Marilyn Ramplin via LinkedIn
LONDON - As one of the first “skirts” on the trading floor in London in the 1990s, Marilyn Ramplin had her work cut out for her. The odds weren’t stacked in favour of young, gentle, shy and poor black South African girls who wanted to break through the glass ceiling in the halls of power.

But she beat the other investment professionals at “their” game and grew to become an astute, respected businesswoman at ease among her peers worldwide.

“I grew up during apartheid, so I was used to having to push the envelope and fighting racism, so fighting against some sexist remarks didn’t really phase me. I knew the answer was to be the most competent. I also had a great time, where I made some real friends,” Ramplin explains from her Novia One offices in Parkmore, Johannesburg.

She spent almost 15 years in London and New York, working in financial markets, including trading for a multibillion-dollar hedge fund in New York and JP Morgan in the derivatives and investment banking sector. “I knew I work hard and I am smart enough. I had to work harder than most, but it paid off,” she said.

When the 2008 global financial crisis hit - an otherwise bleak time in the financial sector - it proved to be a valuable learning curve for the young entrepreneur.

“A lot of what I have learned I now teach as part of my financial market programmes, although my time to teach these days are limited, but I still use a lot of those lessons in my role as a director. What failed wasn’t just the markets, but governance in general.”

In 2010, two years after the financial crisis, Ramplin resigned from JP Morgan, where she was one of the young black female executive directors, and followed her dream to set up business in London. “Everyone was still trying to battle their way out of the financial crisis and here I was giving up my job. My friends thought I was crazy. It was the best decision I made.”

She’s come far since those early days and credits her parents for nurturing that “can do” attitude, which took her from East London to London and New York.

Confidence

Self-belief, she explained, forms part of the Ramplin DNA. They weren’t privileged, but Ramplin’s parents instilled confidence in their children and encouraged them to excel. “My mother was the ‘MacGyver’ of the family - always fixing everything - and cracking the whip when the homework wasn’t done.

“My father gave me a book called Think and Grow Rich at the age of 13. How awesome is that? That booked changed the way I looked at life. It argued that it’s your state of mind that will determine your future and not your current circumstances.

“I decided at 13 I wanted to be a millionaire at the age of 30. I didn’t even have a pair of school shoes to wear to my school prize giving. But I did it.”

After returning to South Africa with her family, she realised black graduates were still encountering similar hurdles to success in their own country, even after apartheid. Not enough was being done to help them, so her Hedge Fund Academy (now Novia One), which provided specialist financial markets advice and training, launched its first programme in 2014 with just 15 students funded by Ramplin.

“I applied my structured products knowledge and we built a platform to facilitate them into employment by leveraging the tax codes, skills development legislation and BEE codes. Since then we have put more than 350 unemployed graduates into employment at no cost to the graduates.

“Our research shows after a year our graduates were on an average salary of R17500 per month. This takes us to a total of R73million of salary for 350 candidates over a year.

“The economic impact of this is massive, if you think that these kids all now contribute to the fiscus through PAYE, UIF and of course the black tax we all pay. In some instances, my graduates were supporting up to eight other people. We are sincerely grateful to our corporate partners who participate in the programme by hiring these graduates.”

The business model allows companies to receive their maximum Sars refunds, optimised BEE scorecards and Seta refunds.

“The approach I take is to try and solve a social problem leveraging my structured product knowledge from my investment banking days (who said we didn’t learn anything from the global financial crisis).”

But the programme has come under strain, because government funding has been redirected towards the #feesmustfall campaign.

“We are working on two interesting ideas: We have created a fund leveraging Enterprise and Supplier Development to fund our initiative, but we are still looking for corporate sponsorship through CSI and participation on the ED and SD side. We are also in the process of looking at a crowdfunding model where other South Africans on a small scale can support this initiative.”

This year, the Hedge Fund Academy was incorporated into the Novia One Group, a financial advisory service and training institution. We were voted “Best Emerging Black Woman Business 2016” by ABSIP (Association for Black Stock Brokers and Investment Professionals).

“Our business focuses on training and advisory, with specialist programmes we design around the needs of our clients. One of our flagship programmes is our youth employment programme. Our programmes are designed to be practical, but with a focus on the impact of digitisation and disruption. Our goal is to create the employee of the future.

BEE solution

“We have also created a BEE solution, where we support corporates to meet their enterprise and supplier development spend, invest their contribution and take the proceeds to support our graduate employment platform. This is done at low risk to the corporates (they get their money back), but with high impact from a transformation perspective. This is a unique framework but very effective.”

Ramplin currently serves as a director to several businesses in South Africa: she sits on the JSE Clear Risk committee, Strate, several Alexander Forbes entities, several Ashburton entities, Avior Holdings and the Nelson Mandela Foundation Investment Committee. “All these positions leverage my financial markets knowledge and experience. I love my directorships and do them because they keep me fresh and in the market. I do work very hard though, and my team often asks when I sleep.”

For the generally shy girl from East London, learning to speak well was one of the most valuable confidence-boosters she learned.

“I was recently appointed as a member of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Investment Committee. Most probably the proudest moment of my career is the honour to be part of such a great legacy. I wish we could recalibrate the moral compass to that of Madiba. Imagine what we could accomplish in South Africa.”

-BUSINESS REPORT