Desmond Smith, who chaired the Sanlam board from 2010 to 2017, has died. The life insurance group made the announcement on Tuesday, without mentioning the cause of his death.
Smith was previously with short-term insurer Santam, also as chair, between 2003 and 2010.
Paul Hanratty, Sanlam Group CEO, says the company received the news of Smith’s passing on Tuesday morning, saying he had ‘blue blood’ in reference to the company’s signature colour.
“In the coming days, there will be a lot said and written about Desmond as we all ruminate about his life and times. What will be consistent in our reflections as the Sanlam family is that Desmond’s blood was genuinely blue, and his career and personal history are most closely knit to Sanlam’s.”
Smith enjoyed an illustrious career in the financial services sector starting in 1968, when he joined Sanlam’s actuarial department after receiving a bursary from the company to pursue a BSc degree.
Having gained valuable experience across Sanlam’s business, he became a critical member of its management team and was named MD in 1993 at the age of 45 – the youngest ever for the company, according to Sanlam.
The insurer describes Smith as a “titan that formed a significant part of the foundations for the Sanlam we have today and on which we continue to build”.
During his tenure, Smith was instrumental in pioneering South Africa’s first ever broad-based black economic empowerment deal with New Africa Investments Limited (Nail), according to Sanlam.
He also championed the Sanlam Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism which were formed in 1974 to award excellence in the financial media industry.
“Desmond was one of the most honourable business leaders in the country,” says Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk.
“He set an ethical example for others to follow and played a critical role in Sanlam’s success. He will be sorely missed. I want to express my sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”
Current Sanlam chair Elias Masilela says Smith was a great influence to him.
“No words can explain the loss of Desmond, to his family, Sanlam, the Actuarial fraternity, and the broader business community,” says Masilela.
“It is sad that I must bid him farewell, whilst standing in his shoes. May the family be comforted in this difficult time. Lala ngoxolo (IsiZulu for rest in peace) Desmond.”