Frederick du Plessis 1986


Frederick Johannes du Plessis was born at Hartbeesfontein in the Western Transvaal on 27 September 1931. After matriculating at Klerks­dorp High School at the end of 1949, he embarked on a brilliant academic career at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education. He obtained the degrees of BCom, BCom Hons and MCom, all cum laude, and subsequently studied at the Free University of Amsterdam where he was awarded the degree of DEcon (cum laude) in 1958.

As a post-graduate student, he began lecturing in 1953, and from 1959 to July 1963 was a senior lecturer at Potchefstroom University. In January 1964 he was appointed Professor of Finance and Banking at the University of Pretoria and Head of that Department, a post which he occupied until December 1971.

From 1970 to 1979 he was Director of the S.A. Trade Cycle Research Institute.

His rise in the business world

Dr Du Plessis entered business at a relatively late stage, becoming a director of Sanlam and Nedbank in 1971. He has subsequently risen to being one of the most highly respected figures in South African business.

While his rise in the sphere of business has been impressive, he has shied away from the public eye and has not sought or asked for renown. The fact remains, however, that in just eleven years he has become one of the top men in the South African business world.

  • In 1971 he was elected a director of Sanlam and of Nedbank.
  • Three years later he became chairman of Senbank after Sanlam had requested him to restructure its banking interests.
  • In December 1976 the Minister of Finance asked him to become curator of the insolvent Randbank. His refusal was not accepted.
  • The great task of getting Trust Bank back on its feet was entrusted to him by Sanlam.
  • In-March 1978 he was approached by Sanlam's chairman and deputy chairman with the request that he become managing director of Sanlam. He turned down the request, as he felt he already had as many responsibilities as he could handle. Again his refusal was not accepted. A month later the request was again put to him, and this time he accepted the position.
  • In 1982 at the age of fifty-one he became chairman of Sanlam.
  • Upon the establishment of Sanlam Investment Corporation in 1985 to effect a formal separation between Sanlam's function as a life-assurer and the control over its strategic investments, he became executive chairman of that company.

In addition to his involvement in Sanlam and Sankorp, Dr Du Plessis at present occupies the following positions:

  • Chairman of Trust Bank, Santambank, Senbank, Mercabank, Federale Mynbou and Bankorp.
  • Director of i.a. American South African Investment Company (USA), Messina, Trust Building Society, Urban Foundation, Small Business Development Corporation, Sasol, FVB, Gencor, Sanlam Insurance, Nissan-Magnis Holdings and Murray & Roberts.

In the service of Sanlam and its Policy-owners

Upon his appointment as managing director of Sanlam in 1978 there were many sceptics. However the practical world of affairs was not too much for this academic, even though the position could be compared to the combined responsibilities of three highly rated executive officials. In addition to his financial acumen, he soon demonstrated that he possesses an exceptional ability to motivate people and to delegate without abdicating responsibility. He is approachable, open-minded and receptive of new ideas. His inexhaustible capacity for work is widely known.

The best example of Dr Du Plessis's zest for work and his drive is probably to be found in the series of policy-owner meetings which he started in 1984. In that year he included almost 70 such meetings throughout the country in his already crammed programme, and since then the number has passed the 100 mark. More than 20 000 policy owners have had the opportunity to get to know Dr Du Plessis personally, to put questions about their company and its activities, and to receive first-hand information about relevant matters.

Dr Du Plessis has probably done more than any of his predecessors to open channels of communication between the company and its policy­owners and between management and staff.

Wider involvement

The fact that Fred du Plessis is a man of many parts has led to his being drawn into many activities, even beyond the strict field of business. He serves on the Economic Advisory Council of the State President, and is a member of the Council of the Medical University of SA and Potchef­stroom University. He is a trustee of the Pretoria Technikon, President of the SA Foundation and Patron of the Free Market Foundation.

As far as wider economic policy is concerned, Dr Du Plessis believes that as a regulator of economic activity the free market is not infallible and that, when it does not work, it should be replaced or supplemented by something else. He considers, for example, that a system of free inter• national competition is not feasible for South Africa at the moment and that economic policy should be adjusted fairly radically.

He is also an outspoken advocate of a long-term national strategic plan for South Africa and has called for greater urgency and determination in the implementation of such a strategy.

The prestigious Tinie Louw Award of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut which is awarded for an exceptional contribution to business by an Afrikaans businessman and which Dr Du Plessis received in Port Elizabeth last year was a well-deserved mark of recognition.

On the strength of his achievements as an academic, businessman and economist, as well as for his vision, drive and exceptional leadership qualities, the Council and Senate of the University of Port Elizabeth consider it a privilege to confer the degree of DOCTOR COMMERCII HONORIS CAUSA, upon FREDERICK JOHANNES DU PLESSIS.