Jennifer van Riet
Director at Silver17
1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?
We had a fabulous teacher in primary school. She was not a class or subject teacher of mine and did not know me. We always stared at this tall exotic, glamorous, raven haired beauty who swanned down the corridors like a model. She wore emerald green, royal blue, sunshine yellow. She was always impeccable, stylish and a vision to behold – her shoes always matched her skirt! But what she said, shaped the way I feel about me today.
One day, she walked up to me and said: “stand up tall, wear high heels if you want to … don’t be embarrassed because you’re tall, be proud to be tall”
Sometimes I’m still embarrassed when I’m too tall – when I stand out in a crowd, then I remember what Mrs Swart said : to stand up straight, and be proud of who I am.
2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?
Ugh, not taking math at higher levels at school! This decision influenced which degrees I could study. I found those boring, so dropped out of university and did a hotel management diploma instead. I should have taken math, and then I would not have taken so long to get to where I am aiming for. Finally, at the age of 40, I received my university exemptions in Math, Financial Accounting, and Economics. Now, I can finally study what I have wanted to do since the age of 22. (I still have a few years to go, but the road ahead is much shorter than the one I’ve travelled so far 😉)
3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?
I’ve become a full Stoic! Stoicism resonates deeply with me on so many levels.
“Stoicism is.. a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly”
As the great Epictetus once said: “Nothing great comes into being all at once, for that is not the case, even with a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me now “I want a fig”, I’ll reply, “That takes time”
4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Because the advice in there is still relevant today and widely applicable. For instance, what is more relevant today than: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”?
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Dr. Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Did you know that there are less people going hungry than ever before? Do you know that powerful scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers are working together towards eliminating homelessness, hunger and disease? That people are working at making education free and accessible for every person? And all of this keeping the sustainability of our scarce resources in mind?
Abundance is a breath of fresh air in a jaded world.
BOLD: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, by Dr. Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
The reason is simple – it takes a great mind to inspire great change. When we start thinking about the crazy things Leonardo da Vinci invented (at that time), and which is now a normal part of each day today. The same goes for Einstein, Curie, Tesla.
We need to take note of what the “crazy” people are predicating, because they are doing so with reason. As Jack Ma says: “Crazy is good. We’re crazy. But we are not stupid”
5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
That I am aloof and unapproachable. I am so empathic, and I love engaging with people and hearing their stories. But ever since I was young, people have told me that they always thought I would be a b*tch if they spoke with me or that I would be dismissive or cold. My introversion and shyness means that I will withdraw at times to recharge, and this is probably what people will pick up on and misconstrue as being aloof.
6. On what topic would you never make a joke? Why?
Any joke where one person is made fun of – be it aimed at women, minorities, based on culture, sexual orientation, race, accents, the way people learn look or pronounce words. I believe that these jokes make light of extremely serious scenarios. And that it is intended to make the subject feel small and as if they don’t have a voice. When a person makes a joke about these subjects, they are invalidating the group or individual it is aimed at. For instance, when people laugh at a joke where something happened to a woman and it turns out it happened “because she was out of the kitchen”, you will not see me laugh, and in fact, I call out people who do this type of thing. I don’t care if they like me or not, they are wrong.
7. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?
I think in 50 years from now, people will not believe that important decisions were made (in 2020 in many places in the world) on the basis of:
a) Colour of your skin
b) Your sexuality
c) Your neurology
d) Whether you were raised rich or poor
e) What your English accent sounds like
f) Where in the world you were born
g) What your culture is
h) What your religion is
i) How wealthy or poor you or your parents are
It is already becoming taboo, and I hope it continues strongly so it does become taboo to discriminate on any level and in any way.
8. What’s the last image on your camera roll? Can you explain?
We foster animals when we can. Before the COVID-19 lockdown started in South Africa, we fetched 2 new dogs from our local shelter. Of course we fell in love with them and adopted them formally. This is Mysti. She loves bees and catching them. We call these her “spicy sky raisins”. Unfortunately, the bees sometimes sting her. She must have some badger in her because she doesn’t let it stop her. This pic is of her, a little sad because she has a swollen snout!
9. What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?
My Le Creuset Tagine!
Cooking is my passion and my gift and lately I have been experimenting with blending North African/ Moroccan and Indian cooking. The way the tagine is constructed and how it cooks, brings out the flavour of the food and the spices wonderfully – the smoke of Elachi, the tang of Mace, the caramelised flavour of the onion.
It’s the best thing I have ever invested in!
10. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?
It must be Magneto from X-men. The poor man got given a pretty awful existence. If I were him, I’d also be bent on revenge. And anyway, it is not that he’s evil per se, it’s that he chooses to act with violence where Xavier chooses diplomacy. I can understand why Magneto lost patience, and reacted (a little too) strongly (at times).
11. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?
Nicola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci and Elon Musk. I think that these people will be very good dinner guests – they will enjoy the food, and they will enjoy the discourse… and probably stop the end of the world over dessert 😊 (and I’ll get to watch them do it!)
12. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t name your business after yourself. It prohibits growth, and essentially it keeps your business plan incomplete, because it shows you do not have an exit plan for your business.
13. What skill that isn't on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?
My above average organisational skills mean that I am an extremely methodical thinker. I can group together large batches of seemingly unconnected and chaotic data and put it together cohesively, and then explain the process behind it and draw on-target summarisations.
14. Aside from your parents, name one person who has had an extraordinary impact on your career. What did they do and what did you learn from that person?
My first job after I received my first diploma (F&B and Hotel Management) was at the Victoria Junction Hotel in Cape Town. My boss at the time was Mr. Guy Stehlik. To a young, green group, Mr. Stehlik was the perfect boss. Being a brand-new concept hotel at the time, with a green group of workers, he showed us all what the hotel business was all about. He trained us constantly, listened to our fears, suggested career pathways, taught us business and professionalism. In fact, he made me realise that passion is really business, and that has set me on the path where I now find myself on. Guy was my first mentor, and we are still in contact today.
15. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?
Oh yes, when I was a junior even into an intermediate, I did not have the skills and experience to adequately do my work on target and in time. I am certain it caused my senior some stress at times. But I worked harder, I educated myself, and I still strive to learn something new from each project and every person I work with.
16. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?
It scares me that so many people are only strategising for right now. The idea of “I won’t be active in the industry in 20 years’ time so I don’t have to think about where it will be” is quite prevalent. We should be laying steps for those who will come after us. If we don’t grow our industry cohesively, it will struggle to survive the rise of automation. We have to prove the value of the human touch.
“We have to prove the value of the human touch”