WéHANN Smith has been one of the hardest working individuals in South African racing in the last several years, and something had to yield. He has returned to focus on his position as CEO of Kuda Insurance after steering CTS through a transition period, and speaks to us about his company and his work on the Racing Association and Racing’s Restructuring Team.
TT: You’re back behind your Kuda desk. How are things going?
WS: First up is this weekend’s third running of the Kuda Gold Bracelet at Greyville. We are proud of the way we have invested in the racing industry over the last more than 10 years, and even more proud of continuing to do so despite the terribly tough economy we are all currently faced with. Friday morning will be my first flight since lockdown!!
We have invested heavily in our back office, both in systems and people and have great ambitions for our second decade in business. We are still focused on niche markets like bloodstock, sport horse, game, and livestock as well as art insurance.
Our ambitions are to continue growth within these markets through innovative product development and the effective use of technology to enhance the client experience. We are also considering several new niche insurance markets where we hope to apply the experience gained in our first decade of running Kuda.
We have also developed exceptional personal lines (household, car, etc.) insurance products, and this has been the greatest recent area of growth in the business. Some innovative product features combined with our trusted brand and personal service levels have made for a great addition for our clients.
One of our beliefs at Kuda is that we must shape the industries in which we operate. Serving as a director on both the Racing Association and Kenilworth Racing as well as serving on Restructuring Task Team is allowing me to fulfil this strategic objective.
TT: What is the latest from RTT and the Phumelela Business Rescue process?
WS: It has been quite an incredible journey! Firstly, I must just again thank Mary and Jess and their family for enabling us to do what we are trying to do. I am continuously amazed by their generosity and their almost unconditional support for this industry. Without them, we would literally be staring down the abyss.
Although the Business Rescue Plan published last week was momentous, we are still not over the line until creditors vote in favour of the plan. We know that a local player who understand the industry and has a long South African and racing legacy would be best placed to ensure a long-term sustainable outcome for the industry. MOD ticks all the boxes, so it is literally all eyes on the creditor vote scheduled for next week Tuesday, Spring Day!
If creditors vote in favour of the plan, the various regulatory processes will commence and the “racing assets” could be in new hands within a few months. It has been a long and tough road to here, but at the same time we are fully aware of the mountains of work that lie ahead!
Personally, it has been a privilege to be part of this process. I have learnt so much and am so excited about what can be achieved together!
TT: What happens if creditors vote against the plan?
WS: Well that means John Evans, the Business Practitioner, will be literally back to the drawing board. He’d then have to agree a revised timeline with creditors and a new date by which to present a new plan.
This will open the door to other suitors, including those who we believe may be less aligned to the racing industry than what we know MOD are.
TT: Why the decision to resign from CTS?
WS: I took on the job of CTS CEO in 2017 when we had ambitions of exploring operational synergies between CTS and Kuda. A lot has of course happened since 2017, and in many ways the role was always going to be a transitional one.
I have taken on several other responsibilities, including the positions highlighted above. These positions all require time and effort, and I just felt that something had to give.
Kuda remains my primary focus (must pay the mortgage somehow!!) and given the various industry challenges over the last couple of years it has become challenging continuing to give the Kuda job the full attention it deserves.
TT: What will you miss most about running CTS?
WS: Well, there are a few things I will not miss!!
Jokes aside, it has been a great experience and what stands out for me is the people who I got to meet. The racing industry is a truly global industry, and I am so excited about what lies ahead for South Africa once exports become easier. We have a long way to go before truly competing with the best in the business, but there is so much goodwill towards South Africa, we must just leverage it. We are sometimes extremely insular in South Africa and having had the perspective of looking in “from the outside” gives me lots of hope.
TT: Your thoughts on the future of CTS?
Chris van Niekerk and Bernard Kantor have been stalwarts in their ongoing support for the industry, despite the obvious risks and challenges faced. The Cape Premier Yearling Sale is a showpiece for the South African thoroughbred industry and has been unparalleled in its ability to attract foreign investment. Cape Town makes so much sense as a sales venue from so many perspectives, and I believe the years of investment will pay off when SAEHP are successful in effecting direct export protocols.
Chris is taking on a more executive role and have appointed the experienced team of Grant Knowles and Amanda Carey to join Kerry Jack. I know they have the will and team to succeed.
TT: Any nice horses of your own coming through the ranks?
The search continues!! I have been lucky to own small shares of some very nice horses over the years. Horses like Majestic Mozart, Safe Harbour, Rocket Countdown, Ernie, and Freedom Charter come to mind. Majestic Mozart is running in the Champions Cup on Saturday and while the betting suggests we will struggle, that certainly will not put us off shouting him home! The elusive Group 1 still evades me …
Of the younger horses Lemon Delight seems to be the standout at present. She is not without her own problems, but we’re hopeful that she can produce something in the three-year-old Summer Season.
The Restructuring Task Team also bought a yearling together at the recent National Yearling Sales. Now if that is not a vote of confidence in our industry, then I do not know!