Fred Robertson has always had the mind of an entrepreneur, whether it was selling fruit and vegetables as a child or insurance when he got older. But one thing he never forgets is the importance of giving others a helping hand.
Last week, the Bantry Bay resident received an honorary doctorate in commerce from the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Mr Robertson described the day as one of the best in his life.
Mr Robertson, the second youngest of nine children, was born in District Six where he spent most of his childhood and teen years, starting his entrepreneurial ventures at an early age by selling fruit and vegetables, newspapers and fish door-to-door, “I was the first matriculant. The older siblings always had to contribute (to the family). My view is very strong, I had a bursary when I was at Trafalgar High School. Without help there was no way (I would have got to where I am today).”
After completing his schooling, he embarked on a career in education before entering the insurance industry as a broker for Old Mutual.
In 1990 he started his own business, a one-man insurance brokerage which eventually grew into an integrated group with interests in insurance, investment, asset management and property. In 1995, Mr Robertson co-founded Brimstone Investment Corporation Limited, of which he is currently deputy chairman.
However, it wasn’t an overnight success story for Mr Robertson. He had to overcome difficult circumstances, none more so than when his family was uprooted from District Six after it was declared a whites-only area.
“It was extremely difficult because it was not only just moving to a new place. Your community has come apart. It was most difficult and unsettling. It was almost like your heart was being ripped out. You had to get up from that and try and be strong and fix things. It gave us the inspiration to succeed despite our circumstances.”
This, says Mr Robertson, was an important lesson for everyone to learn. “I’ve had a lot of successes and failures. But never let the failures get you down. If you fall on your face you’ve got to pick yourself up again.”
After leaving District Six Mr Robertson went to live in Grassy Park, where he worked as a teacher for five years at Grassy Park High and eventually bought a house. From there Mr Robertson moved to Heathfield before eventually settling in Bantry Bay. “I’ve been most privileged to go back to District Six in a special way and help rebuild it.
“It is extremely sad to see the big gap between the rich and the poor and that there are no work opportunities for young people. This is why it is important for people who have a reasonably good living, to create opportunities for others.
“My success is due to the assistance of others. When I celebrate my success I also celebrate that assistance and it is a way of saying thank you. In life and in business it is all about teamwork.”
At the graduation ceremony, he told the other graduates: “I am often asked how did I, as an insurance salesman, get to own my own insurance company and serve on the board of the biggest insurance company in Africa? How did I, as a young boy who sold fish and crayfish doppies, get to be chairman of a multinational fishing company? Believe in yourself and your dreams, be brave, be passionate, expand your knowledge continuously, team effort, keep good company, don’t give up and give back to your family and community.”