Tenacity Financial Services - Finance
About Eugene de Villiers
“After leaving school, I started my career in retail, working as a sales assistant in the Edgars chain while studying part-time. I was recognised and fast-tracked on a management development path and managed a store by the age of 21. After completing my degree, I moved into the Edcon Centralised credit head office before being chosen to start a regional bank’s credit card division (Boland Bank). The bank’s most notable achievements during my tenure were achieving notoriety for acquiring the largest food retailer and representing 12% of the national acquiring market. We also founded the second retail in-store credit card in the country – that being Ackermans, who are part of the Pepkor Group. This is where my journey with the Pepkor group started, back in 1995.
After a stint with RCS (now part of BNP Paribas), where I set up the only non-branded credit card in the country, I moved back to retail at Pepkor, where I set up Tenacity Financial Services. We serve all the CFH (clothing, footwear and home) retailers in the group. Pepkor is the largest CFH retailer in South Africa. Our CFH brands include Ackermans, Pep Stores, Shoe City, Tekkie Town, Refinery and Dunns.
As previously mentioned, I studied part-time to achieve my Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, but learning cannot stop there. Through the years, I have continued my formal education through Oxford Business School, Stanford and MIT, but I am most proud of recently completing my Master’s degree in the Business of Fashion through LIM College in New York. This was a two-year journey, requiring time sacrifices every evening and early rising over weekends and holidays to ensure I stayed on top of things and met all the deadlines. Being awarded my Masters with Honours was the culmination of the dedication and passion that I put into my studies.
I believe in always keeping busy, so if I am not working or studying, I love to read, walk (trail-walking), cook, or spend time with my photography. In a highly structured financial working environment, I believe creativity needs to be nurtured. Of my hobbies, cooking is my great passion, followed shortly by photography, where I concentrate on wildlife. I spend time in the bush as often as time permits and am particularly fond of Phinda in Northern Natal and Kenya.”
How have you seen Tenacity grow and develop since its founding as a subsidiary of the Pepkor Group in 2007?
What began in June 2007 with a small team and a vision to help retailers grow customer loyalty and improve relationships with their credit customers has grown in leaps and bounds. We have increased our initial debtors’ book from R15 million in the early days to R3.5 billion, grown our turnover to R4.5 billion, and today we serve over 1.5 million customers at six retailers across four countries! Indeed, we have become one of the Pepkor Group’s best-performing companies. All of our cards carry the A+ logo on them, which indicates interoperability at all our stores. The retailers generally refer to their in-store card as an ‘APlus’ card.
The past 15 years have been an exciting journey, and while I am extremely pleased about what we have achieved to date, it is the people who made this journey possible that I am most proud of. None of our successes would have been realised without the hard work, commitment, passion, perseverance and tenacity of the people that make up our organisation.
In what ways has this growth enhanced the skills and career development of yourself and your team?
As the company has grown, we have increased the management team from the original three founding members to an executive of eight, managing the in-store credit portfolio, as well as managing a personal loans business (Capfin), extending loans to our retail clients. The executive team have been at the organisation for over seven years and have grown tremendously in that time. Some of the team have changed portfolios while remaining part of the executive, a testament to their versatility and cross-organisational strength. Tenacity has proved a valuable asset to Pepkor, which opened the opportunity to house the personal lending business with the team and allowed us to grow in the payment and lending space within Pepkor.
How is Tenacity’s work with credit programs helping to enhance financial services throughout Africa?
We believe in an inclusive credit approach. For many South Africans, their in-store credit card is their first entry into the credit market. We are conservative in our approach but believe in supporting our customers to build a credit record for themselves and make the unaffordable affordable. We operate in the lower LSM market and believe in a ‘low-to-grow’ strategy, meaning that where we are uncertain of the risk of a client, we will allow a small limit – and then, based on a proven payment record, allow limit increases over time that meet both the company risk profile and the customer’s affordability situation.
Since the APlus card supports sales in our retailers, it is in our interest to keep customers current on their accounts and support them should they fall into arrears. We believe that we help customers to build a solid credit record that will stand them in good stead one day when they may require further credit, such as home loans and vehicle finance (neither of which we provide).
Do you have any major projects in the pipeline that you are able to share with us?
We have just launched our in-store card into the largest of our retail partners, Pep Stores. We will launch our BNPL product (PayD’Lay) into our eCommerce space early in 2023. As is the case in many countries, the BNPL phenomenon has taken root in South Africa as well. We believe that many younger clients see this as a means to enter the credit space with small transactions that are paid off in short amounts of time and, in so doing, do not land in a debt trap. We also believe that the younger clients form the future in-store clients, and we need to maintain our relationship with them.
What excites you most about your role?
The two most fulfilling aspects of my role are, firstly, providing responsible, affordable products to our client base in the retail service, helping them to live their lives with dignity and respect. You may not know that each January, when schools are about to return, more than half the purchases on our cards are for schoolwear.
The second area is working with an amazing team of people. Many of us have been in this company for more than 10 years, and more than half of us have been here for more than five years. In fact, three of my colleagues have been at the company from the day I started it. Seeing staff grow, learn and become fulfilled is very rewarding.
What drives you to achieve the best possible results for your clients?
The Group CEO of Pepkor, Pieter Erasmus, has always taught us that before we tackle any initiative, we should ask ourselves: What problem of my customer are you solving? This approach keeps us on an even keel while we direct the organisation with the following values: respect, accountability, and passion. Maintaining our client relationships through all their life stages is something that we are very proud of.
Can you tell us more about what you like to read?
I am an avid reader and constantly have two to three books on the go at any point in time. I read philosophy, psychology, business, management, fiction and fantasy. I believe that forming your own opinion on any subject requires consultation across a broad spectrum, and to remain creative in life and work, you need to exercise the creative part of your brain – hence the fantasy. The business author that I most relate to is Tony Manning. He is forthright, insightful, brief, to the point, and very smart.
In brief, can you describe Tenacity’s project initiation methodology?
Tenacity has been established for some time now, but we approach development with a typical fintech start-up mentality. We identify a group of dedicated resources and we dress a room for them to all sit in together, filled with foosball machines and bean bags, coffee makers and ‘open fridges’ and allow the team to gel, chill and develop together. The big differentiator is that once we have the product developed, we can integrate it into a well-oiled and well-run operation with sufficient clients to offer it to. This is where many start-ups fail; they have good ideas and even good development, but they fail to operationalise or have no clients to offer their great idea or product to.
Do you have a creed or philosophy that motivates your work?
Keep it simple, take responsibility, retain the customer as front-and-centre and execute with passion. This philosophy is inherent in our values, our general approach to business and problem-solving, and the way we deal with each other. In a working environment, we often spend more hours with work colleagues than with family, so the work environment and reward structure need to be nurturing without losing focus on the goals and, ultimately, the customer.
Is there a particular career accomplishment that you are most proud of having achieved?
I believe that every day is an achievement, but the two milestones that really stand out for me are starting a credit card division of a bank at 28 and fulfilling my ambition of starting a retail payment and lending company (Tenacity) while returning to the retail industry. I have always loved the retail world, but found myself on the financial side in my career path. So being able to combine my love of fashion with my banking experience and business drive has culminated in the formation of Tenacity.
What does this award mean to you?
We all like to receive recognition when we do things well. I have worked for many years and feel fulfilled in my life and career choices. I do not work for awards; I am driven to serve our customers, staff and shareholders. But in doing that, one can be recognised for their dedication, and it really means a lot.