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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Black faces in new SA economy
By Jamie Robertson
BBC World business reporter in South Africa

Raymond Ndlovu
Mr Ndlovu says staff have been able to fulfil potential

As the chief executive of one of South Africa's biggest trading houses, stockbroker Raymond Ndlovu is one of the generation that burst out of the confines of apartheid.

He is the first to admit that he is a beneficiary of the country's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) rules - which demanded the opening up of the financial services industry to the black majority.

But it is his business partnership with an Afrikaner, Kevin Swart, which has made the company - called Noah Financial Innovation - such a success.

Coming from Zimbabwe in the early 1990s after seven years at Standard Chartered Bank, Mr Ndlovu took a job in Cape Town.

But it was four years ago, when Mr Swart interviewed him for a job in Johannesburg, that the seed of an idea was planted.

'Staff thrive'

Struck by his obvious drive, Mr Swart approached Mr Ndlovu with the idea for a new company.

We're black and white in more than one way
Raymond Ndlovu on his partnership with Kevin Swart

The two became business partners and formed Noah - a name to suggest a refuge from chaos or the survival of something valuable after the flood.

It was designed to appeal to customers but is perhaps as apt for some of the staff too.

"Some have, in a manner of speaking, been rescued from jobs where management had failed to recognise their potential," Mr Ndlovu says.

"Now they thrive in the smaller, more relaxed atmosphere."

Office walls are decorated with paintings done by the staff and their children. The reception area displays photos of them, along with their families and friends.

Moving on

The light hearted banter across the office belies the fact that Noah has in five years become one of the country's top five trading houses.

South Africa's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) rules have obviously been an advantage for Noah.

Clients are keen to have black stockbrokers to fulfil the requirements of the rules.

But things have moved on from there.

"Companies now say 'Don't give us your Black Empowerment credentials. We want more than that. Tell us why we should be dealing with you'," Mr Ndlovu says.

But while BEE policy has helped the firm thrive, he is also critical of the government.

"There's too much emphasis on ownership. In itself that's a challenge because it requires large amounts of capital and debt capital at that," he says.

"Too little emphasis has been put on skills development bringing on of new skills and the introduction of talent in business."

Team effort

At the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, chief executive Russell Loubser points out that companies could fulfil their Black Economic Empowerment obligations any way they wanted, not just through equity deals.

"There's no one way of doing a BEE deal. Every company has a different way of doing it," Mr Loubser says.

"Some of them comprise share ownership, some of them comprise employee share options. It varies."

But Mr Loubser said there was no question of the exchange applying pressure on listed firms to increase black ownership.

I feel very honoured to be part of this epoch, making South African history
Raymond Ndlovu

"It would be completely inappropriate for us to add additional legislation regarding BEE, he said.

"There is legislation in place and it's up to companies whether they should comply."

Back at the Noah office, over a coffee, both the founding partners acknowledge that neither could have achieved what they have, on their own.

Mr Swart, the chief operating officer and the son of an Afrikaans farmer, admits that before he got to know his business partner, he had never had any black friends.

If I hadn't taken up the opportunity with Raymond, I don't know where I would be. Probably on the treadmill still, like a hamster," he says.

"Still, you couldn't think of two more different people," Mr Ndlovu smiles.

"We're black and white in more than one way".

Coffee over, and it is another normal day: a meeting with a client. The Rand has slipped a little, mining stocks have fallen and the trading room is alive with chatter.

And that, really, is the aim of Black Economic Empowerment - a kind of normality for them both that would have been unthinkable just 12 years ago.

"I feel very proud," Mr Ndlovu says.

"I feel very honoured to be part of this epoch, making South African history.

"It's something that gives me great joy to be able to stand in front of you and be seen as a shop window for a new South African economy."

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