Allan Gray is the founder of Allan Gray Limited and Orbis Investment Management. Born in 1937 in East London, South Africa, he was fascinated by stocks as a child. He studied to be a chartered accountant at Rhodes University, obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce in 1957. He then earned an MBA from Harvard, after which he spent eight years as a portfolio manager at Fidelity Fund Management and Research in Boston.
In 1973 he returned to South Africa and founded Allan Gray Limited, which served institutions and promised to deliver superior returns through rigorous research. While many financial services firms at the time utilized large sales forces, he emphasized a more concentrated focus on asset management and service. He also implemented his belief in investing heavily in companies whose shares prices were less than his assessment of their intrinsic value.
His approach was successful, and the company became the largest private independent asset management firm in the country — overseeing $40 billion in assets and running pension funds for many top corporations, such as the Rembrandt Group. In 1989, in advance of the end of exchange controls in South Africa, Allan left the country with his son William to launch Orbis Investment Management in London, England, moving its headquarters two years later to Bermuda.
In 1998 Allan Gray Limited entered the retail fund space. This was followed by a period of strong growth, as it vastly outperformed the other, much larger funds of the life assurance industry in the early 2000s, raking in billions from the retail investment sector. The firm continued to eschew a sales force, relying on independent financial advisers and smart advertising, making its accomplishments that much more impressive.
As with Allan Gray Limited, Orbis Investment Management has been a smashing success, now managing about $30 billion in funds. Many local investors who use the asset swap capabilities of Allan Gray, such as the AG Global Equity Fund, have their funds managed by Orbis, as the firm does not use any outside fund managers within its range of global equity funds. William now serves as President of the company.
A He is quoted as commenting on leadership as follows: “One needs to cultivate a sense of purpose, a commitment to making a difference through business.” He most certainly has.
Allan Gray has used his business success to give back. In 1979, he and his wife Gill set up the Allan and Gill Gray Charitable Trust, which supports projects such as the World Wildlife Fund, Cape Mental Health, and the adult literacy project Iziko lo Lwazi.
In 2005 he founded the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation with a personal gift of $150 million. At the time, this was the largest single donation to charity recorded in South Africa.
The nonprofit provides grants for secondary and tertiary education to poor but promising high school students. It aims to encourage them to become high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs, instilling within them five values: Intellectual Imagination; Achievement Excellence; Personal Initiative; Spirit of Significance; and Courageous Commitment. The organization operates in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland.
The foundation is funded annually by a donation of 7% of the taxed profits from Allan Gray Limited, which has committed to making this contribution in perpetuity. As profits may change, the commitment is backed up by an endowment trust capitalized with over R1 billion from Allan. The organization primarily provides opportunities in the form of scholarships and fellowships, as described below:
Scholarships: The foundation offers scholarships to high school students who demonstrate the potential to excel academically, and who have the desire to fully engage in available opportunities. Scholarship recipients, known as Allan Gray Scholars, receive funding for high school tuition. The goal is to develop a community of young entrepreneurially-minded leaders who will enroll for study in universities.
Fellowships: Every year the foundation selects the top Grade 12 and first-year university students from its locations of operation for the Allan Gray Fellowship. Recipients, called Allan Gray Candidate Fellows, receive comprehensive tertiary education financial support alongside exposure to thought leaders, mentorship, and entrepreneurial mindset development. Those excelling in their tertiary studies can receive access to postgraduate funding. E2, a long-term capital fund, will provide subsidized funding to new business owners who are graduates of the program.
The foundation has funded education for over 500 students. However, they are not the only ones who have benefitted – Allan and his wife also pay for the school and university education of children of Allan Gray Limited staff who earn less than R250,000 a year. Allan says: “Relative to their needs, this contribution is small, but it comes with the earnest desire to allow those South Africans less fortunate than ourselves to dream, if not for themselves then for their children, of realizing through their own efforts and determination their full potential irrespective of their financial circumstances.”
Greg Fury, Chief Operating Officer of Allan Gray Limited, says of his boss: “His defining characteristic is that he is reserved, but incredibly curious. He is enormously generous personally, with both his time and money.” Allan has been honored for this generosity – in 2011 he was bestowed with the Inyathelo Award for Lifetime Philanthropy by the South African Institute for Advancement. The recognition is a testament to his enormous impact.