Saturday, 18 January, 2020

Stephan Claassen


What it’s like to live in the mystical nation of India? This country is sometimes known as the land of extremes: it’s extremely large, extremely civilized, and extremely diverse in terms of population, natural attractions, and weather. The people are deeply religious, highly cultured, and good-natured.

We found  it’s extremely exciting to know about what motivated Stephan Claassen, a South African,  to live in this  part of the world, how he generated  income, how he and his family  manage to live there, and what they’ve learned from their experiences in a land that’s become their new home for 2 ½ years.

Stephan , one of four children, was born in Pretoria and grew up in Worcester, in the middle of the beautiful wine-lands area of the Western Cape. He studied accounting and law at the University of Stellenbosch, and holds B.Com and LLB degrees. He did his articles to become a lawyer at De Klerk and Van Gend attorneys in Cape Town, and is a qualified attorney. His main focus was on commercial law, and during his time there he was also involved in a number of Truth Commission cases. In 1998 he joined Boland Bank as a Risk manager, and soon rose to the head of Ongoing Risk Management. He joined FNB Corporate in 2001 as Head of Ongoing Risk management. In 2004 he was appointed as Deputy CEO of FNB’s Commercial Banking segment, responsible for the sales and business development of the division.

In 2007 he moved to India, with his wife Melinda Claassen, an industrial psychologist, and two daughters Anika(5) and Danielle(3) , as part of the team that started FirstRand Bank’s operations in India. FirstRand India is currently a full corporate banking operation, focusing on the corporate and investment banking market and the trade flows in the Indo-Africa corridor.


Living in South Mumbai, India, in a hotel apartment for the first 8 months had been a challenging yet rewarding experience for Stephan and his family. Stephan believed that we poor ourselves by living in one place all our lives. From a  business prospective the future is in India and China and as a driven businessman , when the opportunity presented itself, he set himself for the future. He wanted to do something International and something extreme when the company he worked for asked him if I was interested in going to India, he didn’t need much convincing.

It was very exciting and stimulating setting up a new business in a country were the culture is different but entertaining and not difficult to understand. For Stephan it was difficult to get logistics in place but very easy to build networks. He found the local Indians to be highly educated and most are entrepreneurs by nature. He developed respect for the Indian style , which is easy to predict from a business aspect because most of them own businesses and they all think like normal entrepreneurs. In this now emerging market, living there made it easier for Stephan to understand why people go crazy about investing in India. He believes that India is a self stimulating country that has brought back the culture of owner manager family business style…..a winning formular.

Learning more about the culture outside work became more enjoyable  for the Claassen family as the human spirit is very adaptable. They did  not speak the local language(s)— but communication was simple because English is something of an adopted  local language in India–even between locals, it can sometimes be their only shared language. Most shop-keepers and vendors  also spoke some English. His daughters enjoyed the diversity immensely and will forever have” bling “in their style. These new Bollywood followers missed their culture but adjusted well and now have a special affinity for Indian food.  Stephan said” You didn’t become Indian but enjoyed the Indian culture”. They  found it  quite easy to meet people in India. Locals tend to be very friendly and welcoming, regardless of their religious background. The ex-pat community tends to be fairly cohesive–especially families with children.

He returned to SA in late 2009, and now heads up FNB in the Western Cape. Looking back now Stephan describes his  amazing expat experience as stepping into a Bollywood movie for 2 ½ years. His advice for people deciding to step into the future is that one should not make their networks to small and protect yourself. You need to open your door quiet wide  and welcome the culture , so that the culture invites you in as well.  He said that it is important for expats to be sensitive to and appreciate local customs. They are frequently fascinating and colorful.  No amount of research will prepare you for living in India but  it pays dividends to come in with an open mind. India will force you out of your comfort zone, and that must be something you are willing to not only tolerate, but embrace.


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