Bravura corporate finance head Soria Hay says the empowerment commission will clamp down on fronting. Photo: Supplied.

CAPE TOWN - Head of Corporate Finance at Bravura, Soria Hay was just 29 when she started Bravura, an independent investment bank and corporate finance advisory firm in 1999. 

Born in Empangeni KZN, as a woman in the legal industry, Soria found the legal fraternity very conservative, and sometimes patronising to young women. 

Hay said: "Especially legal representatives on the other side would be undermining. Pretoria had a strong “Meneer” culture, which meant that partners were addressed as “Meneer”, even if they were only a couple of years older than their colleagues.  I was fortunate to learn a lot at the firm where I worked". 

"There are not many women in investment banking, and the ones who make it often have to be as hard as nails. The “boys culture” can be experienced as excluding. I know it is not intentional, and I don’t take offense but it can be annoying", said Hay. 

Her stepping stone in her career was when she chose to study law at the University of Pretoria. 

"After seriously considering performing arts and becoming a teacher, since I had a bursary from the Department of Education, I changed my mind at the beginning of my first year and studied law.  I obtained a BLC, LLB cum laude, LLM and H Dip (Labour Law) from the University of Pretoria and was admitted as an attorney, notary, and conveyancer after my articles," said Hay. 

Besides getting a loan, Hay also worked to finance her law degree. 

"I financed my studies through a loan from (then) Trust Bank and held many jobs throughout my student years. I worked on the till in Pick & Pay (the code for lettuce was 217 219, I wonder when this changed…), at inquiries at United Building Society, as a shop assistant at De Bruyn Skoenwinkels, as a junior lecturer at Tuks and for a vet. I was very proud to only end up with R20 000 student debt after my studies", said Hay. 

Before starting at Bravura, Hay did legal articles in Pretoria, and after a brief stint in the UK worked as an admitted attorney.

"This was when I could afford to buy my first car, a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle for R6000 I really wanted to get into more proactive business affairs, and joined what was then called Boland Financial Services (later Mettle) in 1997 in the Corporate Finance team", said Hay. 

Towards the end of 1999, she left Mettle and established Bravura.

 "I chose the name Bravura as it is a musical term which means “great technically excellent performance”, or “display of boldness or daring”. I head up the Corporate Finance team at Bravura and sit on the Board of Bravura Holdings (listed in Mauritius)"

"I feel very honoured to have been able to work with so many talented people at Bravura and with very supportive clients for almost 20 years," said Hay. 

When she started her business, Hay was young and did not have big share options. So she started with one or two clients. 

"My first office was sub-let to me by a client. For R6000 per month, I could use their facilities, boardrooms and reception, and some hot desks as we grew.  We moved to our first own Bravura offices almost a year later, with a complement of five people. The landlord wanted my partner and me to sign surety and we refused. Rule number one: never sign surety if you can help it", said Hay.

Hay used her bonus from Mettle which was worth R180 000 to fund Bravura. 

She added the help of her two committed clients also played a major role.

"Bravura employees 60 self-starters who really want to make a difference, throughout our offices in Mauritius, Australia, Windhoek, Cape Town, and Johannesburg", said Hay. 

Hay believes that there are many great opportunities for women in investment banking and in Corporate Finance.

"Provided we are prepared to work hard and be committed to our clients. Many investment banking businesses in South Africa do not have a pay gap anymore. Bravura certainly does not. It is important to find a work environment where you are valued and treated on an equal footing - no worse and no better", said Hay.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE