Meet the Boss: Paul Boynton, CEO, Old Mutual Alternative Investments

Paul Boynton

1. What was your first job?

Following in my father’s footsteps, who was an accountant, I started my professional career at Deloitte as an articles clerk in 1985. In those days, before MBAs became popular, accountancy was regarded as one of the best foundations for a business career. And it turned out to be an excellent grounding. I learnt about business models, the reasons behind their successes and failures.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Any investment manager worries about the performance of their portfolios. They are constantly assessing risk, always looking at the effects that political and economic events might have on their portfolio. In the unlisted company space, putting great assets on the books is the first line of defence and you can mitigate most risks, but you can never rule out unknown risks. It’s the difficult assets that end up taking up more of your time and they can keep you up at night.

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

Long-term perspective, persistence and people skills. I have learnt that the investment business is about surrounding yourself with great people and ensuring that the businesses that you back with capital equally have high calibre teams.

4. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

When I interview budding investment professionals, I ensure that they understand two things. First, that the investment industry should not be seen as a stepping stone to another career. When you sign up, you need to be 110% committed to immersing yourself in the space: it must be a vocational decision. Second, working in private equity is not a glamorous career. It doesn’t employ huge numbers of people, so it’s about personal graft. Ninety percent of private equity is about disciplined execution in the trenches. Even in a senior role, you will never get away from the importance of close scrutiny and while you may have a big picture view, attention to the detail is always at the core of your role.

5. Who has had the biggest impact on your career? And why?

After my training, I joined Investec and was privileged to work with Stephen Koseff. I was inspired by his razor-sharp intelligence and his outstanding execution. Another role model was Roddy Sparks, my first boss when I joined Old Mutual. Having left investment banking and moved into investments, Roddy was the perfect person to learn from. I learnt an enormous amount both content-wise but also on investment philosophy and business growth from Roddy, who was one of the first backers of several companies that grew into giants, such as Bidvest, Imperial and Coronation. My father’s advocacy of accountancy also played a huge part.

6. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

As a student of the University of Cape Town my tax lecturer, Keith Huxham, told me to never pursue a career because of the commercial prospects but focus on something you find innately interesting. This is the advice I continue to pass on as I truly believe that if you pursue your passion, you will lead a happy life and success tends to follow.

7. The top reason for your professional success?

I majored in statistics and can recommend ‘Black Swan’, a book by the statistician Nassim Taleb who analyses the role that luck plays in our lives and it’s much more than you might think. I have been very fortunate in my life and spending time in an investment bank and a first-rate investment shop (Old Mutual) was fortuitous training. In addition, I think resilience and grit are among the foremost character traits that decide success: the ability to tough it out.

8. How do you relax?

My favourite way to relax is spending time with my family. We enjoy outdoor activities including hiking, water skiing in the summer and also snow skiing. On my own, I like to go for a run or read.

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

My ideal morning begins with a 30 to 40 minute run followed by breakfast over a newspaper. I am at my desk by 8.30am. In the summer, I enjoy going to the beach and taking a swim before breakfast. I am often travelling but I still aim to fit in a pre-work run when I can.

10. Your favourite job interview question?

I prefer open-ended questions in order to best understand where a candidate wishes to take their career in the medium to long term. I want to understand their motivations as best I can.

11. The biggest perk of your job?

I find meeting and engaging with people in the business and through travel wonderfully inspiring. Investors in private equity are privileged to be able to build a real understanding of different cultures, businesses, strategies, opportunities and challenges and how to benefit from them.

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

One space that we are not currently involved but where I see huge potential is the application of technology to solve some of Africa’s problems. For example, Zipline is a Californian company that uses drones to parachute in medical supplies in Rwanda, which is particularly hilly and, in some places, very remote and inaccessible.

What’s inspiring is that there are more possibilities in Africa for this particular business model than there would be in the developed world, which shows that Africa can take a lead in leveraging technology.

Paul Boynton is CEO of Old Mutual Alternative Investments, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Old Mutual Investment Group and a private alternative investment manager in Africa, with over R58bn (US$4.3bn) – as at June 2018 – under management in infrastructure assets, private equity and impact funding.