In 2013, wealth adviser and auction entrepreneur Ebo Quagraine achieved what most young people can only dream about: financial freedom.
It’s the sort of feat that merits more than just an air punch, the feeling of overwhelming joy that you have arrived on the threshold of unlimited living because the world is at your feet.
Instead, early retirement made the young entrepreneur turn his gaze inward.
“Having retired at age 29, I needed to prove that I had not arrived.”
So, as opposed to setting out and living the life of Riley, Quagraine decided to push himself some more by pursuing real passions, goals he only dreamt about when he was still earning his living the hard way, through sheer slog.
In essence, Quagraine had become a graduate of what he used to teach clients when he was still working for the banks: “that when your passive income exceeds or equals your living expenses, you actually have reached the point of financial freedom”.
“Beyond that point,” he says, “it’s up to you to decide what you are most passionate about and go out and achieve it,” while money through other means rolls in unimpeded.
Principal among his many ambitions was the desire to carry on creating wealth.
He had just left formal employment and, by his own admission, had too much time on his hands.
“So I started buying property at sheriff auctions.”
The idea of property acquisition at public sales was relatively new to him, one he had cottoned on to while he was still working for the bank; while the wisdom of investing in property as a means of generating wealth had been with him for longer, at least since 2008.
Quagraine recalls that he was fresh out of varsity with a BCom degree in economics, and working as an investment consultant when a cash-flush client walked into his office.
Sniffing good commission, “I kept on pushing to see what I could get him to invest in, until the old man sat me down and said: ‘Son, you’ve just come out of school; what do you know?’”
Bolstered by bookish conceit, Quagraine trotted out some jargon-fuelled tips from his tertiary training but actually ended up learning his most valuable lesson that day.
“The old man said to me: ‘Until you have property of your own, don’t come and talk to me.’”
Quagraine remembers that the client “wanted me to create a property portfolio and prove to him that I can create and manage my own wealth, before he was willing to trust me with managing his substantial liquidity.
“That’s where it all started – with property.”
Demure in manner and distinguished in dress, Quagraine may sound like he’s full of self-congratulation, yet is everything but.
His mentors, even the unintended ones, like the no-nonsense investor who prompted him to become qualified through experience, are some of the most important people in his frame of professional reference, constantly reminding him how important it is to have your feet flat on the ground.
“When you have achieved a level of success, you feel that you have arrived.
“However, in my banking experience the most successful clients I have met are the ones who are the humblest.”
Humility, some might say, is far removed from the world of distressed and dynamic sales, but it’s the very thing that turned Quagraine to another mentor, an intended one, Hedley Harris, founder and principal lecturer at the SA College of Auctioneering.
“Knowing business, who you study under or who you do your apprenticeship under makes all the difference,” he says.
It wasn’t his intention to become an auctioneer, but after getting burnt by “a ring”, a grouping of bidders colluding to keep prices down, at one of the sheriff auctions he attended, Quagraine decided to acquaint himself with the ins and outs of open-floor trading.
He enrolled for a course at the college that, since it started in 1988, has qualified more than 20 000 students in auction-specific subjects such as document structuring, business sourcing, sales marketing and other general facets of the fastest sales technique in the world.
However, it is the chant that really grabbed the imagination of the soft-spoken go-getter.
Dismissed by some as nothing more than a gift-of-the-gab skill that can be “easily” learnt, there’s actually much more to an auctioneer’s call than meets the ear.
It’s not just about the ability to rattle off rapid-fire increments, says Harris, who received his own training from America’s Worldwide College of Auctioneering back in the 1980s.
“It teaches young auctioneers the necessary confidence to speak clearly, and to remain calm and in control when it matters most.”
Quagraine says it’s about “projection”.
“If you can’t put yourself out there, confidently, you cannot expect to gain the confidence of buyers and high-end investors.”
Having learnt first-hand how risky an auction can be, and admitting to losing a lot of money through extorting bidders, Quagraine’s experience has become the catalyst for his latest entrepreneurial endeavour, Auction Capitol.
“My main focus and motivation is to help other people buy at auction, creating a safe environment where they can learn how to buy at auction, and where certain myths about bidding, such as needing immediate access to capital, can be dispelled.”
More important, says Quagraine, is the concept of creating a porthole and platform for “strategic niche markets” and “attracting young professionals as primary clientele”.
He is an alumnus of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute at Unisa, and it’s all part of his vision for the local industry or, if you like, an African renaissance of repossession sales.
“We need to find out whether we’re building the business up or down.
“From a transformation point of view,” says Quagraine, “it’s all good and well to say that you’re predominantly black, but African auctioneers need to tap into the knowledge that’s out there, learning form the best in the business, from people like Hedley.
“It’s only once we have acquired the necessary skills, and adapted it for our markets, that we can take African auctioneering forward.