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Photo of Johann van Zyl

Johann van Zyl

CEO, SANLAM (Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Lewens Assuransie Maatskappij Beperk)

South Africa

What most impressed the professional colleagues who nominated this role model?

Johann van Zyl has played a unique and decisive role in South African agribusiness as a policy maker, distinguished academic and outstanding businessman.  As a policy maker, he was instrumental in implementing the agricultural policy reforms of the early 1990s that deregulated the South African agricultural landscape and transformed the agribusiness world in South Africa. 

As an academic, he began as a prolific researcher and subsequently became a highly effective reformer and leader.  He transformed the agricultural faculty at the University of Pretoria and, later, as vice-chancellor of UP changed the strategic direction of the university. As a businessman, he has won multiple awards, including Business Leader of the Year for increasing the profitability of SANLAM, South Africa’s major insurance and investment company.

What motivated you to pursue a career in agriculture?

  • I was born on a farm and grew up on a farm within a farming family.
  • I learned from a very young age that farming is a business.

How can agricultural education institutions more effectively prepare African students for successful agribusiness careers? 

  • Universities must make sure that they prepare the students for careers in growing areas of the job market where needs and opportunities are. 

Career highlights

  • CEO, Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Lewens Assuransie Maatskappij Beperk (SANLAM ).
  • Deputy vice-chancellor, Vice-chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria.
  • Dean, Faculty of Biological and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria.
  • Lecturer, Senior lecturer, Associated Professor and Professor Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Pretoria.
  • Economist: National Maize Producers Organisation (NAMPO), Bothaville.
  • Researcher: Department of Agriculture: Directorate of Agricultural Economics, Pretoria.

Educational background

  • Primary school: De Groot Boom Primary School, Burgersfort, Mpumalanga.       
  • Secondary school:  
    • Lydenburg High School, Mpumalanga.
    • Volksrust High School, Mpumalanga.          
  • University:  
    • BSc, Agricultural Economics, University of Pretoria.
    • Part-time studies for non-degree purposes Business Economics, University of South Africa.
    • BSc (Hons) Agriculture, University of Pretoria, cum laude.
    • MSc, Agricultural Economics, cum laude, University of Pretoria.
    • DSc, Agricultural Economics, University of Pretoria.
    • PhD Economics – Macroeconomics and Microeconomics, VISTA University.