Boasting a long, impressive track record in Finance and Strategy, it is hardly surprising the wonders Gosego Merafhe January has worked at Debswana Pension Fund (DPF).
Appointed CEO back in February 2011, the 53-year-old has transformed DPF from a successful organisation into a business thriving on a whole new level.
Truly, January is a boss worth meeting…
You have been with the Fund for over 11 years now; kindly reflect on that journey?
When I joined the Fund in 2011, DPF had just in-sourced the Fund Administration function.
However, the system procured at the time did not meet the Fund’s expectations as it caused service delivery delays that left our Members unhappy.
It was an uphill battle to convince the Board to secure a new system and abandon the one in use within a space of two years, as these systems are costly.
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It took a lot of convincing and indeed demonstrating the value that the new system would bring to the Fund.
I am happy that the Board did agree to this change and was supportive to the changes that I was bringing into DPF as this has not only enabled us to become more efficient but it has also allowed us to be market leaders in how we service our Members, importantly our Pensioners.
And your own personal growth in that time?
In my time at the Fund thus far, one of my biggest growths has been from a Leadership and Strategic perspective, having been through three organisational restructuring exercises that involved a lot of change management and managing people through these changes.
Furthermore, ensuring that the Fund performance and services offered to Members are not impacted and that the team moral continues to be positive was key, which is what I expect of the team and importantly what our members expect of us.
Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about changes in the way we operate and work.
Having to rally a team that is 100 percent working from home and still manage to deliver exceptional performance has really enhanced my leadership skills, importantly being an empathetic leader.
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Since being appointed CEO, you have seen DPF’s performance grow from P3.2 billion to over P10 billion. What do you attribute this phenomenal growth to?
Debswana Pension Fund’s growth has indeed been remarkable, as pension funds have not been spared from the negative impacts of volatile global markets, increased risk events, as well as a tough and subdued domestic economic environment over the years.
The growth of DPF is attributed to the Fund’s robust, resilient and diversified investment strategy based on the Life Stage Model.
Additionally, the Fund’s exceptional performance has been due to the strong corporate governance by the Board of Trustees and Management of the Fund.
The numbers sound incredibly impressive, do you feel you have surpassed your targets in your decade as CEO?
During my tenure at DPF, I believe that I have not just contributed positively to the Fund’s growth, but I have also been able to position DPF as an award winning and reputable Pension Fund regionally and globally.
Furthermore, I have led strategic projects that have seen the Fund transform to become a Member centric organisation that is focused on delivering exceptional service to Members.
Our Members are proud to be part of DPF and this gives me great joy.
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I continue to strive to do more whilst still at the Fund and deliver exceptional outcomes for the Fund and ultimately our Members.
You’ve already touched briefly on Covid-19 – but how did the pandemic affect DPF and the pension fund industry as a whole?
From an investment perspective, Covid-19 was an unexpected external risk event that has significantly impacted Global Markets.
At the beginning of the pandemic, markets sold off substantially and this had a tremendous negative impact for global investors including pension funds such as Debswana Pension Fund.
Subsequently, the markets and the Fund rebounded due to the unprecedented expansive fiscal stimulus and interest rate cuts by global central banks and Governments across the globe.
Additional initiatives by Governments allowed for the safeguarding of jobs and monetary support which allowed citizens to receive income thereby allowing for an economic recovery which supported the Fund’s growth.
One of Covid-19’s lingering impacts has been inflation.
Inflation is surging as the rebound in demand outstrips supply, particularly due to supply bottlenecks induced by Covid-19.
The elevated levels of inflation have had a negative impact on asset prices and inflation adjusted incomes.
From an operational perspective, Covid-19 altered the normal ways of working.
It spurred many organisations to adopt and widely use technology as a platform for daily business, committee, and board engagements.
So what measures did you put in place to combat Corona?
The Fund reviewed its investment strategy to determine if this material risk event warranted any changes in the portfolio.
Subsequently, a decision was made that the investment strategy was optimal and no changes needed to be made.
The Fund also engaged with Asset Consultants, Asset Management Firms and its Actuaries to assess whether there was a need to change investment and mortality assumptions.
In terms of inflation, the Fund continues to seek attractive investment assets that will provide a cushion during periods of heightened inflation and uncertainty.
Some of these initiatives are investments in companies and businesses that can easily pass rising inflation to their end consumers.
Operationally, the Fund invested and bolstered its technology structure to ensure a seemingly smooth transition to the digital workplace for its staff and trustees.
Which sectors does the Fund primarily invest in?
The Fund invests in an array of sectors globally across thousands of companies.
The Fund invests in sectors which allow for increased diversification across asset class and geographic region.
Global equities are one of the largest exposures due to their resilience, phenomenal size and expected returns.
Domestically, the Fund is also invested across numerous sectors, including but not limited to: banking, retail, finance, healthcare, hospitality and property.
Which other areas are DPF currently exploring with a view of investing in?
Debswana Pension Fund currently has a significant property portfolio valued at approximately BWP 1 billion.
The Fund is looking to bolster and improve its portfolio and is currently pursing various initiatives and projects, which will ensure that Member funds are invested prudently and in a manner that will develop the communities in which they live.
I understand your career spans over three decades, kindly take us through your professional journey?
My career began with Debswana where I spent 21 years and rose through the ranks from Accounts Trainee to key Managerial positions.
These include: Cost Accountant, Business Services Manager, Management Accountant, and Business Strategy Programme Manager for Orapa and Letlhakane Mines reporting to the General Manager and being a member of the Executive Committee.
And lastly, the Personal Assistant to the Managing Director, where I was responsible for providing strategic and business advice.
In 2011, I joined Debswana Pension Fund as CEO and I have been at the helm of the organisation to date.
In other professional appointments, I have served as Director on the Board of PEO Venture Capital Fund (Pty) Ltd, a private equity fund established as a joint venture between Debswana and De Beers Botswana to promote entrepreneurship in Botswana through venture partnerships with small to medium scale businesses.
Furthermore, I participated at national level as a member of the Central Transport Organisation (CTO) Fuel Privatisation Steering Committee and the Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry Management (BOCCIM) Capacity Building Project Team as well as having served as a Member of the Audit & Finance Committee for Sechaba Holdings until January 2020.
I continue to serve in several Boards, amongst them the Advisory Board at Vantage Capital Investment (Mezzanine Fund II), a private equity firm, as a Member, Healthcare Managements Services (HMS) Board as a Director and Healthcare Holdings (Pty) Ltd Board as Director.
Wow! And in that period, what do you look back on with particular pride?
Serving Debswana Pension Fund Members has undoubtedly been the highlight of my career.
I am so happy that in my time at the Fund my team and I have been able to deliver exceptional returns for our Members and their beneficiaries.
It always gives me great joy each time I meet our Members, especially our Pensioners, and they are looking well and in good health, because that is truly our mandate as the Fund to ensure that our members’ futures are secure and they are able to retire comfortably.
Additionally, the global networking that I have built through the interactions with global giants and thought leaders as well as the opportunities to present and participate in international and local conferences.
This has enabled me the growth and recognition as an astute leader within the Financial Industry.
Where would you like to see DPF in the next five years?
I would like to see DPF reaching P15 Billion Assets Under Management mark; having recently reached the milestone P10 billion Assets Under Management mark at end 2021.
Additionally, I would like to see the Fund diversified and providing our Members with products to meet their diverse needs.
Lastly, away from the office, what keeps you busy?
Family is very important to me!
As such, outside of work I ensure that I spend time with my two daughters and son-in-law and importantly my favourite girl, being my beautiful granddaughter. If not with them, I am with my sisters and brothers and their wonderful families.
We are very family orientated and we owe that to our amazing parents who have been our greatest pillars in life.
There is never a dull moment when with family as we party and continue to enjoy this journey called life and all that comes with it.
FULL NAMES: Gosego Merafhe January
PLACE OF BIRTH: Serowe
DATE OF BIRTH: 15 November 1968
MENTOR(S): Mr Balisi Bonyongo and Mr Blackie Marole
DREAM HOLIDAY DESTINATION: Iceland
CAR DRIVING: BMX X5
FAVOURITE FOOD: Bogobe jwa lerotse and koko ya Setswana with morogo wa dinawa
FAVOURITE DRINK: Red or white wine and ice-cold beer on a hot day
WHAT MAKES YOU ANGRY: Any situation or person that threatens my family’s peace as well as people who are not authentic when dealing with others and those that lack honesty and integrity