Chartered accountant and chief financial officer of the JSE, Freda Evans prefers the label Harley Rider to Biker Chick. And she blames JSE CEO Russell Loubser—a fellow bike enthusiast—for getting her back in the saddle after decades of biking abstinence.
Evans started off with a 50cc Suzuki as a teenager, but stopped riding when her brother was seriously injured in a biking accident. A few years ago, Loubser coaxed her onto his bright yellow BMW 1200 GS. “I’m now a Harley fanatic and find any excuse to ride. In my early fifties, this may be a rebellious mid-life crisis, but I’m totally hooked.”
After sitting her motorcycle learner’s license with kids more than half her age, Evans then splashed out on a blue Softtail Heritage Classic, accessorised with leather and studs. “The Harley is not known for its off-road driving or fast performance. The top end of my bike on a flat road is reputed to be 160km/hour, and that’s not exactly inspiring. What does grab me is the passion of the Harley riders, their unique style, and of course, that sound.”
Over the weekends, Evans joins up with the Free Chapter Club for breakfast rides, usually dusting up the roads of Roodepoort and the Magaliesburg. Members are diverse, and include the extremely wealthy who can afford top-of-the-range machines, as well as those paying off their wheels in instalments. “It’s all about the devotion and the bikes,” says Evans. “It’s not a case of ‘what do you do for a living?’ There are self-made business owners, security guards, and even a few other chartered accountants.”
A Harley Davidson executive is quoted as saying that the company doesn’t just sell motorcycles. “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” Evans puts herself in this target market and in South Africa this includes a strong female presence of women Harley owners.
She knows the risks that come with such attitude transport. “Harley bikers appreciate initiatives such as Think Bike, a motorcycle safety awareness campaign. And we actually get on well with Joburg’s infamous taxi drivers, who frequently give us right of way and a couple of hoots. But you always have to remember that the chances of not being seen by another driver are high. Protective gear is a priority.”
Evans says she has more Harley T-shirts than is respectable, picking up gear wherever she travels. As yet, there is no tattoo, although a permanent but discretely located Harley emblem has not been ruled out.
The Harley machine can be clumsy and heavy at any speed, weighing in at over 300 kilograms. “So if you’re in the wrong gear at the wrong speed, that bike is going down no matter how hard you try and fight it. There’s nothing you can do but get out the way and then stand around looking vulnerable so one of the guys will pick it up for you. It is also a thirsty beast, but well worth the costs as the thrill and benefits from riding a Harley are exceptional. It’s far cheaper and better for you than antidepressants.”
She also has a BMW f650GS, bought for the daily commute to the JSE–but as yet she remains attached to her Audi Quattro for the trip into Sandton, South Africa’s business district near Johannesburg.
Another passion for Evans is XBRL—eXtensible Business Reporting Language. She wants the entire financial world to move to this universally understood communication tool. Through a central hub of reporting, financial information is created once and then feeds into other platforms such as annual financial statements, Stats SA requirements, SARS submissions and Financial Services Board data needs. She oversaw the JSE’s June 2010 introduction of a portal which enables companies to voluntarily file using XBRL.
Evans is not so complimentary about IFRS—International Financial Reporting Standards—as it has reached a point where financial reporting requirements are unintelligible to most auditors, analysts and financial directors. “Only a handful of technical specialists fully understand them. In our goal to achieve uniform financial reporting, we have somehow lost control. IFRS is not business-intuitive and the end result does not always represent economic reality, but on the flip side, at least we are all reporting in the same way.”
Despite working at the exchange, Evans says she has not mastered the elusive art of successful investing. “I always seem to buy high and sell low. So now it’s really simple—I invest in exchange-traded funds and the decision-making stress is taken away.”
You could argue that the Harley-Davidson does the same job.