From humble beginnings and working as a security guard to CIO – Zwelakhe Mnguni
Zwelakhe Mnguni’s difficult circumstances did not stop him from pursuing his dreams.
Zwelakhe Mnguni grew up in a Sebokeng squatter camp south of Johannesburg, and after school, he worked as a security guard for four years to save money to study.
His humble beginnings and difficult circumstances did not stop him from pursuing his dreams. Today Mnguni is one of the founders of Benguela Global Fund Managers and its chief investment officer (CIO), overseeing R7.2bn in AUM.
‘My story is about coming out against all the odds after starting with a background where there was nothing. I went from a squatter camp to security guard, and today, I partly own an investment management firm,’ Mnguni told Citywire South Africa.
He said he took a liking to the stock market when he was about 17. His father, a truck driver, was a keen horse racing gambler who bought a newspaper daily to get the race results, which allowed Mnguni junior to read the business pages.
‘My father is a proper horse racing gambling addict. He still gambles on the horses to this day. He had heated debates with my mom because he often gambled his salary away,’ Mnguni (pictured below) said.
He said he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, gambling his money away because of the pain it caused his family.
‘My mom always had to backstop everything. My father’s winnings were flash-in-the-pan and never consistent.’
Mnguni said the biggest mistake his father often made was to go too big with his gambling bets. As a result, Mnguni said, when it comes to portfolio construction, he limits the bets he places on stocks in Benguela portfolios.
After he finished school in 1993, Mnguni became a security guard from February 1994 until early 1998.
‘I didn’t have money to study, so I worked as a security guard for Alpha Ready Mix, Nampak and Sasol. I was encouraged by a family friend who suggested I become a security guard because the job offered predictable income,’ he added.
During his four years in this field, he worked his way up the ranks and became a manager. When his savings exceeded R60,000, he registered as a student at Rand Afrikaans University (Rau), known today as the University of Johannesburg, for a commerce degree.
‘I was the oldest guy [at 25 years] in the class.’
Fortunately, during his first year, he got bursaries from Ernst & Young and Deloitte to cover his study costs.
After he completed his bachelor of commerce honours degree in financial management, in June 2000, he joined Cadiz Asset Management, where he did short stints in various business units, including stockbroking, private equity, risk management and specialised asset management.
He joined Allan Gray in late 2002 and spent four years as an equity analyst.
‘Simon Marias and Stephen Mildenhall hired me. My experience at Allan Gray put me in a strong position,’ Mnguni said.
He later joined Stanlib as an equity analyst focused on telecommunications and technology. He then managed Stanlib’s global science and technology fund and co-managed the Stanlib Value fund.
‘My idea for Benguela to have a global equity fund came from that experience,’ Mnguni said.
He then spent three years as head of equities and portfolio manager at Mergence Investment Managers until August 2013.
Mnguni co-founded Benguela in late 2013 with Karl Gevers, who he knew from his student days. Benguela started with six staff, and today it has 18.
‘We funded the business using our savings as no one was willing to lend us money. The business remains in the hands of staff and two families.
‘We finished repaying the startup loans from our lenders in 2022. This provides perspective about the hardships of being a startup business in the industry and in South Africa,’ he added.
He said Benguela is looking to almost triple its AUM over the next 10 years to R20bn.
Mnguni subscribes to the quality investing style.
‘You don’t want to buy any stock that will cause you sleepless nights. You’re in trouble if you lose money from a few of those bankruptcies.
‘I wholeheartedly believe you must invest in the highest-quality stocks because they have a competitive advantage. They also compound returns above the cost of capital, generating economic profit,’ Mnguni said.
He said he had switched from value to quality investing during the 2008 crisis.
‘The lessons were quite instructive. Fair or low-quality businesses were hardest hit during the crisis, while quality stocks were resilient,’ Mnguni said.
Another critical investment lesson he has learnt is to never rely on other investors’ work.
‘For example, many people lost money on Steinhoff out of fear of losing out. You must rely on your work,’ he added.
He said he had found hiring people a key challenge.
‘It can backfire or end up [as] a big disaster if you hire someone not committed to the same values and vision as you.’
A crucial part of Benguela’s recruitment process is testing an applicant’s ability to handle stress.
‘Through that process of stress, people often crack. People need to stay rational under pressure, especially a portfolio manager. If someone buckles under pressure, that can have bad outcomes for clients,’ he added.
Mnguni said black managers found it hard to crack key gatekeepers such as asset consultants.
‘We need to transform at the asset consultant level. The trustees have transformed but rely on the asset consultants,’ Mnguni said.
Gender equity is an issue Mnguni feels the asset management industry has handled poorly, partly due to a lack of training, especially for black women.
‘We are way behind. If you look at black firms today black females are poorly represented at the top of these companies. The industry needs to make a bigger effort,’ Mnguni said.
He also called for the asset management industry to provide greater transparency, especially among wealth managers.
‘The industry must be accessible to all investors, including retail clients. Investing should never be a privilege but provide ubiquitous access. Retail fees are excessive. If you look at the wealth industry, the fees they charge are ridiculous in some cases,’ Mnguni said.
Outside work, Mnguni said in his meagre spare time, he enjoys fishing and listening to podcasts.