Larger than life. Passionate about family, food and Ferraris (and many other finer things). And never afraid to show his emotions. That was Giorgio Cavalieri, a leading light in the South African insurance industry.
Cavalieri (72), founder of Houghton-based Sela Brokers, one of the country’s leading independent brokerages, passed away recently in Johannesburg. He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Emi, his son Andreas, who is also a director of Sela Brokers, his daughter Valentina and granddaughter Sofia.
Born in Parma, Italy, in 1947, Cavalieri arrived in South Africa with his parents and baby brother Paolo – the former Hollard Group CEO and current chairman of iTOO – in late 1958. Their father Cesare gave the brothers their enduring love for cars and racing, taking them to meets at Wembley and Kyalami.
As Paolo said in his eulogy for his older brother, Giorgio’s decision that he would own a Ferrari by the age of 30 would be a fateful one. It would lead him to, with others, resurrecting the Ferrari Club of South Africa (SEFAC), and turning it into one of Ferrari’s most established and recognised clubs in the world.
Ferrari and Porsche (of which he owned cars of both make) would loom large in Giorgio’s professional life, too. Sela Brokers, which he founded in 1972, has long had close relationships with both marques.
“In 1976 the Porsche Club Scheme and the Ferrari Club Scheme was started, reinsured through a London company, DR Fleet Company. In 1978 the scheme was moved locally to Maritime and General Insurance Company,” says Alan Turnbull, who joined Sela in 1980, the beginning of a 40-year partnership and friendship between the pair.
“I am proud to say to date, we are still the official brokers to both motor schemes and clubs and were the only brokers insuring these super-fast cars in those days. The market has changed significantly and there have been UMAs and insurers alike that insure these cars. However, throughout, with our consistency and experience, we have maintained these (clients).”
A hard worker – Alan notes that he often “worked late hours, sometimes seven days a week, no time for pleasure purposes except the passion of Ferrari” – Giorgio played hard, too. And he was not afraid to show it when he felt moved.
“Full of energy, always with an opinion, he was blessed with a vast range of interests and talents. He would call them passions, correctly so because everything he did was always with a massive dose of energy, passion and emotion,” said Paolo in his eulogy.
“There were no small measures, it was all or nothing, always – the way it should be. He shared his passions with anyone who showed the remotest of interest, no matter whom and no matter where, generously and often sprinkled with a small dose of tears along the way.
“If there was a party to be had, Giorgio and Emi would be at the centre of it. If there was music, he could dance, or boogie as he would call it! He cared for and fostered a – wait for it – parliament of owls in the Wilds, not to mention his gaggle of geese in the gardens at Sela and at home.
“He raised a piglet and cried when it had to be slaughtered for his prosciutto. He produced his own honey, wine label and traditional balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamic never ages, his had a distinctive taste for us to remember him by.”
Alan concurs: “Giorgio was very determined and did not take no for an answer. He was a door opener and never gave up. He loved people and was extremely people orientated. He was bigger than life and called a spade a spade, was determined and, as some people said, I was the buffer. We complemented each other due to our different strengths.”
Hollardites, too, remember him this way.
Pierre Geyer, head of operations for Hollard Insure, recalls a 12-year friendship: “Over the years I have learnt a lot from Giorgio. What stood out for me was his passion, his ability to shed a tear of joy/unhappiness and not be afraid to show his emotions. I always knew exactly where I stood with Giorgio.
“He was authentic. He had a real passion for Sela and his clients (always wanting to go the extra mile). He was a tough businessman and knew exactly what he wanted; he had no fear, always did the right thing and always acted in good faith. His integrity was above reproach. He was a generous man (willing to share a nice bottle of wine in his cellar, enjoying a bowl of pasta which he prepared himself).
“We say goodbye to, and honour, a legend of a man. A big tree has fallen, and he will always be remembered. The broking and insurance fraternity will truly miss this great ambassador,” says Pierre.
Abdul Ebrahim, Hollard Insure’s GM for Gauteng, states it more succinctly: “I worked with Giorgio for many years, and to me he was an upstanding and an honourable person, and a LEGEND in the insurance industry.”
Paolo noted that Giorgio’s (and Alan’s) legacy will live on in Sela, saying: “The future of Sela is bright and strong, as both Alan and Giorgio have their sons progressing through the business. Andrea is a fourth-generation insurer in the Cavalieri family.”
But he perhaps best summed up his brother’s impact as he concluded his eulogy: “If there’s a message for us here today, it is that we should make the most of the gifts of life and love that reside in us all. The report card of life is not measured by academic results, money or IQ, it is the heart that matters most – how big it is, how you have used it.
“Giorgio Cavalieri receives full marks in this regard.”