First he traded Pokémon Tazos. Now it is stock.
Jacques François Joubert says his childhood is like that of any other person. It is true many a preteen has brandished a Lightsaber (or a wooden stick that glowed in the imagination), broken a bone while exploring the outdoors (he broke his arm four times and had brain surgery before he set foot on a university campus). It is not uncommon to spot a varsity rugby player strutting about campus with his bandages and knee brace as he affects a battle-weary doggedness; Joubert has gone to hospital four times for adrenal burnout and torn two muscles since being at the University of Pretoria. Even his high school experience was rich: he was bullied by Oscar Pistorius (“Now ask me if I think he’s guilty,” he laughs).
He downloaded hundreds of computer games and traded them for other stuff he wanted. And during the Pokémon Tazos craze when primary schoolchildren traded and battled with the circular tokens, Joubert turned his collection of five into ten dozen Tazos. And lost it all. When, later, a high school senior introduced him to the stock market, he thought, “This is exactly like trading Tazos. All those big people, that’s what they are doing.” Those big people would be the Wall Street kings. And thus was his passion for trading born.
If it seems as though Joubert does just a little bit extra than many other people, it would explains why the name of this 22-year-old financial management student is making the rounds in the hedge fund industry and getting internships opportunities thrown at him from all over. He has co-founded two websites and published three books dedicated to trading strategies. In his own words: “I’m working my ass off.”
Born in Waterkloof, east of Pretoria, to a entrepreneur father and lawyer mother, Joubert hails from a studious and politically active family. It was impressed upon him from young that he must follow the beaten path of robust ambitions and hard skills — something that looks impressive on a business card. His paternal great-great grandfather, General Piet Joubert, ran against Pretoria’s own Paul Kruger, and a couple of members of the Secret Service, the South African apartheid-era counter-terrorist collective, so-called “Recces,” litter his father’s side of the family. Other family members include a specialist transporter (the kind in the popular film franchise, just heftier) and a nuclear physicist. The maternal side is all law, medicine and insurance.
Joubert, borne by fertile pedigree, got the memo: study hard, get a good job, marry a stay-at-home wife and have children she would take care of. Maturing and university changed the picture slightly (his girlfriend, with whom is very “serious,” is about to work for FNB).
His path toward the financial industry had a few detours. Before meeting the matriculant Joachim Lübbe, who told him about the stock market, he used to sell computer parts he got from his uncle. At the time he was working towards his A+ computer hardware license. At one point he sold what could be described as amateur IEDs for a steep R20. They were plastic vials — the kind in which photographic film was stored — filled with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar separated from air with toilet paper and would make an explosive noise when triggered.
Joubert did a fair amount of programming, which both high schools he attended, Pretoria Boys High and Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, offered. He attempted to mathematically work out the plausibility of macro-evolution (“It’s impossible.”) on top of playing soccer and cricket and having gone to martial arts and karate lessons. He always loved adventure.
“He doesn’t have fear,” says Joubert’s grandmother, Yolande McDonogh, 60, with whom he has lived the longest. “He’s not a person that is scared of things that can be a little bit hair-raising while you’re bringing someone up.”
Joubert was bullied and ostracised both at Pretoria Boys High and Paul Roos. When his mother went through a second divorce a decade later, he went to a boarding school and got pulled out two weeks later because Oscar Pistorius, the infamous paralympian, got a few swipes in, too. At one point four guys held him down while others hit him. They changed his name to Gary. “And they took pride in the fact that they removed my identity.”
Acting like an elitist did him no favours. He thought himself above the “orangutans.” In matric, he got into eight fights, none of which he started. “I always hit back,” he says brusquely and with a quiet, steely expression. ” It doesn’t matter how many guys there are. The fact that you hit back is what counts.”
“He didn’t have an easy childhood,” says his soft-spoken father, Jacobus François Joubert, 43. Joubert’s parents divorced when he was just two years old. He has clocked up a considerable amount of kilometres travelling between Pretoria and Cape Town, where his father stays. Jacobus, who owns Zazu Internet (Zazu.co.za), reckons his son is the “most travelled kid in South Africa.” But he is just glad his son seems to have escaped the “broken-home child syndrome” of being the victim of a divorce. “He has a bright future ahead of him.”
“I think he’s got a very strong will because he had a difficult childhood, you know,” says McDonogh. “…He didn’t have a normal upbringing so I think hes had a lot of things to cope with that other children don’t have … And I think he’s done very well inspite of that. And I quite admire that.”
His father pulled some strings to allow him to job-shadow a couple of people in different industries to wet his feet and give him a sense of career direction. He followed around a chef and an investment banker. The latter sparked a light within in. He met Lübbe and, at sixteen, he knew this was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He hungrily read Warren Buffet, George Soros and other financial and business books. He burned through fundamental and technical analyses and algometric trading, which meshed well with his programming background. He programmed for dummy trading portfolios so he could calculate his daily fictional profits.
But even before then, there were stirrings of a business mind at work in primary school. Back when Pokémon cards was all the rage, Joubert was amassing an impressive collection with ease.
“I can remember buying six packets of chips and then giving it to my friend and just taking the Tazos.”
By the time he quit trading he had three flip files full of Tazos. He would allow potential customers to browse his “portfolio,” the hot sellers being the rares which could fetch 17 lesser Tazos.
“[Such a simple thing] really taught me about the supply and demand thing. We’re not talking trading $40-billion. We’re talking primary school here, just the basics.”
One day his entire collection was stolen. He was upset but not enough to start all over again.
“With trading cards I don’t think you experience a loss. A trading loss is different: you put eight hours of work into a great idea and then it goes wrong and you lose money.”
“That’s essentially what it is,” he says about trading. “They are swapping something for gold. They’re swapping something for coal. And when I realised that I was, like, okay, well, let me learn everything I can about that. Then that was my passion for trading put where it was supposed to be: on the JSE, Altex.”
For his 17th birthday his father bought him a pricey piece of trading analysis software and shelved out R500 to make sure he was keeping up to date with newsletters.
He started an investment club called Tutanag at Paul Ross to share his trading passion with like-minded people, which set up him for another attempt at the University of Pretoria, which did not have one despite having a finance society called FIN’EST.
“You can grown exponentially faster together than by yourself,” he says. “You learn a lot of lessons out of it…”
The second-year student raised R20 000 for the university through the trading club and received service colours. “I told them I wanted to study accounting sciences and they kicked me out (in first year). And then in the second year I had networked so well with the people in the society and [when they needed a new member] every single person in the room said me.”
In his second year he started a smaller club of ten students. But it soon devolved and only he and two others remained. One of them was Andreas Propocos. Towards the end of the year he and Propocos co-founded Hedge Fund South Africa (hedgefund-sa.co.za), the centrepiece of their web trading offerings. It soon attracted like-minds who began blogging on the site and receives about 100 unique visitors a day. Through the website they attracted job opportunities (Propocos is headed for a trading firm in Malta, and Joubert’s latest Facebook post is: “I just sent my CV to 40 Funds. OMW what a load of work!!”), internships and guest-speaking stints from across the country at Thomson Reuters and the Financial Services Board.
Between running the website, running a hedge fund incubator programme, burying his nose in his text books, and getting sick from overstimulated adrenal glands that cause a poisonous excess of cortisol in his body, Joubert at one point was trading sixteen hours a day.
“We … stared in front of computer for what Ben Bernanke said, [the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi] soliciting prostitutes affecting the Euro versus the dollar. Throwing in our fractal geometry and market analysis. We were doing all of this and trying to stay above water with subjects at university, bunking classes.”
The R20 000 Joubert and a co-trader borrowed from friends and family to play was nearly lost. They made 20% in the first fortnight but lost just as much. They managed to recover most of the loss and put up R1 200 of their own money to give back the entire sum back.
“We realised it’s a full-time job you can’t study and trade it takes up too much of your time.”
The entrepreneurial pair is a sad rarity in a country with half of its youth unemployed. And less than ten percent of the youth in South Africa are entrepreneurs, according to a 2011 regional report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). Only 6.8% of South Africans between the ages of 18 and 24, and 10.2% between 25 and 34 are entrepreneurs. This in an age where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are widely held by experts to play a definitive role in modern economies.
Not only do small businesses outnumber large companies, they also have a larger workforce. This lack of entrepreneurship is causing the country to miss out on opportunities, while 90% of Americans were self-employed 40 years ago, according to Kobus Engelbrecht of the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year competition as quoted by TimesLIVE.co.za.
The Y-Age Project, a R30-million initiative launched in March last year by the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, had sought to encourage entrepreneurship and create a million jobs for the youth, failed to bear fruit and is now being “rebranded.” Its 100 000 participants will be assimilated into other internal programmes.
Joubert and Procopos think the main reason they have so few peers is that the youth have neither experience nor access to start-up capital.
“Money makes money,” says Procopos. “Capital is very important for entrepreneurship and I can’t imagine a lot of young people have it.”
“As a young person … you don’t really know that much about the business environment, which I think is fine,” says Joubert. “It’s a normal process. You just need to learn. The second thing is that when much older people see how young you are, they automatically discount your knowledge even though you might be right in what you’re saying.”
On top of the skills shortage, Joubert and Procopos blame the culture of entitlement among the youth and lack of daring.
“They [should] step out of their comfort zones, create something with technology as opposed to just being a sheep and following the trend,” said Procopos. “Very few people contribute and create as opposed to listen and comment. The youth need to create more.”
“More than anything else you need to be a doer,” said Joubert. “You need to be a leader. You need to move. You need to go out there, pick up a broom and start sweeping.”
While driving through the Pretoria CBD to take me home, he sweeps his eyes across the Pretorius-Van der Walt (Lilian Ngoyi) Streets intersection teaming with almost an entirely black, working-class crowd, and says, with stinging pity, “I bet these people don’t even know what a hedge fund is.”
As the duo closed their trading account, Joubert met through LinkedIn the head of FxVista, Jeff “Sig” Song, whose team taught him how the market works and how to work the market. Propocos came on board a few months later.
Joubert worked closely under Amin Mohammed Patel, 26, who was head of the European division, and a senior assets analyst. Joubert has accomplished a lot more than people much older than him, Patel says. He has a vision but its path is not clear.
“He knows what he wants how to get there … but I think he tries to do too much. that was probably biggest downfall.”
Joubert entered the CNBC Top Trader competition, a series that aired on CNBC Africa. His application was rejected while his friend, Goitse Konopi, got the opportunity to compete.
“It’s something he went for and something he really wanted. He went on the show and Jacques just messed up. you can tell he was disappointed. It was one of those things that you just take on your chin … He is very good at judging, very analytical. I think if he just pulled back a bit I think he would have gone a lot further than he did.”
Joubert and Propocos took what they learned from FxVista and threw it all into their first book, complete with tutorials, videos and psychometric tests, on markets and trading and made it available on ForexFraternity.com for free.
Large companies like Bloomberg would like to see a few publications under your belt before they let you write for them. But Joubert says he has written a lot. “Like, 1 200 pages. I mean, how big is your Bible?”
By publishing a considerable amount of highly technical, niche material online, forexfraternity.com and hedgefund-sa.co.za raked up in pageviews. “We get like 100 people a day that write our stuff. I don’t believe we’d get 100 people buy a book every day. That would be unrealistic.”
Joubert is not certain Hedge Fund South Africa will be able to sustain itself. But he has itching to get out of varsity for a long time. He is looking at places like Emperor Asset Management — not a big company but one, he says, with big talent and smarts.
The money team is speaking in Cape Town at Andreas at the Financial Services Board on the 30th and have two modules left. Their next stop is Stellenbosch.
“It’s been worth it. You know what, we’ve done well. … Just turned 22 last month. Both of us are born in the same month, so it’s quite nice.”
Joubert and Propocos are finishing up their fourth book, tentatively entitled Constructing and Understanding Hedge Funds.
This year he took another stab at starting a goal-orientated collective. He runs Mastermind with Propocos, and instead of focussing solely on investment, the club is open to anyone from any faculty with a burning passion. They charge a cool R1 500 and have almost three dozen members. During one of these meetings he met “the woman of my dreams.”
“She’s beautiful,” he says with something between a giddy giggle and an apologetic chortle.
Many a partner would be vexed to be joined by her boyfriend three o’clock in the morning after he has prepared speeches and done work for Hedge Fund Academy. Infuriated by the scarcity of the holidays, which are staved off by his trading and writing trade analysis publications while 20 interns who work under him get his attention. And positively incensed when she stays up until two o’clock completing riddles and IQ tests with him just to stroke all 129 points powering his ego. Chané Pretorius, an actuarial science student, enjoys them as well.
As they met in a workshop all about making goals and achieving them, Pretorius, 24, should not have been surprised when Joubert promised they would be engaged in just six months. “I said, ‘Yes, of course we’ll get engaged. But let’s first get [jobs].'”
She quickly encountered the same blitzing, all-over-the place, perhaps fatal energy of Joubert’s that Patel noticed, and tamed it.
“He always wants to do everything, grow everything, improve himself. I am always the stabiliser.”
“They’re a good match, I think,” says McDonogh.