Kelly de Kock says she loves a technical challenge – “something I can really sink my teeth into” – and her role as COO for Private Client Securities, Treasury and Fiduciary Services at Old Mutual keeps her happily busy and highly motivated. “I am so thankful that the CEO of this business allowed me to learn everything from him, all the minutiae of the business, as it is exceptionally interesting. I’ve had ten years of experience in different areas of financial services, and this role which I’ve had since early last year suits me best, honestly it feels like coming home.”
The position of COO combines business acumen, technical financial skill and the leadership capability necessary to manage three areas of business. In terms of leadership, she explains, “my approach is to learn as much as I can from the excellent people I work with and to focus on how I can best assist them in their roles. My previous experience in stakeholder management and communications has helped me to manage across segments, to work as a team, and to understand how dependent and interdependent we are.”
She feels that successfully managing people relies on the so-called softer skills and a great deal of self-knowledge, something she was able to hone during her MBA at the GSB in 2011. “The personal development aspects of the MBA – really understanding myself and the decisions I make, and delving into the psychological aspects of work – were in some ways more valuable to me than the academic content. Learning to cope under pressure, prioritise every day and work effectively as a team were part of that process too,” she says.
Kelly spent five years at Old Mutual as a Corporate Finance Manager and then took the bold decision to take a year off to do her MBA. Towards the end of that year a position became available at Old Mutual as the Investor Relations Manager for South Africa and she grabbed the opportunity – even though she was still studying full time.
“I managed to start the job whilst still completing a few electives and the company analysis project – it was a very stressful time – but worth it as investor relations is a very scarce skill in South Africa and it was a good fit for me. It was a technical and communications-based role which gave a very high-level overview of the business.”
Two years later Kelly was approached by Kagiso Asset Management, a specialist investment management investment firm, where she spent three years as Head of Institutional Business Development before returning to Old Mutual to take up her current position.
She also serves as an Independent Non-Executive Director at Stor-Age, a JSE listed company and the largest self-storage property fund and brand in South Africa, and is President of the Western Cape Provincial Exco of the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP). She says, “I am very proud to be part of ABSIP, it’s an entirely volunteer organisation dedicated to transforming the financial services industry, which is very important to me.”
Looking back at her varied career journey, which has encompassed business development, investor relations and corporate finance, she says, “I’ve learned that these things take time and it’s okay not to have a clear direction at first but to rather take opportunities and see where they lead you. It took someone with vision to invest in me for the COO role as people often assess these things in a linear fashion, but my journey has not been linear.”
In the end it all comes down to people and the power of relationships, she says. “It’s a reminder to always look for potential in people and not just have a checklist of requirements.”