The nondescript building housing the South African Public Investment Corporation (PIC) in a business park in Pretoria gives little indication of its power. Yet from his office inside it, Elias Masilela controls nearly $150bn (R1.6-trillion) that he is increasingly channelling into investments across Africa.
When the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a US-based consultancy, published a list of the world’s “most significant and impactful public investor executives” last year, the usual names filled the top rankings. Sandwiched between the heads of sovereign wealth funds from oil-rich Norway and Abu Dhabi were the heads of Chinese and Kuwaiti state-owned funds. But there was one standout: Elias Masilela. The chief executive of the PIC ranked 14 out of 100.
The corporation’s ascendancy marked the rapid rise of an entity that for most of its 103-year history was little known outside South Africa. But it has become Africa’s largest asset manager and can match the fire-power of the best-known Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds.
Mr Masilela bristles at the state-owned PIC being lumped into the sovereign wealth funds category, saying that it is a pension fund manager for public employees rather than a classic sovereign vehicle funded by state surpluses. Instead, the South African corporation bears a closer resemblance to the big public pension funds in the US, including the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Until recently, there was little interest in the PIC outside South Africa, because it invested all its money locally. But it is now flexing its muscles abroad. The change in focus is being closely watched by other asset managers, bankers and companies.
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By Andrew England and Javier Blas
PIC CEO Elias Masilela. Picture: Robert Tshabalala