Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

FORMER Standard Bank Group CEO Jacko Maree, who helped motivate against a merger with Nedcor in 1999, once had ambitions to work for Union Acceptances Limited (UAL), a merchant bank division of Nedcor.

When Mr Maree joined Standard Bank in 1980, little did he know that 19 years later he would help stave off a plan by Nedcor to take over Standard Bank.

Mr Maree says he had an interview at UAL but did not get the job because the merchant bank was employing chartered accountants and he was not qualified. He says after pulling numbers from a phone book he gave Standard Merchant a call and was lucky enough to get hired.

"I joined a little thing called Standard Merchant Bank.… In those days you had UAL, which was the merchant bank of Nedbank, and the old Absa had a thing called Senbank," says Mr Maree.

"I was in mergers and acquisitions.… I thought I would do it for a short period to learn how corporate SA works and then go and work for a big company but I loved what I did and I got promoted ."

Mr Maree, 57, who counts John Pierpont "JP" Morgan, as one of the greatest figures in banking history, regards the Nedcor bid for Standard Bank as one of the toughest instances in his 32-year career. " Most of the people who worked for us were looking to me to save the bank. So that was tough. But it was exciting at the same time," he says.

When his predecessor, Mike Vosloo, stepped down to take early retirement in October 1999, Mr Maree took over the reins as CE of Standard Bank.

The bank was deep in the middle of an aggressive bid from Nedcor. Less than a month later Mr Maree and his new, young team had come up with counter-arguments that helped kill the merger. Mr Maree and his team had argued that Nedcor had overestimated the potential synergies and underestimated the risks of integrating two different information technology systems.

Mr Maree also argued that the merger would be anticompetitive and Standard Bank would deliver double-digit growth on its own without being a merged entity.

Under Mr Maree’s leadership, Standard Bank’s share price moved from R21 to R118 and the market capitalisation to R187bn from R30bn in 1999.

Standard Bank moved from being a R2.9bn headline earnings company in 1999 to R15bn in its recent results for the year ended December. The dividend per share has risen from 68c 13 years ago to 455c last year.

Under Mr Maree, Standard Bank created a partnership with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) which saw the world’s largest bank by assets invest $5.5bn for a 20% stake.

Standard Bank literature shows that the deal with ICBC was also a factor of Mr Maree being at the right place at the right time.

In 2005, Mr Maree had been the only African banker at the International Monetary Conference in Beijing, where he met ICBC chairman Jiang Jianqing.

In 2007, the International Monetary Conference was held in Cape Town and hosted by Standard Bank. ICBC’s Mr Jiang travelled to South Africa for the conference. This gave Mr Jiang the opportunity to visit Standard Bank, which had aspirations to link with a large international banking partner in an expansion strategy.

In September 2007, Mr Maree and then Standard Bank chairman Derek Cooper were invited by Mr Jiang to a high-level discussion in Beijing at which the ICBC informed the South Africans of its desire to acquire a stake in Standard Bank.

However, it has not been a smooth period. Under Mr Maree’s leadership, Standard Bank has had to retrench in both South Africa and London. In October 2010, the bank announced it was retrenching 1,800 staff. Last year, it reduced its staff in the UK.

"You feel it’s a bit of a failure on your own part," says Mr Maree. Standard Bank also had to pull back in Russia and other emerging markets, finding it hard to compete.

"We made our mistakes but none of our mistakes have been life threatening, or caused us to make a loss in the bank."

Mr Maree says Standard Bank has achieved a lot, including creating value for black economic empowerment (BEE) partners. The bank’s Tutuwa BEE initiative has created R7.9bn total value, of which R1.64bn is cash received and R6.2bn net value in structure after preference debt.

After 13 years at the top, Mr Maree believes he can still add value, only this time he will be reporting to chairman Fred Phaswana. "I will be a senior client relationship guy. I know so many of the CEOs of big companies; I know so many of the foreign investors in SA. The guys in Corporate Investment Banking must do the business but I can help."

Mr Maree is also going to teach young people in the bank.