Podcast #201

Adrian Saville: Leadership and diversity for innovation

A business cannot exist without a diverse set of ideas.

Adrian Saville

Adrian holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) (cum laude), MCom (cum laude) and a PhD (Economics) for which he was awarded the Economics Society of South Africa’s Founders Medal. He is a UNESCO laureate, a matriculant of Linacre College (Oxford) and has completed programmes in investing at New York’s Columbia University; competitive strategy at Harvard Business School in Boston; Machine Learning at Stanford; and Game Theory at the University of British Columbia. In 1994, Adrian formed an investment vehicle which grew into Cannon Asset Managers where he served as Chief Investment Officer and then Chief Executive. In 2021, he joined multi-family investment office Genera Capital. He holds a Professorship in Economics, Finance & Strategy at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and is the author of the Visa Africa Integration Index (2012-2020) and the Investec-GIBS Savings Index (2015-2020). He has worked in many countries, including Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Estonia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Rwanda, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Since 2019, he has also been involved in the development of an impact measurement and monitoring tool for a private equity fund in the ICT sector, and since 2017 Adrian has chaired the investment committee of MeTTa Capital’s venture capital fund. Adrian is a member of various industry bodies, including the Academy of International Business, the Strategic Management Society, Investment Analysts Society, Economic Society of South Africa, Economic History Society of Southern Africa and Manual of Ideas (Global).

Listen to podcast

[buzzsprout episode='10037707' player='true']

Watch video on YouTube

Play Video

Share this Podcast



Adrian talked about economics should start with defining wellbeing. I wonder whether or not that works in practice the same way it does in the classroom. Who gets to define my wellbeing, and do they have my individual interests at heart? How often can a nation state get to work with specifics, rather than broad generalisations considering the vast differences across demographics? How aligned are they with mine, considering the goals of running a country, that being prosperity in order to pay for things, can play against what helps me stay happy day-to-day. He also said that very obvious problems make obvious market gaps for benevolent businesses. Comedian Henning Wehn (pronounced ven) said that charity is a failure of government’s responsibilities. But maybe there are some charities and benevolent companies that are just forced into existence based around this very dilemma. Perhaps the two will just always have to work together.

Podcast Notes

Adrian Saville believes that when someone has found their purpose in life, they will flourish. This statement is very true when looking at all that he has achieved. He graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a PhD in economics.

To flourish, one must look at the external and internal challenges that one faces, for him the external challenge was that he could not find a working environment that supported his ideas. He instead opted for creating his own business where he could put his mindset and ideas to good use. That is where Adrian started to flourish, and now he is an Investment Specialist with multi-family investment office, Genera Capital, and Professor of Economics and Finance at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. His teaching has a strong focus on behaviour and the importance of diversity within companies.

For a business to flourish, they need to look at internal challenges and solve them to ensure that they create a sense of belonging to their team members. This burden also lies with the leaders of each team, but when teams work well together, their diversity can lead to success.

Relationship building within businesses isn’t just about building associations or developing networks; it runs much deeper. Adrian believes that for a business to strive, it needs to have a diverse team with a challenger mindset, openness to learning and agility. Businesses that have leaders that are aware of the stresses that their team goes through have a higher chance of survival, explains Adrian, especially in times like these. Businesses where people have a sense of belonging will naturally be innovative and problem solvers. These businesses are going to be constructive, they’re going to be contributors, and the business might measure that as productivity and profits.

He uses the classical PEE principle in class, Points, Evidence, and Explanation. What makes it fun and engaging is that the evidence is provided by in-class social experiments. One being what he calls the marshmallow challenge, where students are split into teams and have 20 minutes to build a tower with spaghetti and balance a marshmallow on top. Statistically teams who succeed are usually those who are more diverse.

It is therefore important that if a business wants to succeed, it must comprise a diverse and inclusive team. When a team has many influences, from different cultures, ethnicities, beliefs, and backgrounds, they can perform better. These relationships bring more ideas to the table that can be executed in more than one way which builds opportunity and optionality.

He speaks about how easily we as human beings can become polarised. An exercise he likes to do to prove this point is by dividing the class up based on their birthdays. Even numbers on the one side and odd numbers on the other. He tells them to then make assumptions about the opposite group. Quickly these two groups turn against each other, purely based on the other group being different – although the birthdate demarcation is entirely arbitrary, it proves to be divisive. This is just one small example of how we are shaped – and how we can reshape.

These are the things we need to look out for when building relationships within the workplace and setting up business models. A business cannot exist without a diverse set of ideas. There is always a sense of belonging and community that is needed to ensure that a team prospers.

Go listen to the full conversation that Eksteen de Waal had with Adrian Saville and see why diversity is important when it comes to leadership and relationships.

Podcast Timed Index

00:00 introduction
02:21 investing wisely
15:59 living what you say
34:57 teaching and learning
46:52 positivity
1:03:59 inclusivity
1:22:00 hope
1:32:46 conclusion

Get in touch with Adrian Saville
Articles, Books or Publications by Adrian Saville
More quotes from Adrian Saville
If a business wants to succeed, it must comprise a diverse and inclusive team.

Mentions in Episode
People Mentioned in Episode
Books and Articles Mentioned in Episode