After clocking up almost half a century at the exchange, Humphrey Borkum is handing over the reins


Known for his wise and thoughtful counsel, Humphrey Borkum has worked for the JSE for nearly 50 years. In March he retired after 12 years as Chairman.

‘The stock exchange has been home for most of my life, but there comes a time when you say to yourself “It’s time to handover”. I am sad to retire, but I will be keeping some of my close ties.’

Borkum says he has no doubt that the exchange will be managed well, with Nicky Newton-King as the CEO and Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita as the incoming Chairman.

‘There will be vast changes ahead, including continuous investment in technology and refining the systems. But I’m very, very confident that the exchange is in good hands.’

Borkum rates the JSE’s demutualisation in 2005 together with the listing of the JSE in June 2006 as highlights during his tenure as Chairman.

With the demutualisation, for the first time in the JSE’s history, someone who was not a stockbroker or an authorised user of the bourse could obtain an ownership interest in the JSE.

‘This was significant. The JSE was seen as an old boys club. It was very much a white, male environment, and we had to change that culture. At the time a lot of people said it wouldn’t work. A massive culture change had to take place, but we persevered. Now people acknowledge that we did the right thing.’

Listing the exchange was seen as unusual at the time, even within the global arena. ‘Exchanges were used to setting the rules. Now we were forced to obey our own. There were regulatory hurdles we had to jump over, but it was a good challenge.’

Borkum says he has seen five bull years and five bear years during his time as Chairman.‘The good years are always great, and the bear years are always trying. Everyone’s crying. You think the problems are insurmountable, but when you look back, it’s not so bad. We managed to cope.’

He says the biggest challenge during bear years is to ensure that people don’t cut corners, that the exchange is run properly and that the executive stays one step ahead all of the time, and credits the team at the JSE for its resilience and commitment. ‘The executive team has by and large stayed together for a very long time. They run the shop very well.’


‘The Executive team has by and large stayed together for a very long time. They run the shop very well’


He says the most sweeping changes he has seen during his five decades at the JSE have been due to technology. ‘We do more business in a day today than we did in months when I first joined the industry.’ 

While the advance has been phenomenal, he occasionally feels nostalgic about the former closeness of the trading floor. ‘You lose a little bit of camaraderie and you don’t see your competitors and friends now.

‘It’s sad, but you can’t stand in the path of progress,’ he says.

Among his many recollections, Borkum singles out Nelson Mandela’s visit to the exchange as particularly special. ‘Soon after being released from prison, Mandela came to the old JSE in downtown Johannesburg. We brought him onto the floor and the market just stopped trading for a full twenty minutes. I’ll never forget his enormous presence.’

Borkum’s wish is to see more South Africans, especially young people, invest in the JSE and develop a savings culture. ‘I passionately believe that one of the things that’s going to make or break this country is the ability of people to save and invest their money in their own businesses and in their own futures.’

As for his future, Saxonwold-based Borkum says he will continue to keep a strong interest in business and commerce.

‘I am not moving to the Cape to play golf or make my own wine. I have a number of things that will keep me interested and active which I’ll be pursuing.’

By Kim Cloete
Image: Fredrik Broden/