Wednesday, May 12, 2021

When it literally doesn’t pay to be patriotic

When published in Sunday Standard a year ago, the profile of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Thapelo Tsheole, appeared under the headline, “For the Love of Country”. It turns out that country doesn’t always requite that love.

With BSE’s CEO, Hiran Mendis, resigning and relocating to his native Sri Lanka at the end of this year, what seemed like the most natural course of action has become a mirage shimmering far off in the horizon. Acting in line with Mendis’ recommendation, the bourse’s Main Committee will retain the Sri Lankan as a Consultant and Tsheole will continue as Deputy CEO. Information that has come out so far indicates that Mendis will spend most of his time in his country. The Main Committee is chaired by Regina Sikalesele-Vaka who has publicised very strong views on citizen empowerment.

What is interesting about this issue is that with as many degrees as he holds, Tsheole could easily get a lucrative job on Wall Street. By his account, however, he gets more job satisfaction from contributing to the development of a country that gave him free education.

Graduating with a Master of Commerce in Financial Markets from Rhodes University in 2006, he was offered a job in South Africa along with his six fellow graduates. However, he and another graduate from Lesotho declined such offers, preferring to return to their respective countries. In Tsheole’s particular case, he wanted “to come back to this wonderful country and contribute to its development.”

Had he decided otherwise, Tsheole would be earning a lot more than he is now at the BSE.
The free education he got was in the form of a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (single major in economics) at the University of Botswana and the Rhodes masters that he obtained while an employee of the Bank of Botswana (BoB). When the government has stopped educating him, Tsheole used his own money to develop himself academically, enrolling for a prestigious MBA programme with another South African university, the University of Cape Town. By his estimate, he spent about P380, 000 of his own money, completing his studies in December 2013. This was money well-spent because, as he said, UCT’s MBA is the best in Africa and its Graduate School of Business where he obtained it “is highly rated in the world.”

Beginning July 2011, Tsheole, who at the time Product Development Manager, has had stints as Acting BSE CEO and was appointed Deputy CEO last year. It seemed almost certain that having acted as CEO before and having been made Deputy CEO, Tsheole would become the next CEO when Mendis left BSE. Interestingly, when Sunday Standard made this point to him, half of the response he gave seems prophetic in retrospect.

“That will not necessarily be the case because I still need to work hard and prove myself,” he said.

In light of recent developments, professional colleagues say that Tsheole has been both industrious and competent. His own CV shows that he has indeed worked hard to deserve the CEO post. Among his career achievements as the Product Development Manager are: leading the process of the BSE 2013 Strategic Plan Revision; introducing the first Exchanged Traded Funds (ETFs) in Botswana, the first in Africa outside South Africa and successfully promoting them to achieve market turnover of over P403 million; participating in increasing investor participation in the BSE from less than 3 percent to about 8 percent to 13 percent as at 2013; forming strategic alliances for BSE business development with I-Net Bridge, DirectFN, Bloomberg, Reuters, AbSA Capital, Nedbank Capital, and Geometric Progression CC; establishing a Botswana Bond Market forum composed of the stock exchange, BoB, Non-Banking Financial Institution Regulatory Authority, Botswana Public Officers’ Pension Fund, Asset Managers, primary dealers and other industry stakeholders; and spearheading the registration of Botswana Bond Market Association; formulating bond market conventions for Botswana, and Botswana Bond Indices for BSE; playing a key role in the introduction and authoring of BSE Annual Reports since 2007 as well as winning the Best Parastatal PWC Annual Report Award Competition and becoming runners-up in 2009/10; constructing six additional total return and free float indices for BSE; creating and maintaining a BSE Market database for usage in internal research; playing a key role in external revenue generation; and, establishing the BSE library.

Tsheole has featured and continues to feature as a speaker at local and international financial markets conferences and other forums.

“I get a lot of calls from big organisations that want me to feature as a speaker,” he said.
At the time of his interview with Sunday Standard last year, he had been invited to speak at a financial markets event Europe and the head of a major German bank wanted to have a one-on-one meeting with him at that event.

More than being a big feather in his own cap, Tsheole said that these invitations were “a sign of recognition” of the BSE by people and institutions that matter.

His one other career achievement has been to introduce financial markets courses which BSE offers in partnership with Geometric Progression CC of South Africa. Not only do these courses improve market participants’ knowledge, they also generate a bit of money for the bourse.

In fairness to Sikalesele-Vaka, the decision to pass up Tsheole for promotion is not hers but her Committee’s. However, what will strike some as a little odd is that when she left the employ of BIHL as its CEO, Sikalesele-Vaka accused Sanlam, the South African holding company, of running the Botswana operation from its headquarters in Cape Town and overlooking “qualified and experienced Batswana with proven ability.”

Tsheole’s case is just the latest piece in the jigsaw puzzle of how Botswana deploys its human resource. A Motswana who went to an Ivy League university, one of the best in the whole world, was eagerly pursued by Fortune 500 companies (the United States’ largest 500 companies) upon completing his studies. However, he declined all the lucrative offers dangled in front of him because he felt the patriotism similar to Tsheole’s. Back home, he went for more than a year without a job.

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