Meet the Boss: Jurie Swart, CEO, African Infrastructure Investment Managers

Jurie Swart

1. What was your first job?

I started my professional life as a civil engineering contractor. My first contract was establishing the Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highlands in order to supplement water supply to South Africa. Based in a remote part of the country, we had very little means of communication, bar very sporadic radio connection, and no hardware or building supply shops.

It was an equally challenging and rewarding experience, which developed my sense of resilience and taught me the importance of comprehensive planning and resourcefulness.

2. What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

People – in the form of my team, our investors, and the communities in which we invest.

As one of the business’ greatest assets, the welfare, development and retention of my team are hugely important to me. Equally important is building value for our investors, in a sustainable way, while creating the jobs and wealth that stimulate further economic growth in Africa.

3. Name three traits required to survive in this role.

Being collaborative, receptive to new ideas and having a good amount of stamina. I work in a team of highly skilled, highly intelligent investment professionals who are all, across every level, encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions and express their views. This creates a culture of open dialogue, which results in rigorous and robust recommendations to our clients and stakeholders.

4. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

That it is perpetually fun and glamorous. Lots of hard work and travel are required at every level in this profession. Reaching a senior level also means that your work becomes much more focused on people management and there is less of the thrill and immediate gratification that comes with executing great deals.

5. What has had the greatest impact on your career?

Serendipity, above all, has had the greatest impact on my career. I have been fortunate to have made the right decisions at several critical points in time.

Personal circumstances have also been instrumental in shaping my career. I had to carve out my own path from a young age and learn very quickly to be amiable and get on well with others. My early life experiences gave me strong foundations for building the people skills that are an essential part of my career.

6. Tell us about the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Some of the best career advice I’ve received is to know when you’re on a good wicket (your 10 best work years) and, when that happens, to hunker down and work hard to build your success.

Day to day, my experience has taught me to always find the middle ground, as you will never have a sound deal without it.

7. The top reason for your professional success?

My ability to find the middle ground and make this a priority in all of my interactions with my team, our clients and our partners.

8. How do you relax?

 My free time is family-orientated. My main sport is canoeing, and I occasionally play golf. I am also a keen reader and a DIY fanatic.

9. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I aim to be at my desk at 8am, allowing me to fit in exercise before I start my working day.

10. Your favourite job interview question?

I always ask about the candidate’s siblings, if they have any and whether they are first, middle or last born. I’ve observed some character traits associated with birth order and find that a strong, balanced team needs a mix of these.

11. The biggest perk of your job?

Meeting a broad spectrum of people from different sectors, countries and backgrounds ranging from CEOs, consultants, lawyers, accountants, engineers, on-the-ground workers, and often my favourite – local communities.

12. In addition to your own industry, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

I see enormous untapped potential in Africa’s agriculture and farming sector. The continent’s population is forecasted to double by 2050, and with many acres of arable land it has the potential to become a breadbasket. We have only scratched the surface and there is considerable room for developing agro-processing.

Jurie Swart is CEO of African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM), a principal investment firm which develops and manages private equity infrastructure funds designed to invest long-term institutional unlisted equity in African infrastructure projects. AIIM actively manages investments in East, West and Southern Africa and has equity under management of US$2.1bn.