Stellenbosch University's (SU) prestigious Pro Bene Merito Medal was awarded to Mr Desmond Smith for his contribution to the University. He received the medal during graduation week at the Chancellor's Dinner at Lanzerac on Wednesday, 15 December.
The Pro Bene Merito Medal is awarded to persons for exceptional service and the promotion of SU's general interest at both the local and the foreign level.
Smith, the former Managing Director of the Sanlam Group, has had significant influence in the South African financial sector over the past decades.
An alumnus of SU, Smith, an actuary by profession, introduced numerous innovations at Sanlam, many of which are still operative today. He launched Sanlam's broker division, which is a significant contributor to the organisation's distribution footprint. He also drove significant milestones, including positioning the organisation for demutualisation, which took place successfully in 1998. In this way, Sanlam contributed to the unlocking of wealth and the sharing of the company ownership among all South Africans.
During a speech at the dinner, Smith said that he was truly honoured to receive the medal and that being involved with SU has been a significant part of his professional and personal life.
“It's been an amazing journey, and there have been many highlights and challenges. In one form or another I've been involved with the university for some 30 years."
During this time and throughout his professional career, Smith said he realised the importance of giving back. “I realised I didn't only have a debt to the actuarial profession, but I have a debt to my alma mater as well," he said. He has shared his expertise with industry and the higher education sector.
He served on the SU Council for 12 years, of which six years were in the capacity of chairperson. He has also served as trustee of the Stellenbosch Trust since 1999 and has added significant value via the Advisory Board of the University of Stellenbosch Business School since 2003. He has also chaired the board of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) and served as chairperson of Innovus.
Respected for his independent thinking, he was appointed by the then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to serve on the Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, which was tasked with establishing a framework to determine the salaries, allowances, and benefits of public office bearers.
Smith finished his speech with a reminder that all members of society must think about the role they can play. “The fact is that we are all indebted – to our professions, to our universities, to society.
“I've had many opportunities come my way. And it's incumbent on each of us – especially now – to make a contribution and think about how we can make a difference," he said.