FIFI PETERS: If you were vying for the corner office in your organisation, one that you’re presently working at, if you were looking to get the top job, the job of the CEO there, how long would you stick around in order to get it? Five years, 10 years and call it quits, or maybe 15 for you? Well, the new CEO of RMB stuck around for over 20 years and in October this year, it’s about to pay off for her because she’ll be … starting the job as a CEO. Her name is Emrie Brown and she joins the Market Update.
Emrie, thanks so much for your time….
… discussing the matter at hand today, first of all, congratulations on your appointment. I must ask: when you started at RMB all those years ago, back in 2001, was it always the plan for you to eventually become CEO – your plan, that is?
EMRIE BROWN: If I must be honest, I thought when I started in investment banking it was going to be a five-year journey. I thought that you do it for a short while, and then you go on to do different things. I found an environment where I really loved what I was doing. I loved the people I was working with, and one day I woke up and it was like 15 years later.
I think that’s what’s amazing about this industry. There’s so much change and [there are so many] new challenges and new opportunities for learning that I just kept on going. But on the CEO role specifically, definitely not. I always say to many of the people who work for me that I think if you enjoy what you do, you give 200%, and the future will bring you what it brings you.
If you’re too fixated about that corner office sometimes that shines through. What is your purpose? Why are you here? For me, it was about being part of building a great organisation, being there to serve our clients, and the rest for me was really about an outcome.
FIFI PETERS: But at what point in your journey – let’s say now 15 years later, when you realised, oh, I’m actually still at this organisation – did you realise that that corner office for you was within reach, and at what point did you actively start working to get it?
EMRIE BROWN: I suppose it was when I was appointed as co-head of the investment bank. Then you joined the executive committee of RMB and that is really the senior leadership team. I think that was the first time that I realised that might be an opportunity maybe there for me down the road. But that was really where I left it. After that I really just focused on doing what my role was and being a partner to my peers.
There are so many great people that work with me, and I think that when the conversation was had whether I would be interested, I even considered that, because I think one needs to make sure that it is at a stage in your life where you feel that you still have the energy, you can truly contribute to take the business to new heights. So for me those are the considerations more than just having my eye on the corner office.
FIFI PETERS: Okay. So after all those considerations, you finally said yes. Why?
EMRIE BROWN: Absolutely. First and foremost because I feel that the organisation has been incredibly good to me over many years. It is my time to give back, to give back to the people of the organisation to have an impact in their lives and in their careers, and just to really see what I can add to what great CEOs have done before me to lead an organisation to an even better place than where it is today.
Another reason, I must be honest about it – and there was quite a bit about it in the press today as well – for me it was also that for a long time in my career I’ve been a role model, and I think it is great to demonstrate to young women in society who might be considering financial services that it is possible for women to attain these leadership roles. I’m not the first women to attain it in South Africa. There’s Anel Bosman, who’s doing a wonderful job at Nedbank. But I think there must be more of us. So for a woman, I certainly believe if you can see her, you can be her.
FIFI PETERS: I was definitely very inspired. I was inspired when I saw the statement. Are you the first female CEO at RMB?
EMRIE BROWN: Yes, I am.
FIFI PETERS: I actually wanted to check that fact with you, because I just tried to think back as to has there ever been a woman [CEO there]? No, there hasn’t, but I wanted to ask you and clarify that fact. That’s a big role, [with] pressure. You were speaking about the table and what you’re bringing to the table and the like; practically, what does that look like? What do you see your reign at RMB looking like?
EMRIE BROWN: For me, I have done many things at RMB. It gave me a good, very broad perspective on the organisation, and I think just through the years that I’ve spent in banking – and I’ve seen many, many cycles that we’ve been through – they give you a level of experience and confidence to take on the world we find ourselves in today, which is a fast-changing world with lots of uncertainties. I think that experience and the different perspectives that I bring as a woman really will enable the whole team and the business to tackle these challenges and to identify the opportunities from it.
I’m an optimist. I look for opportunities in all situations and I think that is what business needs today and what business needs in South Africa. Business leaders need to find the opportunities and make sure that we play our role in growing our country.
FIFI PETERS: It’s 2022, and you’re the first female CEO at RMB. So there is progress on the transformation front. We have seen it in other sectors, also in other parts of the world, but the narrative is that the progress is a bit too slow, it could be quicker. But nonetheless, we’ll take it.
I’d like to ask you just how the industry has changed, looking at the situation now compared to 20 years ago, probably even longer than that – when you started. How has it changed for women and the opportunities that are opening up for women?
EMRIE BROWN: Fifi, it has changed significantly. When I started my career, I was the only woman in an entire group of men as a team. If we talk about minorities these days, it’s hard when you are just one of someone in a much bigger team. I think that you were talking about it at the start of the interview, about stereotypes.
In those days, that was very much a reality where women were seen in society often have to fulfil a certain role and men a different role. I think that’s where things have changed. Women are seen as being able to partner with men to [fulfil] the same roles, to challenge for top leadership positions, and in particular in financial services.
I always say that it is a business where it is very much your intellect and your creativity and your interpersonal relationships that are a differentiator. In those categories, women can compete with men and there’s no reason why they can’t work side by side. I think that is where the shift has really happened, where we see each other as partners. Top talent – there is no specific lens on it. It cuts across race, gender, age all different spheres. I think that is really for me the refreshing change that’s happened.
If I speak about RMB specifically, we’ve got women in all our management layers, and women believe that they can strive and be successful at RMB, and I think it’s that changing belief that for me is the big thing that’s happened over the many years.
FIFI PETERS: Yeah. Emrie, I’m excited for you. Thanks for allowing us to get to know you a little bit. There’ll be plenty of time to engage [with] you about the numbers that you’ll be reporting on when you start in the role officially in October.
But congratulations, ma’am, we’ll leave it there for now. Emrie Brown is the new CEO of RMB. She is currently the head of the banking division, but she starts formally within that role in October, taking over from James Formby, who may stay within the organisation, although we don’t quite know as what yet.