Building Capital by Muitheri Wahome

Review: Building Capital – The Development of Asset Management in South Africa by Muitheri Wahome.

When Muitheri told me that she was writing a book, about two years ago, I was excited and intrigued. When she told me that it was about the history of asset management in South Africa, I thought two things – one, there is no better person that I can think of to write this book and two, I cannot wait to read it. I love the work I do – which also happens to be in the asset management industry in South Africa. I also love a good story, especially when it is historical. 
You can imagine my delight when I received an early copy of the book – all of those passions to be unpacked in 250 pages.

I found a free weekend, and tucked in. My copy started with some acknowledgements – in keeping with Muitheri’s generous style of giving space and voice to the characters that leap off the pages. She observes that there is little documented history when it comes to South African Asset Management. That is a great pity, since our country has experienced a wealth of experience, a diversity of views and a plethora of highly skilled players in this space – most of whom are eminently qualified to string a few sentences together.  The author gives time for tellings that are “in their own words”. As I was reading, I wouldn’t have been surprised had some of the doyens walked from the offices and boardrooms into my room – it felt like they were that close.

Muitheri’s style is engaging and inclusive and paints an accurate and vivid picture, and anyone with even a mild interest in the subject will find themselves drawn into this rich and thorough account.  (Who knows, perhaps even my long-suffering husband, who often despairs of my endless “industry chats” when he is at the table?)

Muitheri goes further however. Not only has this book been based on extensive interviews, but she has trawled through many data sources – from surveys to newspapers, financial publications, and even actuarial society journals – there are (a few) members among that profession who will attest to never having read a single one in full. All the research is placed in its proper historical context, and used to enhance the colourful characters. The story flows from the origins of the JSE, through the establishment of an insurance industry, and incorporates all the major thought leaders and developments – often pioneering ideas – that built the asset management industry. 

I’ve now got a beautiful hardcover version that will take pride of place on my shelf. I’m grateful to Muitheri for her labour of passion. This was a story that needed to be told, and Muitheri took the time and invested the energy to do so well. John Morley, the 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn said “It is not enough to do good; one must do it the right way”. Muitheri has led the way in doing just that, and I share her hope that there will be many more accounts written on this topic, from differing perspectives. 

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