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Fri Nov 21 22:25:59 SAST 2014

It's hard to believe we became a power couple

Rowan Philp | 16 October, 2011 02:16
TEAM SPIRIT: Dynamic duo Euvin Naidoo, the co-president of Sacca, and his doctor wife, Roshini, are back in South Africa after securing coveted Harvard degrees Picture: MATTHEW WILLMAN

Former school rivals are now a formidable team, writes Rowan Philp

Euvin and Roshini Naidoo were so competitive that they barely spoke to each other at school - even when they were head boy and head girl in the same year.

And after Euvin got a coveted MBA degree from Harvard, Roshini also obtained the degree, though she was already a medical doctor with a Harvard master's degree in public health.

Euvin is the co-president of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America (Sacca) and was last month ranked by Forbes magazine as one of Africa's 10 most powerful young men.

Forbes's top 10 list also included billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and Standard Bank CEO David Munro.

Euvin, 39, quipped that he was grateful his wife could not qualify for the all-male list, but he couldn't help singing her praises. "I completely concede. My wife is tough to beat, and I'm continually learning from her," he said.

Forbes described him as "one of the most renowned advocates for Western investments into Africa".

The power couple were born in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, and returned to South Africa recently after nine years living and working in Boston and New York.

Euvin is now a director of a major South African bank, and Roshini is a senior manager of a leading healthcare company.

Euvin rose to prominence in 2003 when he wrote a chapter for a bestselling Harvard business book, Confidence, which argued that Nelson Mandela's strategy in building a new South Africa could be used as a blueprint for turning around struggling businesses. His breakthrough came four years later when he delivered the opening address at a leadership conference in Tanzania.

"I found myself sandwiched between [musician] Bono and [Google founder] Larry Page. What an incredible opportunity to help change the Western conversation about Africa," he said. "Africa is commonly seen in terms of the negatives and the clichés, so it's crucial to showcase the fantastic opportunities and innovators here."

He won't take credit for any specific US investments in South Africa, calling his work "a process and a collaboration".

But he said he was pleased that, for instance, Sacca was among the first to map out African opportunities to Walmart's strategy chiefs in 2007. Walmart bought a controlling interest in South Africa's Massmart retail chain for R16.5-billion this year.

And when private equity giant Bain Capital bought the Edcon retail group for R25-billion in 2007, Euvin and his team quickly gathered other Wall Street bankers and investors to hear directly from Bain's directors why they had taken the plunge into Africa.

Roshini, meanwhile, is convinced even rural African communities should be able enjoy world-class medical care without "Western-style costs", after her years of work with the development organisation Oxfam. She is developing a model to empower patients to demand quality care - and to know when they're not getting it.

"There is a tremendous need in South Africa for robust discussion on clinical quality," she said.

Euvin said he and Roshini were "fierce academic competitors" at Stanger Secondary School, but became friends and partners later when studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Despite also being named alongside billionaire Mo Ibrahim as one of the 5 Faces of African Innovation by Columbia University, Euvin insisted he was "first and foremost a father".

Partly modelled on the "total parenting" approach of his mother, Goona, Euvin said: "For Roshini and me, our children are our primary focus. No compromises. So our lives and schedules work around the children. One cannot outsource parenting."

He said it was a duty for all African business leaders to mentor and teach newcomers. To this end, he sets aside time to teach a class at the Wits Business School.

"I am a very proud South African, and I've worked relentlessly to flag the opportunities Africa offers."

While it was a "privilege" to be included in the Forbes list, he said: "Success should never be measured by awards or accolades. To be a great parent, spouse, friend, colleague or mentor is the true challenge."

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