In the summer of 1987, a young black man walked into the offices of Munich Re in Harare, Zimbabwe to apply for a job. The name of the 30-year old applicant: John “Junior” Ngulube.
In a society that very much mirrored the apartheid policies of South Africa at the time, very few companies enjoyed a “mixed” work force. Ngulube recalls: “I started looking at job prospects from the perspectiveof: where could I get a meaningful job in a great firm in a country that was divided along racial lines?” And Munich Re was that company, the exception. “The fact that Munich Re was visionary – being the only major financial services with a racially-diversemanagement and staff at the time – made it that much more attractive to me”, explains Ngulube, who was hired on the spot.
From agronomist to ceo of Munich Re of Africa
When Junior joined the company, he wasn’t really sure where it would take him. Munich Re had been looking for an agronomist in their Harare branch. The position gave him a chance to test the Agriculture degreethat he received at the University of Zimbabwe. So Ngulube joined to develop crop insurance portfolios within the company – while still harboring ideas of entering farming. Success after success changed his mind. As he explains: “The nature of our businessis sudden and unforeseen, and that’s how I ended up in the industry.”
Between 1992 and 2003, Ngulube held various management positions, having responsibility for miscellaneous classes of insurances and later for Human Resources and Strategic Planning. As Deputy General Managerof the Non-Life International Division he was responsible for the Sub Saharan Africa portfolio. In 1999 he became the Deputy General Manager of Munich Re of Africa and a Member of Executive Management in 2003. By 2007, with over twenty years experience at MunichRe, a wealth of knowledge, contacts, and a stellar reputation among clients; he became the obvious choice to succeed Munich Re of Africa’s CEO Andreas Kleiner – and the vote for his appointment in October of that year was unanimous. In 2009, Junior was namedas one of the “World’s Smartest 1000 CEO’s” in Andrew Davidson’s book that profile leaders, “From safe hands to young turks, risk takers to innovators“.
Vision comes with the job
Junior is well-suited for his role, as he has a personal vision that very much mirrors the company’s: to help South Africa and the continent reach its economic development objectives, using reinsurance as afacilitator in these endeavors. The first footprint on the continent goes back to 1964, when the company negotiated its first contract with a company called African Alliance in Nigeria. Since then, the company has been committed to the continent; and takesit role as a business enabler very seriously. Junior stresses: “We see our role as partnering with Africa in its development; and to us it’s crystal clearly what is happening in the region. Our vision is to play our part in a vocal, overt manner.
We want to be seen as the development partner for Africa. We have the knowledge, we have the capacity – it’s just a matter of deploying it successfully”.
Turning visions into reality – “Not if, but How”
This year’s World Cup in South Africa has provided plenty of opportunity for Munich Re to support local infrastructure projects. First and foremost is the Gautrain fast-speed train link – the first of its typeon the continent – connecting Johannesburg to its airport, its city center, and Pretoria. The project, which began in 2006, has construction insurance totaling over €1.4 billion, in which Munich Re is the lead reinsurer. Munich Re’s expertise, however, goesabove-and-beyond just reinsurance capacity: Munich Re engineers work very closely from a risk management point of view with the Gautrain technical, construction, and engineering staff.
Stadium construction is another example: the €300 million renovation of the 94,000 seat Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg – the largest in Africa (where the opening and final matches will be played) also enjoyscoverage by Munich Re. Munich Re is also providing contingency covers to FIFA for the event itself. From the groundbreaking of the new rail link to the last whistle being blown at the World Cup final, Munich Re is involved.
For the continent-at-large, Ngulube believes the next 15-20 years will be the most promising for both individual countries as well the reinsurance market itself. “Whether you are talking about electricity generationor roads, harbors, ports, pipelines; there’s a lot happening”, Ngulube says. For instance, Munich Re is involved of South Africa’s electricity supply utility (Eskom), which plans a solar energy project in the northern part of the country. The project couldadd up to 5,000 MW of grid-connected solar to South Africa's energy mix.
Projects outside of South Africa where Munich Re is involved as leading reinsurer. Examples are renewable energy projects in Ethiopia such as the Gibe III dam, which will be the largest hydropower plant in Africaand the “Ashegoda Wind Farm Project”. Ngulube: “This is part and parcel to Munich Re’s philosophy to help support renewable energies wherever they are being developed; as well our core belief that we will endeavor to find the proper solutions for our clients,no matter how complex or difficult the challenge.”
Passion as the key to success
Exciting times for South Africa, Munich Re and Junior Ngulube. What makes him tick? As the father of three, Junior’s biggest passion is, not surprisingly, family. His work at Munich Re and his zest for sportsare not too far behind.
He sees a connection between the three: “The kids help keep my feet on the ground because I can see the effect of being a good role model has on them. This translates to my employees as well – here I must alsolead by example.” As for his passion football (soccer), does he see any similarities to reinsurance? “For me, football, like reinsurance, is a game of passion, strategy, and skills. And just like football, it’s the end result that matters”.
A lot has happened in the last 20 years in South Africa - and more can be expected to come in the next twenty. For starters: soon the first match whistle will blow as the country hosts the World Cup; and theentire nation roots for the “Bafana Bafana” (South African national football team) and a successful event. For Munich Re, Junior Ngulube is leading the chant. Play ball!
Labels: John “Junior” Ngulube Africa Insurance, John “Junior” Ngulube First Black CEO of Munich Re Africa, John “Junior” Ngulube Munich Re Africa CEO, John “Junior” Ngulube Zimbabwean