The partners and staff of Grant Thornton are deeply saddened to advise you that Leonard Brehm, our former managing partner and national chairman passed away peacefully in his sleep this morning, following a short illness.
We extend our deepest sympathy and wishes for a long life to Leonard’s father, sisters and family.
Letters of condolences may be sent to Pamela Grayman or posted below.
Leonard Brehm has gone home
19 June 1955 – 4 July 2012
My life and times
(well some of them)
As both colleagues and friends, you know that by nature, I am a private man. However, because of my illness and my relationship with you all, as well as the firm, I would like you to know more about me, my experiences and my learnings…
I was born on 19 June 1955; raised in Hillbrow and then Sydenham; and schooled at Sandringham Primary, King David Primary and Northview High. After matriculating in 1972, I completed 10 months of compulsory military training and then started my nine years of studies at Wits University.
As my original career intention was to become a lawyer, I first spent five years full-time completing my B.Com LLB degree. Then in 1979, when the country was destabilised and South Africa’s legal framework was perceived as being restrictive, I changed my career direction to accounting. As a result, I then spent another four years completing my Bachelor of Accountancy and Higher Diploma in Tax Law.
My early career
Although I started my traineeship at Grant Thornton (then Kessel Feinstein) in 1979, my links with the firm go back even further. From the age of 2 until my mother retired, she was a bookkeeper for the Saffer family who were then, and still are, clients of the firm.
When I was about to embark on my traineeship, I explored some of the Big 8 firms – in those days it was the Big 8, not the Big 4. I also followed my mother’s advice which was to speak to Frank Rabson who was then Staff Partner of Kessel Feinstein. This proved to be a great decision.
Back then, Kessel Feinstein was based only in Johannesburg and had 14 partners, most of whom were Jewish. There were no national offices or international associations; and no principals or directors. Aside from a small client accounting and secretarial division, the primary focus was on audit.
My traineeship took from 1979 to 1981. In those days, you had to do your traineeship part-time while you studied. It was extremely difficult to work all day and then study nights and weekends. In 1981, I completed and passed the Board Exam (which was then 3 exams over 3 days) and qualified as a CA.
Around this time, Kessel Feinstein joined Horwath International and merged with firms in Cape Town and Durban. Due to these changes and the firm’s subsequent expansion, I was promoted to manager in 1982; and then in 1983, I and four others were made partners. As a result of our promotions, the firm’s partnership increased from 14 to 19.
Five years later I became restless. I believed that the world of business was waiting for me to conquer it.
In March 1989, I joined the firm’s client, Steel World Corporation, as Group Financial Director. Once again there were links to Frank Rabson. The chairman was Frank’s wife’s cousin and Frank had brought Steel World Corporation to Kessel Feinstein.
Steel World Corporation was run by Paul Nathan and Norman Stein. Just before I joined the company, Paul Nathan died unexpectedly. This was a huge setback for his family and the company. The Nathan family were the controlling shareholders. Norman Stein ran the company with me for two-and-a half years. The company was then sold to MacSteel Group.
Before leaving Kessel Feinstein, Julius Feinstein (then Senior Partner) tried to dissuade me. According to him I was a professional and would not be happy in commerce. At the time I didn’t understand him. I thought this was something he said to all partners who considered leaving. In my case it turned out to be true.
Julius also assured me that if ever I wanted to come back to the firm, I should speak to him. At the time, I didn’t think this would happen.
In fact, when I left the firm in 1989 I thought “Thank heavens, I will never have to do another timesheet again”. When I returned in 1991, I thought “Thank heavens, I will never have to get involved in management again”. Five years later I was appointed Managing Partner.
Insights gained from my experience in commerce
My experience in commerce gave me some valuable insight into the client’s perspective.
Firstly, I learned that the client cannot work according to the concept of materiality. If there is a discrepancy and the amount is not terribly big, the temptation is to disregard it. For an auditor, if there is a discrepancy and the amount is not material, the temptation is to accept it – a small amount is no big deal. However, as FD of a company, you are responsible for making sure things reconcile one hundred per cent. If the figures are out by a hundred or a thousand rand, that is not good enough.
Secondly, from my conversations with auditors, I realised that auditors and clients have a different frame of reference. When auditing the previous year’s financial statements, “this” year becomes the year being audited as opposed to the actual year. This for a client can be confusing.
Back to Kessel Feinstein
During my five years with Steel World Corporation, Kessel Feinstein had continued to grow. A notable development was the firm’s disassociation with Horwath International and new association with Grant Thornton International. This important milestone was officially announced on 1 September 1991 – my first day back.
I was again a partner of Kessel Feinstein with additional responsibilities. Although I had not been suited to commerce, the experience served to broaden my knowledge of corporate finance. As a result I was tasked with some difficult and sensitive projects.
Despite my resolve to never get involved in management again, I was appointed Head of Audit in 1995; and in 1996, made Managing Partner. At that time Malcolm Segal was National Chairman.
In 1997, when Malcolm left the firm to join a private equity group, Ernest Mazansky took on the role of National Chairman which he held for 5 years.
In the same year, I was appointed the firm’s representative on the Grant Thornton International Board of Governors. I held this position until 2009. The Board of Governors was made up of representatives of 12 or so of the largest countries within Grant Thornton International.
In 2001, I was appointed Chairman of Grant Thornton International. In this position, my responsibilities included reworking the organisation’s constitutional documents; developing the worldwide strategy for member firms; and chairing numerous committees, one of which was responsible for the appointment of Ed Nusbaum as the Chief Executive of Grant Thornton International in 2010.
In 2002, when Ernest Mazansky left Grant Thornton to join Werksmans and Julius Feinstein retired after 60 years as a partner, I was honoured to be appointed National Chairman of Grant Thornton South Africa.
This additional appointment meant taking on the challenge of playing three demanding roles – Managing Partner of the Johannesburg office; Chairman of Grant Thornton International; and National Chairman of Grant Thornton South Africa.
Only in 2011, did I decide to hand over the Johannesburg reins to David Campbell; and in 2012, the national leadership to Deepak Nagar.
Major achievements under my leadership
Throughout my leadership years, I witnessed a host of exciting developments.
In 2009, the firm changed its name and became known as Grant Thornton in South Africa as opposed to Grant Thornton Kessel Feinstein.
We also expanded our range of services. Business Risk Services was created and developed into a thriving business; Corporate Finance was set up as a separate division; Grant Thornton Capital became a sizeable player in the arena of wealth management; and Strategic Solutions achieved the stature and reputation deserving of South Africa’s tourism industry experts.
As a supporter of PDI empowerment, I encouraged the firm to embrace gender equity and cultural diversity. I am delighted that today the firm employs a significant number of women partners and principals, as well as senior people in other management positions. I am also proud that Grant Thornton South Africa enabled Joseph Komape to become South Africa’s first blind black CA.
In summary, I am honoured to have played a role in making Grant Thornton South Africa all that is today – a firm that epitomises transformation and growth on all levels; a firm that rises to the challenge of continually replenishing its client base; and most importantly, a firm that is reputed for its sustained quality and integrity.
My career influences
Clifford joined the firm in 1981 when I was a 3rd year trainee. Over the years, including my tenure at Steel World Corporation when Clifford was the audit partner, we have worked closely together and developed a strong friendship. I have the greatest respect for Clifford.
I only really got to know Julius Feinstein when I became a partner. Having been at the firm since 1935, and having been partner for 60 years, Julius was by far the most senior person. He was at the forefront of transforming the firm from two partners to what it is today. He was hugely respected both within the firm and the wider community. Even tempered, experienced and supportive, he was the one all the partners would go to for advice.
When I joined the firm, Ernest had just become an audit partner. Intellectually, Ernest is a cut above the rest. Working for him was a daunting experience. He set the bar so high I worried that I wouldn’t be able to match his standards. Over the course of my traineeship I worked mainly for Ernest. When he became the tax partner I took over most of his clients. These included Simpson Frankel (stockbrokers), Micor (one of our longest standing clients), Sage Property Trusts and Standard General Insurance.
After starting my training, Malcolm returned from Israel in 1981 to become a partner of the firm. In 1987, Malcolm was made Managing Partner. Malcolm is an extremely dynamic, creative and determined individual. The years that he managed the firm were very enjoyable and productive ones for me. During this time the professional world was far less complicated. Although we were auditors, we truly were business advisors. We were able to get a lot closer to our clients and advise them on running their businesses.
When I was appointed to the Board of Governors of Grant Thornton International, David was the head of the UK firm. At the end of his term, he became CEO of Grant Thornton International – a position he held from 2001 until 2009. David is a bold visionary and a leader who transformed Grant Thornton International. When he took the helm, Grant Thornton International was a highly respected international organisation. He elevated it even further, encouraging and persuading member firms throughout the world to adopt a common strategy and brand. When he stepped down, it was a far more cohesive global organisation. I always found it a pleasure to speak to David. He is quick-minded and has an excellent grasp of issues, always offering sound advice.
As Principal of National Marketing, Pamela has ensured that the firm is distinguished by the quality of its marketing. You never have to deal with the question “Grant Thornton who?”. Thanks to her outstanding marketing, people know who we are.
As a person who has chaired so many prestigious professional committees and has become a nationally renowned leader of professional standards, for me, Frank is the “chairman of everything”.
Lessons I’ve learned
To the trainees: Don’t turn your traineeship into a prison sentence. There are no locks on the doors and there are no bars on the windows. Your years of traineeship are the greatest opportunity for learning you will ever have, particularly at Grant Thornton. That’s because the firm gives you the rare opportunity of broad exposure as to the different systems and methods of varied clients and to learn about different business environments and industries. So rather than counting down the days of your traineeship, make the most of them.
To all young people who think the odds are against them: Remember, I am the grandchild of penniless disadvantaged immigrants to South Africa, who did not speak English. This lack of money was no impediment to my becoming National and International Chairman. If you have the right values, this is a country and a world of unlimited opportunity.
To all: Get out of your chair. Every time you do that you learn something. In today’s information age, this has never been truer. Although you can learn through technology, you can learn a lot more by getting out of your chair and going to speak to people. Make sure you learn at least one new thing each day. Learning is living and living is learning. If you stop learning you are scarcely alive.
Responsibility is 10% given and 90% taken. Don’t sit around waiting to be handed responsibility or titles. If you have initiative and leadership skills, others will recognise this in you and treat you as a leader.
Plan to get rich slowly. Life is a journey and there is no destination. Too many people are only concerned with the destination: “I’ll be happy when ….” Forget it. Be happy now.
It’s because you work that you enjoy your leisure time. Having nothing but leisure is no pleasure.
What gives me joy?
While it often takes time for people to get used to my sense of humour, I love making people laugh and enjoy using humour to make a serious point.
When working on a solution to a business problem, I really enjoy bringing the knowledge derived from several different fields together with a dose of common sense.
I love helping others enhance their knowledge.
I enjoy matching wits with highly intelligent people.
I love identifying the key issues amongst the clutter of facts.
I enjoy being on a public platform and discussing business issues.
I love music which has been a great solace to me during my illness.
I love our beautiful city of Johannesburg, its history, its millions of trees, especially when the Jacarandas bloom.
I have a deep interest in history. I have a huge personal library of books, many of which will now never be read.
A lot of people who know me will be surprised to learn that the historical icon I admire most is Abraham Lincoln, not Winston Churchill. Both, however, had a wonderful sense of humour.
For more information regarding my thoughts about Lincoln and Churchill, please refer to the addendum attached.
Best of luck
Grant Thornton is a great firm with a great future. I have treasured working with my partners; the relationships I have with my business colleagues; and all those who have assisted me. I especially think of David Nathan, David Reuben, Andrea Diamond and Beverley Preddy.
I have been privileged to have you all as such outstandingly competent and good hearted friends. Thank you for enabling me to make a mark upon the world.
I have always loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s Requiem, which I share with you.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
My thoughts about Lincoln and Churchill
Lincoln had very humble origins. He was born to poor parents and had almost no formal education. His mother died when he was very young.
No US president faced a greater challenge than Lincoln. When he took office, the country was divided in two plus he had to deal with a Civil War. Most people expected nothing but disaster. However in his 4 years of outstanding achievement as president, he built a reputation that continues to grow 150 years later. He preserved the USA, enabling it to become the dominant world power that it is today.
Lincoln was murdered just as the War ended and never had the opportunity to lead the reconciliation between North and South. Alastair Cooke said Lincoln’s life was the most moving in the American experience.
In contrast to Lincoln, Churchill came from a family of wealth and stature and lived until he 90 when he died peacefully in his sleep.
Born in a palace, he was the grandson of an English duke and an American millionairess. His father was a prominent minister in the UK Government, his mother a famous celebrity beauty. He had every advantage of good education and political connection and was immensely energetic, industrious, and opinionated. Attributes such as these contributed to attainment of fame by the age of 25 and his political career which spanned 60 years.
Churchill was wrong about so many things that whole books have been written about his mistakes. However, he was absolutely right about the greatest issue of the 20th century – the victory of Hitler and the Nazis would have represented the greatest catastrophe in human history.
Remember: Hitler had triumphed over most of Europe. Even though the UK had not been beaten, it could not achieve a victory because if the UK had accepted a compromise peace, Germany’s attack and defeat Russia would have been made easier. This would then have enabled Germany to attack a USA deprived of allies.
Instead Churchill remained firm and the British Empire stood alone for a year until the Nazi monster grew impatient and turned the whole world against it. As Churchill predicted, it was Britain’s finest hour.
We South Africans can be proud of the fact that our country, which was then a Dominion of the British Commonwealth, fought along with Britain throughout that most heroic moment in human history. Many people thought that we should remain neutral in a European war, others that we had more important internal issues to deal with but under the courageous leadership of Jan Smuts, for whom Churchill had great respect and admiration, our country made a majestic moral decision. For a few brief years, it earned us a respect among nations that we did not regain until our democratic settlement in 1994.
Notes to editors
You may quote freely from this publication, provided you acknowledge the source. This publication is an outline for information purposes and should not be relied upon for detailed planning. Readers are advised to consult professional advisors for guidance relating to new or existing legislation which might affect their business and personal decisions.
About Grant Thornton South Africa
Grant Thornton South Africa is a member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd (Grant Thornton International). Grant Thornton South Africa was founded in 1920 (previously Kessel Feinstein). We are leaders in our chosen market, providing assurance, tax and specialist business advice to dynamic organisations – listed companies, large privately held businesses and private equity backed organisations.
We employ 673 people in South Africa with 76 partners and directors. Grant Thornton has a national presence with offices in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Rustenburg. South Africa is a major force in Africa, alongside 18 member firms on the continent. We operate in Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe and are ideally positioned to facilitate clients’ expansion plans in these countries.
About Grant Thornton International Ltd
Grant Thornton is one of the world's leading organisations of independent assurance, tax and advisory firms. These firms help dynamic organisations unlock their potential for growth by providing meaningful, actionable advice through a broad range of services. Proactive teams, led by approachable partners in these firms, use insights, experience and instinct to solve complex issues for privately owned, publicly listed and public sector clients.
Over 35,000 Grant Thornton people, across more than 100 countries, are focused on making a difference to clients, colleagues and the communities in which we live and work.
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