Book review: Magda Wierzycka’s story


My Journey

Magda Wierzycka

Penguin Random House

Review: Karen Watkins

Magda Wierzycka went from humble beginnings in Gliwice, southern Poland, to Pretoria in 1983 where she became one of South Africa’s most successful businesswomen and, according to Forbes magazine, was among Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women.

Born in 1969, Magdalena “Magda” Wierzycka shared a two-bedroom flat with her sister, brother, grandmother and parents who were medical doctors. Aged 13, her family fled communist Poland in 1982 and lived in a refugee camp in Austria where her parents dug ditches to earn a living.

This wasn’t the only time she had to flee. In late April 2017, she was driven out of South Africa and went to the Maldives with her family fearing for their safety during the GuptaLeaks.

Wierzycka has been an outspoken critic of corruption in business and in government.

This book is compulsive reading. It’s an inspirational tool for entrepreneurs and young business people wanting to know how to invest for their future. It will touch a sensitive nerve for women who have had to claw their way and survive getting to the peak of their profession. It’s also a book that men should read and learn how their actions affect women in business.

Wierzycka’s energy is exhausting, not only in her business dealings but also her personal life.

From growing up Catholic and almost converting to Judaism she married Simon Peile who she initially did not get on with. They had two sons, Alex and Nicholas.

Wierzycka went for natural childbirth and was back at work within a few days – which is possibly the only regret of her life. This was her choice, either be a stay-at-home mum or have a career, and not feel guilty about the decision.

If that’s not enough, she knows how to knit, embroider, bake and buy exquisite shoes and outfits. She has completed five Cape Town Cycle Tours, runs almost two hours every day and wrote this book in two weeks.

Starting her career in 1993 in the male-dominated financial industry she shares explicit details of how her hard work led her to reaching her “glass ceiling”. And how she survived verbal abuse in boardrooms to empower herself with what she calls her “attack technique” and not reacting to triggers of fear. Along the way she used index tracking and disrupted the financial services industry of the country in the same way that Airbnb, Uber and Amazon did.

In 2006, as co-founder and CEO of Sygnia, she grew the financial technology company’s assets from R2 billion to R162 billion.

I thoroughly recommend this fascinating, interesting book.

Wierzycka is donating the proceeds from the sales of this book to the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, based in Manenberg.