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The path to expertise, if you believe popular writer Malcolm Gladwell, lies in 10 000 hours of dedicated practice. What, then, would Gladwell make of Citadel Advisory Partner Riaan Campbell? Campbell holds the distinction of being a central member of the Citadel family since its foundation in 1993. That’s 25 years. Or roughly 6 525 working days. Or about 52 200 working hours.

Campbell is proud of the fact that he’s “been around in Citadel longer than Citadel has existed – so I’ve pretty much seen as much change as you can imagine”. He is also an oracle of the company’s collective memory; able to draw on a quarter of a century’s insights into what makes Citadel such a remarkable organisation. At the center of this journey has, and will continue to be, an unequivocal client-centric focus.

From day one – on 1 June 1993 – when JMM Investment Services (later Citadel Investment Services) opened its doors on the 6th floor of a block of flats in Muckleneuk, Pretoria, service and industry-leading innovation was the driving force. The founding Marais family launched with an ambition to change the industry by disclosing commission and charging a fee for advice, remembers Campbell. “This was ground-breaking at the time and set the scene for the emergence of a new discipline in the South African financial services industry, today commonly known as wealth management,” he recalls.

It wasn’t long before JMM made way for the Citadel name, a moniker which Campbell remembers was proposed by Tannie Bets Marais – a fitting name representing a fortress or a stronghold. “When news of the name broke in the Tyger Valley office we had to take lessons in pronouncing the word,” he laughs. “Sounds like (slowly) ‘sit-Adel’. Now say it slowly. Now say it faster, ‘sittadel’! Easy hey, Citadel!”

Remarkable service was, and remains, the cornerstone of the Citadel offering. A focus on comprehensive service was planned out back in 1993 and, remembers Campbell, “the intention was a one-stop service. I guess today we embrace the service with trust, care and personal client relationships…it has come a long way!”

So too has the organisational culture. In the early days, Campbell recalls that “we had the bankers’ image – nothing but black suits, white shirts and red ties”, but over the years that has given way to the feeling of family and familiarity which permeates the current Citadel experience. For Campbell, this is no accident. “A community is like a family, it’s the place where you belong and spend most of your time. With Citadel we’ve created a community of people working with the same purpose, attitude and the same interests at heart.”

As a company which has grown up within the new, democratic South Africa this sense of community is increasingly looking outwards beyond the immediate Citadel family and into broader society, be it through the work of Citadel Philanthropy or by embracing the recent call thuma mina or “send me” by President Cyril Ramaphosa to step up, make a difference and contribute to making South Africa work.

Campbell clearly recalls the crowds passing Citadel’s offices on the way to the Union Buildings for the May 1994 inauguration of President Nelson Mandela, and through five post-1994 presidents, economic ups and downs (both locally and globally) and a wave of technological innovations, Citadel has adapted at each stage, seeking out new ways to capitalise on game-changing inventions like the cellphone and the internet. Campbell recalls the first time the business invested in a cellphone, back in 1995, and how the founders conference of 1996-1997 was first introduced to “something that would change the world – the internet”.

Harnessing the power of technology has, over the years, enabled Citadel to improve its efficiencies, communication and the ability of clients to tap into an overview of their portfolio at the click of a button. Today the Citadel App and My Secure Zone are essential components; they represent technology with a personal touch and are a far cry from the days of running a book of 100 clients on Excel. As Campbell recalls, back in the 1990s: “We operated using a basic database with names and addresses, an outdated investment summary, a manual fee system and commission recons. Almost everything was done by hand. To produce a reliable valuation report you had to request faxes from at least two or three product suppliers – received in paper format. We had to take an educated guess to determine our assets under management.”

Evolving practices, platforms and approaches have been the hallmark of the Citadel business. “Our ability to provide diversified investment solutions, both local and offshore, over time has made us industry leaders,” believes Campbell. “In the late 1990s we survived the emerging market crisis and, in 2002, the perfect storm – falling international equities and a strengthening rand; without a doubt the worst combo on the investment menu. These events led us to develop hedge fund solutions and currency hedging – keeping us on the front end of innovation for the individual investor.” This approach continues to this day, with Campbell noting that “the addition of direct share portfolios and protected equity solutions, both locally and offshore, completed the menu”.

Being a pioneer has served Citadel well over the years, but what makes all the difference and enables Citadel to stand out from the crowd today is a stable brand associated with wealth management, believes Campbell. “We’ve become a well-known name in a very competitive industry. With competitors catching up, we can compete head on thanks to our people; Citadel’s people have what it takes to be the greatest out there,” he concludes. That’s our remarkable.