need a vision well beyond 2017 and 2019 that allows us to build new skills to face current and future challenges.”


Stephen Koseff, one of three siblings, was born to his parents Ralph and Lulu Koseff on 23 July 1951. Stephen grew up and attended school in Benoni, in 1968 he matriculated from Benoni High School. He holds a BCom (1972), Postgraduate degree in Accountancy (1974) from Wits as well as a Higher Diploma in Business Data Processing.

He completed his Board examination with the then Public Accountants and Auditors Board (PAAB). After completing his articles in 1975 at Schwartz & Fine (which later became Arthur Anderson Inc), he qualified as a Chartered Accountant (SA). From 1976-1980, Stephen worked as a Professional Assistant at Alex Bailie Koseff and Wheeler, a company at which his father was a partner.

In 1980, Koseff took up employment at Investec and so began a journey that 35 years later still continues. From 1980 through to 1983, he served as the Chief Accounting Officer and as General Manager of Banking until 1985. He was also the general manager of Treasury and the Merchant Banking divisions. In 1988, he was promoted to Managing Director of Investec, a position he held for 8 years.

In 1996, Stephen was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Investec a position he still holds today. He has served the bank for thirty five years, a feat not achieved by many other business men in the modern business world. He is described as possessing an unparalleled speed for appreciating complexity, having the ability to cut to the quick of a problem and solve issues almost immediately. This has set him apart as a truly gifted banker an out of the ordinary thought leader. His passion is Investec and employees and colleagues describe his devotion to the business as inspirational. He has dedicated his life’s work to building and sustaining a global bank.

His current directorships include being the director of Investec Bank Limited, Investec Bank (UK) Limited, Investec Limited and Investec Plc. He has served on many prominent boards and associations and he is a Member of Financial Markets Advisory Board, Chairman of Merchant Bankers’ Association, and Chairman and member of the South African Banking Association. He is a former non-executive director of The Bidvest Group and a former Merchant Bankers Association representative on Johannesburg Stock Exchange Research Committee.

Koseff has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including being awarded the Jewish Businessman of the Year in 1990, and being voted as one of the Top 5 Businessmen for the Year 1992. He was awarded the Business Day Business Achievement Award in 1996 and 1997. In 2003, he won the ABSA Achievement Award for Listed Companies and in the same year was voted the Moneyweb CEO of the year. In 2004 and 2005 he was a finalist for the Moneyweb CEO of the year competition.

In 2006 Stephen received the GIBS Social Entrepreneurship award in the "benefactor" category” and in 2009 he received the Sunday Times Lifetime Achievers Award. In 2013, Stephen was the Southern Africa Master Entrepreneur Winner at the EY World Entrepreneur Awards.

Koseff is passionate about skills development, education and the right of every child to sound schooling; to this end he has engaged on multiple platforms to build, enhance and propel South Africa’s primary and secondary education environments. He dedicates his time to his children and grandchildren, visiting Australia often.

In recognition of his contributions to society it is befitting that the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg awards Stephen Koseff an honorary doctorate degree.