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Pearls Of Wisdom Born Of Struggle

Russell Loubser grew up in a poor family in the South African farmlands and climbed high to claim one of the most powerful jobs in African finance. His insights made for a fascinating first instalment of Forbes Titans—a regular event, where we host captains of the industry.

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Russell Loubser rose from humble beginnings to take over the sleepy Johannesburg Stock Exchange, turning it into one of the world’s top 20 bourses and the best regulated exchange on the on the planet.

Loubser grew up in a small town near Mafikeng in South Africa’s North West province, a million miles from the rapid international trades of the JSE.

“No-one in those days, black or white, ever mentioned stock exchange or shares,” he says.

Loubser was the youngest of four boys and admits life was not easy. Both his parents were uneducated and struggled to bring them up. His father was a boiler maker in a cement factory and they never owned a share or property in their lives.

“They were good, hard-working people and smart, despite not being educated,” he says.

The way up, Loubser, decided was to pursue what he calls “hard degrees” that is, qualifications with practical use. He was good at mathematics so he enrolled for a Masters in Statistics at the University of Pretoria. After completion, his rugby friends convinced him to train as a chartered accountant.

Following a successful career in investment banking, where he was highly critical of the JSE, he was approached by the exchange and offered a five-year contract. Five years turned into 15 and Loubser oversaw the transformation of the JSE into a modern exchange.

Loubser is concerned about South Africa’s high youth unemployment rate and warns of the consequences.

“This country is  good at talking and researching, but does too little implementing,” he says.

Solutions? Firstly, he believes South Africa has enough leaders but those leaders need to be placed in the right roles. Secondly, he recommends, a better education system which can produce graduates with his so called “hard degrees”. He adds getting graduates work-ready and trained should be left to employers. Lastly, he points out that instead of jobs, the focus of governments should be on creating a conducive environment in which entrepreneurs and business can thrive.

Following his retirement from the JSE, on December 31, this respected executive is keeping himself busy with three non-governmental organizations and three boards that he sits on. We have not seen the last of this battle-hardened executive from Mafikeng.

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