A leader by heart and deed

FirstRand Namibia CEO Sarel van Zyl is encouraging a values-driven workforce through various activities.

14 December 2018 | People

Elizabeth Joseph

Sarel van Zyl, CEO of FirstRand Namibia, has been in the hot seat for the last four years and he has not slowed the momentum, but rather stepped on the gas.

Van Zyl was born on 30 April 1962 in Mariental, Namibia and matriculated in Otjiwarongo in 1979. He started his banking career in 1982 in Okahandja and boasts 36 years’ experience in banking. He holds a Bachelors’ degree in Business Administration as well as a Masters’ degree in the same field, both obtained through the University of Potchefstroom in South Africa.

Van Zyl was the CEO of FNB Namibia Unit Trusts and also served on the board of FNB Insurance Limited until January 2011. At the same time he was a member of the executive committee of FNB Namibia Holdings - now FirstRand Namibia Holdings. He headed up the Retail Bank, a division of FNB Namibia Holdings where he was responsible for the branch banking network of 50 branches with 1 200 staff members, the credit card division, micro loans, agriculture as well as the tourism divisions.

The journey

He was transferred to Zambia in February 2011 as the CEO of FNB Zambia. Under his leadership in Zambia, the business increased from five branches to 20, the number of accounts from 11 000 to 190 000 and the business was turned around from its loss-making position (as a start-up), to generate N$100 million profit in June 2014.

He returned to Namibia in November 2014 and assumed the responsibility of CEO of FirstRand Namibia Limited on 1 December that year.

During his time in Namibia, RMB was fully developed into a market leader in corporate and investment banking in Namibia, and Ashburton was introduced and fully established. Together with First National Bank, the retail and commercial arm of the bank, Wesbank and Outsurance, the group is now the most comprehensive end-to-end financial services entity in the country. The group drives inclusive banking services enabled by technology and is known for its innovative client solutions and affordable financial services to the most remote parts of Namibia.

Family

Success runs in the family for the Van Zyls. He is married to Cielie van Zyl, born in Gobabis and who is one of the first teachers to have qualified at the then Windhoek Teachers College (now Unam). They have two children, Arno, a qualified actuary at Legal and General in London in the United Kingdom (UK), and Elize, a holder of a BAccLLB as well as a BAcc Honours degree, and is currently in her second year doing her articles towards becoming a chartered accountant.

Family values are an integral part of FirstRand Namibia’s way of doing things and a lot of time is spent encouraging a values-driven workforce through various group-led initiatives, including acknowledgements by fellow staff members recognising each other for living the values.

Mentorship and coaching is key to the group’s success and future leadership development. Van Zyl spends one hour per month per individual on his executive team doing mentoring and coaching, as well as performance improvement and strategy discussion and formulation.

As is the case with many other people in leadership roles, Van Zyl was “spotted” by Leonard Haynes, now CEO at FNB Zambia, in his earlier banking career as someone with potential, and he was given exposure to the relevant areas to grow and develop his career.

Van Zyl is an outdoors person and enjoys camping, photography and fishing. He and his son visited Torra Bay for 21 years consecutively for fishing, before Arno left for the UK.

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