15 things to know about Edward Kieswetter, the new head of SARS

Business Insider SA
edward kieswetter
Ed Kieswetter (Facebook)
  • The embattled tax agency SARS has a new head, Edward Kieswetter.
  • Kieswetter previously did a stint at SARS - among a long list of other positions he has held at various other organisations.
  • He also designed his own house, and is an avid wine collector. 

The 60-year old Edward Kieswetter has been appointed as the new head of SA Revenue Service (SARS).

He has had a varied career with many organisations, including Alexander Forbes and parastatals Eskom and Transnet. A former choral conductor and wine collector, Kieswetter has also lived a colourful life outside of work.

He originally trained as an electrical engineer

In 1981, Kieswetter completed his industrial instrumentation apprenticeship at Athlone Technikon. He then obtained a diploma in electrical engineering and started his career as an instrumental engineer at Caltex in Cape Town.

While working, he studied towards education qualifications, eventually obtaining a Master’s degree. He then joined Athlone Technikon as a lecturer.

While at Eskom, he was named South Africa’s Boss of the Year

Kieswetter started at Eskom as a general manager in 1992, eventually becoming a power station manager. In 1999 he was crowned the best boss in the country. He left Eskom in 2000 to join FirstRand as a senior executive.

Kieswetter has three Master’s degrees

Apart from his Master’s in education, he also received an Executive MBA from Henley Business School and an M.Com degree in tax from North West University in Potchefstroom (2005).

He knows SARS

In 2004, former SARS boss Pravin Gordhan recruited Kieswetter to become deputy commissioner. Kieswetter established units that specifically focused on high-net worth individuals and large businesses. These units were dismantled by former SARS boss Tom Moyane in 2015.

Before the large business unit was dismantled, it was responsible for the collection of more than 30% of total tax income.

He quit his CEO job at Alexander Forbes in search of a more balanced life

In 2010, Kieswetter was appointed CEO of the country’s largest pension administrator. At the time, the company was in crisis after it was accused of stripping the surpluses of retirement funds.

Under Kieswetter, Alexander Forbes resolved the R950 million claim against the company. He also sold non-core assets and eventually oversaw the company’s successful listing in 2014, which at the time was South Africa’s seventh-largest IPO on record.

During his time at Alex Forbes, he married Singaporean asset manager Frances Dydasco and started to commute between South Africa and Asia.

In interviews, Kieswetters said this started to take a toll on him and eventually he decided to take early retirement from his role as CEO.

At heart, Kieswetter believes he’s a teacher

After leaving Alexander Forbes he took a stake in a private university called the Da Vinci Institute of Technology, which allowed him to pursue his calling as an educator, he said in an interview on a CliffCentral radio programme.

He designed his own house in Bedfordview

In a 2013 interview with Financial Mail, Kieswetter said he was proud of his building skills, acquired on construction sites where he worked as an engineer. (But he draws the line at plastering.)

"I can work with my hands. I will never be unemployed because I can take a piece of timber and convert it to furniture,” he told "I can take a piece of metal and create a tool. I can take some bricks and mortar and build a house. I can work with my hands. Where did I learn that? I learnt that at school and through my apprenticeship."

He was a bishop and officiated marriages

A devoted Christian, he attends a church in Edenvale. In the 1980s, as a church official, he married many couples. He also conducted the church choir. His two sons shared his love of music and together they have composed music over the years. His son Matheu Kieswetter is a well-known orchestra conductor.

His son is married to a Singaporean politician

Matheu Kieswetter married a politician Glenda Han, who represents the Workers' Party in Singapore, in 2013. 

Matheu Kieswetter and Glenda Han. Photo: AsiaOne

Growing up relatively poor shaped his outlook on life

“As a young man I never had the luxury of being spoilt. I think it's served me well, because I have not felt entitled to anything. Mine was an upbringing of playing Scrabble and doing crosswords with my mother. I've come to learn that life is not about making money but rather about constantly looking out for opportunities to have a positive impact,” he told the Financial Mail.

He loves reading

Kieswetter often speaks of the books that have made an impression on him, citing those by Malcolm Gladwell and Deepak Chopra’s How to know God and the Power of Intuition.

He also writes books for his sons, which Kieswetter describes as collections of his thoughts and prayers.

He collects red wine

He built his own wine cellar as part of this hobby.

Kieswetter wasn't afraid to pull the trigger at Transnet

He was appointed to the Transnet board in May 2018, and within six months the company’s CEO Siyabonga Gama was fired. Following the dismissal, Kieswetter represented the board in various media interviews to explain why Gama was given the sack.

He has strong views on what should happen to state capture perpetrators

He is still a director of Shoprite

He joined the Shoprite board in 2010, and chairs the company’s remuneration committee since last year.

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