Determined to unlock the value in Johnnic's safe
TYPICAL of most young black South Africans in the early 1980s, skipping the country to swell the ranks of the exile community did cross Jacob Modise's mind.
But then fate had other things in store for him.
Modise came to the attention of Anglo American. The company ran a cadet scheme, taking in young blacks with good matric results, offering them in-service training for a year and then paying for their university education.
Orphaned at an early age, the Garankuwa-born Modise was raised by his aunt in Mamelodi, outside Pretoria. He regards himself as fortunate - if it weren't for the Anglo cadet scheme, he would not have been able to attend university.
Today, Modise is finance director-designate of Johnnic, the industrial holdings group that Anglo sold last year to the National Empowerment Consortium (NEC), a broad group of black business and trade unions led by Cyril Ramaphosa.
The 31-year-old Modise takes over from Barry Wood, who this month goes on leave ahead of his retirement next May.
Those who know Modise describe him as an exceptionally bright individual. He was starting matric when his school first introduced the subject of accountancy - and he took to bean-counting with ease.
After matric, Modise joined Johannesburg Consolidated Investments (JCI) as a bookkeeper. Back then, JCI was the same group the legendary Barney Barnato had put together, with interests in platinum, gold, coal and industrial investments. Anglo split JCI into three in 1994.
While he was working at JCI, Modise enrolled at Wits to study a Bachelor of Commerce degree, later followed by a Bachelor of Accounting degree.
He left JCI in 1988 to do his articles with audit firm Deloitte and Touche. Three years later, he was back at JCI before joining television rental and cellular phone group Teljoy, first as financial manager of its MasterCare division and later in the same post for the entire TV operation, with 60 people reporting to him.
In 1996, Modise joined Eskom as head of corporate finance. But a few months ago Johnnic chairman Ramaphosa came knocking on his door, and although he was enjoying his Eskom job, he found Ramaphosa's negotiating skills difficult to withstand.
At Johnnic, Modise sees good growth prospects in a range of assets, but perhaps immediate opportunities in gaming.
His aim is to contribute to the process of adding value for Johnnic shareholders. Johnnic, as an investment holding company, suffers from double discounts. Johnnic's share price trades at a discount to the value of the listed companies in which it directly owns shares. And some of the companies also own stakes in other listed companies relative to which they also trade at discount. A case in point is Omni Media (a Johnnic subsidiary), which also holds shares in M-Net, M-Cell, Times Media, Millenium and Caxton.
"The first task is to unlock value for Johnnic shareholders from existing investments. Johnnic can then look at buying assets in which it will have control," says Modise.
A constraining factor could be that most NEC members don't have deep pockets. But Modise says Johnnic is under-geared at the moment and its balance sheet can comfortably carry debt of more than R2-billion.
Outside the world of finance, Modise reads what he describes as "knowledge transfer" and science books, especially those on developments in the rest of the universe.
An armchair sportsman who occasionally plays a game of squash, he is just getting into golf and has "yet to develop a handicap", which he will no doubt do in time on Johnnic Properties' fine golf courses.
Those in the know say Ramaphosa has been trying to woo Modise to learn fly-fishing. He hasn't as yet, but don't bet on fierce resistance.