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Home / A day in the life of Tertius Stears: Group Chief Executive Officer of Sanlam

A day in the life of Tertius Stears: Group Chief Executive Officer of Sanlam

2022-04-20  Edgar Brandt

A day in the life of Tertius Stears: Group Chief Executive Officer of Sanlam
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Tertius Stears is a qualified Chartered Accountant and an alumnus of Stellenbosch University. He has completed numerous leadership courses, including the Senior Executive Program at Harvard Business School. He started his professional career at auditing firm KPMG before joining Sanlam as financial manager. 

Once at Sanlam, he steadily worked his way up the ranks to become senior manager for finance and administration before being appointed general manager in 2003 and then serving as chief operating officer of Sanlam between 2004 and 2006. 

Today, Stears is one of the longest-serving CEOs in the country, serving as the Group chief executive officer of Sanlam. This week, New Era’s (NE) head of business and lifestyle Edgar Brandt managed to ask Stears (TS) what his typical day entails.  


NE: What do you normally do when you first wake up?


TS:  Like most people these days, one of the first things I do right after waking up is taking a quick peek at my phone to check up on the news and current affairs. I also check for any urgent messages that I might need to respond to or send out. From there, I engage in my morning exercise. As they say, morning exercise not only helps with your mindset, but it also helps you lead a healthier, happier life overall. I then get myself ready for work and then do the morning school rush, where I drop my kids off at school. 


NE: What do you prefer for breakfast?


TS:  The morning school rush doesn’t often allow for breakfast, but when I can, I prefer muesli with some yoghurt but some days, I need some bacon and soft sunny side up eggs.


NE: What kind of exercise regimen do you normally partake in?


TS:  Besides my morning exercise routine, I try to walk at least three times a week during the early morning hours with some friends from my neighbourhood. I do, however, enjoy some cycling and try to get on the bike as often as possible. When training for a mountain bike event, I try to cycle twice during the week and then do a longer ride over weekends. I am actually an avid mountain cyclist, so during my free time, when I am not spending time with family or work, the bike is my preferred alternative. 


NE: How long does it normally take you to reach the office, and what time do you normally get there?


TS: Including dropping the kids at school, it probably takes me about 30 minutes. I am at the office between 07h00 and 07h15. Because I get to the office so early, I am often the first or one of the first few people in the office. Nothing beats starting your day in a quiet office. Coming in early allows me to look at my agenda for the day, put a few plans in place and get started before that morning buzz. By the time my colleagues get into the office, I am often already busy working. It is also so much easier to work, focus and plan when the office is a bit quiet so I enjoy this hour of silence. 


NE: Who do you normally first meet with once in the office? 


TS: It really differs from day to day but there are a few colleagues known to come into the office very early as well.  


NE: What does the typical day consist of for Tertius?


TS: Generally, there are always a number of scheduled operational and information-sharing meetings. There are always some immediate resolution meetings that have to be prioritised. I generally operate with an open-door policy, so when I am not engaged in meetings, my door is open to anyone of my staff to engage me on any issues. 


I also engage in ongoing email communications and deal with some client concerns that I try to resolve but also try to understand what process has failed for it to reach such a point. I also engage in weekly operational and monthly strategic management meetings while the quarterly board meetings keep us busy and in check. I must add there is never a dull moment in my day. Operating on a strategic level also entails having high-level discussions with industry players and other stakeholders such as government and regulators.


NE: What method do you use to catch up on developments from the various departments?


TS: As the head of Sanlam’s executive management team (EMT), I have weekly operational meetings with all the executives from the different departments and business units. Here, we get to hear what is happening in the different departments, what challenges the teams might be facing and come up with solutions to issues or problems at hand. These meetings are important, as they not only allow me to think of how to address things, but they offer the entire team an opportunity to share and compare and contrast where necessary. It also allows me to understand the pressures on the teams and what creative or innovative ways they are using to tackle them. 


NE: How do you stay visible to your teams within the organisation?


TS: I must say this is not always an easy thing to do but I do my best to ensure the different teams have access to me. As I mentioned previously, I do have an open-door policy, and I try to deliberately engage with teams when I am not held up in meetings or other duties.  I also try to walk around departments; this allows me to chat to staff informally and you pick up quite a few things during these conversations. I have initiated what we call the ‘Breakfast with the CEO’, employee monthly debate, employee feedback box, and other initiatives that allow engagement with staff members. 

On a more formal note, I communicate with staff regularly via our internal broadcast system and host annual roadshows with all staff. These see me visiting all our branches and offices throughout the country, and they really give me the opportunity to engage with staff. 




NE: What tactics do you use to build a successful business and a productive and efficient team?


TS: I believe that one of the best ways to do that is to set clear, attainable, measurable and consistent goals, and to engage in ongoing communications and motivation. I believe our employees are not only the best asset of the company, but that a happy, motivated and engaged employee is more productive. My team and I have prioritised building a culture in the organization, where everyone feels they belong and their voices are heard. Rewarding, recognising and treating employees well and having a common culture and shared destiny makes the team efficient and effective. I also believe in the importance of the client – and at each platform, I get to talk to my team to emphasise this point. It is, at times, challenging trying to understand the problems that do arise – and as a team, we contemplate what will be required to satisfy client needs today but also understand what they would need tomorrow. 


NE: Do you set aside time to deal with last-minute issues? If so, how much time?


TS: I believe in the philosophy that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail but even I, sometimes, find myself dealing with last-minute issues. I take my role as CEO very seriously – and because we are in the financial service industry and work with people’s hard-earned money, it is important that all issues, especially those that relate to clients, are dealt with. So, if it is client-related, then we always have to make time. For all other needs, however, it depends on the priorities and strategy of the business – and where it fits in and time is made to deal with all issues regardless.


NE: What time do you usually leave the office?


TS: Work officially starts from 08h00 to 16h30. I, however, always leave the office around 17h00 because I aim to catch some daylight for cycling or walking. I also prioritise spending time with my family. I have teenagers at home, and it is important to me that I spend as much time with them as possible. 


NE: What does a normal evening at home consist of? 


TS: As a family, we try to spend time together. It’s important for my wife and myself to catch up with the children, and talk to them about their day, their schoolwork and any challenges they might have. We also spend time playing family board games on weekends and just enjoying one another’s company. On the weekends, I do enjoy some cooking and braaiing with family and friends. After this, I normally do some reading and enjoy following sports and current affairs news on TV.

2022-04-20  Edgar Brandt

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