In a deceptively quiet office sits a man responsible for handling and growing nearly R50 billion in assets. As he leads me to the main boardroom of the company that he built from the ground, he's draped in his crimson and white Harvard Business School scarf while the cuffs of his shirt feature his monogrammed initials. Meet Malungelo Zilimbola, founder and Chief Investment Officer of Mazi Asset Management.
Born on 8 June 1970 in Klerksdorp, and supported and schooled by his two parents and five siblings, he learned that nothing could stop him from achieving what he has today. Zilimbola believes that his upbringing ultimately grew his interest in entrepreneurship and his life philosophy. “I grew up in a typical rural home and it was very self-sufficient. We had cows that we milked, we planted maize and milled it into pap, we had our vegetable garden, and we had chickens for eggs, and livestock. Everything we ate we made ourselves. We would also sell these things...” The money gained from this would contribute to the Zilimbola household’s financial commitments such as school fees.
I grew up in a typical rural home and it was very self-sufficient... Everything we ate we made ourselves. We would also sell these things...
With the principles of self-reliance and hard work ingrained in him, he channelled them and his deep passion and thirst for knowledge to propel him forward in his academics. Zilimbola consistently featured in the top-three learners during his school days, was awarded a bursary after matriculating, excelled at Cape Peninsula of Technology (CPUT) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), and, finally, attended Harvard Business School in 2017.
Having started his first post-university job after completing his National Diploma at CPUT and Bachelor of Science at UCT, both in Quantity Surveying, Zilimbola returned home to work for the Department of Public Works in 1990. He eventually returned to Cape Town to work at a consulting firm and property investment firm, which berthed his interest in the investment world. He found himself back in school to complete his Honours in Finance and by 1999 he started working at Investec Asset Management. After spending four years there he was recruited to be Senior Portfolio Manager for Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) Asset Management where he was responsible for R60 billion in assets.
After three years at RMB, Zilimbola knew it was time to start his own company. That company is Mazi Asset Management and it's now one of South Africa’s most prominent asset management companies. Zilimbola says that the birth of Mazi was a build-up and not an overnight epiphany. He explains how his changing career paths and lifestyle decisions enabled him to start Mazi. “My ultimate goal was to start my own business. While working I saved a lot of money because I knew what I wanted to achieve. The choice of companies I worked for was also made by this goal. It was not a lightbulb moment. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family where we were self-sufficient, we were making our own stuff and selling it. For me, this has always been my mindset and my DNA. It was just a matter of time. Once I got the confidence and education, I made the move to start Mazi,” he states.
My ultimate goal was to start my own business. While working I saved a lot of money because I knew what I wanted to achieve.
Zilimbola is proud of how far Mazi has come in 13 years. “To be a black professional who has made it in a very tough industry, dominated by white males, is a big achievement for me. To build a business of the scale that we have built, in an industry that is not transformed and that is hard to transform, is also a big achievement.” He chose to mention this prior to listing the various major industry awards won by Mazi, potentially due to the nature in which he thinks of the word achievement. “Achievements must be seen in the context of the hurdles you have jumped.” As a black man, Zilimbola feels he was forever questioned about his capabilities, integrity and discipline. This is why he looks at his ability to overcome these hurdles as his and Mazi’s greatest achievement.
To build a business of the scale that we have built, in an industry that is not transformed and that is hard to transform, is also a big achievement.
Zilimbola uses 'iMazi' (the Nguni word for cow) as the emblem of his business. On Mazi’s home page you're welcomed with the company's ethos which reads, "In the past, one’s wealth was measured by the size of the herd. A Mazi grows and produces offspring; in investment terms, this implies growth in capital. It produces milk on a regular basis, which implies dividends. The Mazi can then be sold at the end, realising a capital gain. This signifies a great investment." As you enter his Sandton offices you're greeted by this cattle-related theme. From the company's logo at the front door, to the artwork and decor in the office, it’s easy to see he understands the value of these beautiful beasts.
Zilimbola also takes inspiration from the book Halftime by Bob Buford, which focuses on life’s transitions. He explains its impact by saying, “In the first half of your life it’s all about success, accumulation and growing wealth. The second half is about significance. It’s about giving back, doing stuff for society and, for me, that’s what’s next.” Through adopting a school in his childhood village that's looking forward to him building a computer lab and library in the near future, it's evident he's already begun his 'second half' well.
They say excellence doesn't have a finishing line. For as long as I have the energy, strength and mind, I must just keep going.
When asked when he'll know he's hit the peak of his career, Zilimbola says, “They say excellence doesn't have a finishing line. For as long as I have the energy, strength and mind, I must just keep going. I think the word 'retirement' is a swear word.” With his retirement age approaching in a little over a decade, you'll not see Zilimbola shelving his passions, interests, goals and overall skills. This is certainly not the last you'll hear of him with the big ambitions he has of doing even greater things, well into his second half.