Michelle Bester began her career at Sasfin fresh out of university and 17 years later there’s nowhere she’d rather be. “I feel like part of the family,” she says. From a young age, Michelle was interested in finance and business and credits her high school accounting teacher for encouraging her to study. Michelle shares: “My accounting teacher encouraged me. She said you will be making something of your life, work hard, study and go to university”
Michelle studied financial management at The University of Pretoria and it was the head of the faculty who called her up in the middle of her fourth year to tell her that a company called Sasfin was looking for young graduates to join their team.
“I walked in fresh out of varsity, not knowing much about financial markets and the corporate world. I learned the ins and outs of the business. Everybody starts at the bottom and works their way up.”
“Everybody starts at the bottom and works their way up.”
Michelle has worked her way up from assistant relationship manager to her current role as a business unit head responsible for day-to-day portfolio management. She invests clients' hard-earned money, a role that requires her to manage client expectations, especially in the current uncertain market conditions. A prominent individual responsible for shaping her career was the portfolio manager who took her under his wing early on in her career. She says: “All I know I’ve learned from him and he’s guided me. He’s taught me to not only be responsible and take responsibility for clients, but also to work hard and to be rewarded for doing so”.
While she’s had strong mentors at work, it’s her father who is her biggest inspiration. She calls him her steunpilaar – pillar of support – and says he impacted her career early on and taught her the importance of being financially independent by making her take out a loan to complete her studies. “It created a healthy pressure to know that you must take responsibility for your actions.” Later when she was ready to buy her first home, it was her father who helped her with a loan and taught her to always make decisions based on facts, not only on what you think, what you like or what looks good.
It’s this advice that has held her in good stead in the high-stress, somewhat unpredictable finance environment, making her consider all angles before responding. When asked how she handles the stress of her job, Michelle shares her life philosophy. “You can only do what you can do and you can't control every situation.” She explains that sometimes the best she can do is offer clients assistance, listen to concerns and be honest when she doesn’t have the answer.
“You can only do what you can do and you can't control every situation.”
Despite being at Sasfin for 17 years, Michelle says her work keeps her on her toes and makes every day fresh and exciting. “That’s the interesting part of being in the industry that we are in. Every day has its own challenges. There’s something different and new each day, every moment is a learning curve with challenges to overcome and opportunities to create. Every day is a new day you haven’t seen before and haven’t experienced.”
It’s a workspace that feels like family, but one that has also allowed her to grow and learn. “I've always felt safe around them. That created a business environment that allowed for opportunities, and if it wasn't for the opportunity that I've gotten, I probably wouldn't be sitting in the role of the portfolio manager.” She continues that the culture at Sasfin is such that everyone is willing to help and have each other’s back. “We are a family who stands together and offers support, no matter what.”
“We are a family who stands together and offers support, no matter what.”
As a woman in finance, Michelle says although it is a male-dominated industry, it shouldn’t discourage females from having ambition. “Knowledge is power,” she says, “it’s important to remember that you’ve earned your spot at the table. Equip yourself and be powerful. Don’t stand back because you are a woman. You have earned it just as well as the person next to you, so when you set our mind to something, go for it with your whole heart.”
She would give young girls looking for a career in finance the same advice she would give herself when she was 18: “Never give up, believe in yourself and work hard at what you want to achieve. If you've worked towards something, expect results. But if at first you don't succeed, try again.”
“Never give up, believe in yourself and work hard at what you want to achieve.”
During Covid, Michelle, like many others, made the decision to relocate. “The work from home situation basically opened up a lot of doors for employees to work anywhere in the world.” She now lives in the Western Cape.
“One of the reasons why I relocated was to be closer to family. I really enjoy nature at the moment. I enjoy getting out on my mountain bike, spending quality time with friends as well. The move did me well.”
It’s a move that’s enabled her more opportunities to fill her own cup. Sasfin, she shares, has implemented measures to support staff, especially over the last two years. However, she firmly believes that it is your own responsibility to ensure that you get the balance you need. “You need to take responsibility for having a good balance between work and social life. It does get busy, but you need to force yourself to take the time out. At the end of the day, it's your own greatest responsibility to make sure that you have balance by taking the time when you need it.”
“It's your own greatest responsibility to make sure that you have balance by taking the time when you need it.”
How does she ensure she gets balance? Her pre-work mountain bike rides help clear her mind, and recharge.
When reflecting on success, Michelle says it is achieving her goals, but more so, “being comfortable with the choices you have made, being happy with where you currently find yourself and being challenged on a daily basis”. What gets her up every morning is the pursuit of knowledge and the dedication to ensuring that when the markets open at 9am, she’s armed with the knowledge she needs to be at the top of her game. That will to learn is part of being in finance. “You need to learn because it’s the only way you grow.”
She’s looking forward to reaching her 20-year milestone at Sasfin, but before that, Michelle has a bucket list trip to the US planned to celebrate her 40th birthday. “You only live once,” she says, “so make the most of it.”