BACKSTORY: BrightRock CEO Schalk Malan

Schalk Malan, CEO of BrightRock

Financial Mail questioned CEO at BrightRock Schalk Malan on his top tip for doing a deal, hardest life lesson and the one thing he’d fix in SA.

What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?

Be direct from the get-go, be yourself, and work to align all parties’ interests.

What was your first job?

It entailed farm chores — driving the tractor, opening and closing irrigation systems. My first professional job was as an actuarial analyst at Discovery Life.

How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?

It was R19,800 and I was super proud of it. I spent some of it on living expenses, which mostly included work suits, because coming straight from university into corporate, this farm boy in his vellies was just not ready for Sandton. A large portion of my first salary also went to my first home. PS: I’m back to wearing vellies most days.

What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt?

Listen to your inner voice — especially when it comes to people.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

At a push, I may say patience is overrated; I tend to think that successful entrepreneurs are generally impatient people. But I’d rather focus on a very underrated virtue, which is curiosity … the “why” is what drives people to find solutions and try new things.

If you could fix only one thing in SA, what would it be?

Education. My parents and my sister are educators; I know from them how many committed educators SA has and the big challenges our education system faces.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?

I am a very competitive swimmer and still train at least six times a week. I hold four SA Masters swimming records. I like building stuff and I cook well. I also love exploring dirt roads in Southern Africa on my motorbike.

What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?

I wish someone had told me to factor in the worst-case principle. In other words, that I should ask myself: “What is the worst that can happen if I take the risk, and what is the potential reward?” Most things are just maths problems waiting to be solved — but I also enjoy the scenarios I can’t predict.

What is something you would go back and tell your younger self that would impress them?

You will be part of founding a company that changes the life insurance industry for the better. The FM is going to interview you for a CEO profile of a company of which you were privileged to be one of the founders.

This article was originally published in Financial Mail on 11 March 2021. Click here to read the original online version.

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