Vincent Mai still has something of a
Karoo farm boy about him, even though he now chairs the oldest private
equity firm in the US and is a stalwart of the Wall Street investment
"Though my life is here in America,
my roots are important to me and I was very much shaped by my growing up
in SA. Notwithstanding apartheid, I feel I owe a lot to the country,"
he tells the FM from his New York office. Born outside Cradock to
a sheep-farming family, Mai attended Grey High School in Port
Elizabeth, where he sponsors 20 scholarships for township children.
UCT he qualified in accounting and pursued the sports passion he
developed at school where he played first team rugby and cricket and had
colours for athletics and swimming.
Then he served
articles and qualified as a CA (SA) before heading to London in 1965 to
take up a position at SG Warburg, the former merchant bank.
those days most South Africans went to London. You either went there
for two years and went home, or you would stay on if it was attractive. I
wanted some international experience. In my case there was another
element - I did happen to feel quite strongly about politics and
apartheid. I had worked as a student for the Progressive Federal Party. I
never imagined the [end of apartheid] would occur in my lifetime."
his new London home did magic things for his career. "I happened to
develop a close relationship with Sir Siegmund Warburg [founder of the
bank] who was a great financier. He took me under his wing and took me
with him to the US."
The US struck Mai as the place to
build his career, so in 1976 he became a partner at Wall Street firm
Lehman Brothers, where he eventually became head of its global
investment banking business. In 1990 he was seduced back into another
business closely aligned with Warburgs - AEA Investors - as CEO, later
to become chairman. The business has more than US $2,5bn in capital
invested, money raised from 100 of the world's top CEOs and chairmen.
SA links began to stir again when political change hit SA in the early
1990s. "I feel very connected both to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
I began going back to those places," he says. He also felt the need to
start investing in developing SA. Apart from Grey scholarships, Mai
headed a UCT foundation in New York which raised significant funds and
was involved in other scholarship efforts for his alma mater.
the Eastern Cape he is involved in a township community programme to
provide social services and an environmental foundation which aims to
support sustainable land development. He is also involved with Endeavor,
an entrepreneurship promotion NGO in SA, and in human rights efforts
elsewhere in Africa.
His focus, he says, is on "giving
opportunities to black children who wouldn't have the opportunities. It
is all orientated to that because the future of SA is based on bringing
up a black middle class and people who have a vested interest in the
continued success of the country."
But he continues to
attribute much of his success to his formative years, particularly at
Grey. "The discipline in the SA education system - which God knows I
needed - they just didn't tolerate any bullshit. You were in a school
with set standards you had to meet - it was just expected of you... the
focus and the discipline and the respect for your peers and elders."
what of business interests in SA? Mai doesn't have any but says he is
working on "one or two" with a group of "distinguished South Africans"
which may be announced soon.
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