Make Money Mondays

SA’s richest woman opens up about being a refugee and becoming a billionaire

Sygnia CEO Magda Wierzycka. Picture: @Magda_Wierzycka/Twitter.

As much as I’ve had a tough childhood, I’ve also been incredibly lucky in life…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I only invest in Sygnia products and I only invest in passive products…. Since I’ve started working; 20% of my salary goes into retirement savings… Right from the age of 24… invest and forget!

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I live on debt, which is a terrible thing to admit… The difference between paper wealth and cashflow wealth is quite material…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

Every week The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews a famous person about her or his attitude toward money (hopes and fears, successes and failures, etc.) as part of his “Make Money Mondays, Personal Edition” feature.

This week he interviewed Sygnia’s renegade CEO and anti-corruption activist, Magda Wierzycka.

She arrived in South Africa as a 13-year-old refugee from communist Poland and rose to the very top of the male-dominated world of finance.

…I spent about a year in a refugee camp - very much like the pictures you see of Syrian refugees… arrived in South Africa not speaking the language and with no money whatsoever…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

When Wierzycka was still at school in Pretoria, she worked at a supermarket to help her family make ends meet.

She struggled with English, but excelled in maths and science, and earned herself a bursary to study actuarial science.

Wierzycka cofounded Sygnia Group and became its CEO in 2006.

Sygnia is a leader among asset managers in South Africa when it comes to the provision of low-cost, passively managed investments.

The financial services industry in South Africa spends enormous amounts of money making sure (financial) literacy is kept at a very low level… So the amount of jargon that is used, the amount of emotive advertising to make you believe fairy tales is enormous…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

Wierzycka is by some estimates the richest woman in South Africa.

…South Africa has been very good to me and I am a proud South African rather than being a very proud Polish person which I'm not…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia
  • What does Wierzycka believe about money?

  • Does it keep her up at night?

  • Does she spend like crazy or save compulsively?

  • How did her childhood experiences shape her views on money?

Listen to the interview in the audio below (and scroll down for more quotes from it).

In Poland, everyone had the same. Which wasn’t very much… It [fleeing Poland] was a very traumatic moment… There are scars you have for the rest of your life…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

He [Iqbal Survé] has never sued anybody in his life! I’m suing him!... I put my money where my mouth is. I don’t think he does… If I win anything, I’ll donate it to the GEPF (Government Employees Pension Fund), which he is stripping bare.

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

He [Mzi Khumalo] exposed me to the politics of this country… He told me a lot about Zuma. He told me a lot about Mandela… He lives in London now, because Zuma drove him out of South Africa… He’s been a pivotal figure in my life.

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I don’t actually think about money…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I like nice clothes… I love online shopping…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I don’t have a huge attachment to material things… We live in an apartment…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

Money is a great enabler. I have been to every corner of the globe from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

I like art… We don’t buy anything complex…

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

Bitcoin! Bitcoin! Bitcoin! Bitcoin! [When asked if she’s ever wasted money in her life.] I bought my first Bitcoin at $4000 and my last Bitcoin at $18 000…. I was completely caught up in Tulip Mania…. I don’t care what it is; I’ve lost so much money!

Magda Wierzycka, CEO - Sygnia

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