'Mellow' Combi to keep PSG local
PSG Group's new chair has never lived in Stellenbosch. "Not a day in my life," Zitulele "KK" Combi told Business Times this week.
Now the Capetonian is at the helm of an investment holding company woven into the Boland town's tapestry as deeply as tourists, students, oak trees and wine.
PSG is worth about R60bn and has valuable stakes in Capitec Bank, private-schools group Curro, agri-investor Zeder and brokerage business PSG Konsult.
While others have looked to foreign shores for returns, this Stellenbosch-based group has kept it local. And that is not about to change.
"We think there is still a lot to achieve in SA," Combi said. "The backbone and DNA of PSG has always been South African."
Curro's campuses are increasingly feeding the demand for paid-for education in SA. Capitec has millions more of the other big South African banks' clients to lure away. Combi sees a lot of runway for the companies in the PSG stable. But he adds that lucrative foreign opportunities would at least be looked at.
It was dollars and pounds and francs and deutschmarks that in the 1990s offered Combi one of his big business coups. He was behind Master Currency, a business that expanded foreign-exchange trading from the banking halls to the mall.
And it was with Master Currency that he first crossed paths with PSG Capital, in the early 2000s a much humbler outfit than now, which he asked to put a transaction together for him, he said.
After 10 years on the board, Combi takes the reins from founder Jannie Mouton, who stepped down in November after flagging an early form of dementia in a letter to shareholders a few months earlier.
"Jannie is a legend," said Combi. "He's extremely talented and sharp."
Dubbed the Boere Buffett, a reference to billionaire investor Warren Buffett, Mouton was famously fired from his brokerage firm SMK before starting PSG.
With a few deft long-term investments he managed to expand PSG into the financial services empire it is today.
A good balance between nurturing young businesses and giving management enough breathing space to grow was the key to Mouton's success.
And that light touch is something Combi also plans to apply. PSG does not really get involved in the day-to-day matters, instead believing in "huge independence", he said.
A notable exception is the investments in PSG Alpha, which Combi calls the "incubator", where there is full-time management support as these businesses "bulk up".
PSG remains on the lookout for businesses that have opportunities for growth - "scalability" he called it - a good market and capable management that investors can work with.
"Nothing is going to change," Combi said.
A few years after passing some of his business PSG Capital's way, Combi had "a one-hour meeting, which ended up lasting three hours" as he and Piet Mouton, Jannie's son, and two other executives hit it off.
The result was a lasting relationship which soon brought Combi into the PSG fold.
He chuckles at the idea of PSG being a family business - a reference by outsiders to the fact that Mouton passed the baton to Piet as CEO when he shifted to a nonexecutive role in 2010.
If one looks at the shareholding, the ownership is much more widely distributed than a single family, he said, and then listed a number of asset managers who hold the stock.
Combi got the nickname "KK" for what he laughs at as the "autocratic way" he once managed an English debating club. The KK denotes Kenneth Kaunda, Zambian strongman at the time.
"I've mellowed since then," said Combi.