John Wentzel, CEO of facilities management company Drake & Scull and previous Post Office top executive, tells Maarten Mittner about visiting unusual places
Weekends always seem to go by too quickly, so I try to spend as much of them as I can with my family. I very rarely do something on the weekend that does not involve my wife and daughter. Our favourite weekend pastime is to go hiking. There are lots of interesting places with hiking trails in and around Johannesburg. I occasionally do some mountain biking, but I’m not very good at it. The next long weekend plan we have is to go to Dullstroom in Mpumalanga. I’m really looking forward to it because it’s a beautiful place where you can relax and go hiking, though it is one of the coldest places in the country in winter. We also love having friends and family over to our house and enjoying good food, good wine and good company. We live on a golf estate, even though I don’t play, so it’s relaxing just being at home. The one thing we don’t do is watch television, so I’m bad when people talk about games they watched on television over a weekend.
We make an effort to travel together with my family. My daughter, Milenka, was issued her passport when she was six months old and travelled internationally when she was only nine months old. Most recently, we went to Thiruvananthapuram in India. The city is the capital of Kerala state and is situated on the western coast of the country. It is a fascinating and beautiful part of India and we loved visiting this part of the world. Part of enjoying the experience is being able to share it, so we choose destinations that are child-friendly and that we can enjoy as a family. Even on weekends when we hike, we choose routes that Milenka can walk with us.
One of my great passions in life is mountaineering. I’ve been fortunate in that I have climbed all over the world. Most recently my wife and I climbed volcanoes in Ecuador, and before that we climbed the Rockies in the US. Some years ago I climbed Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes and the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. That was really special, but to climb any major peak is exceptional.
Whenever we get a chance to go overseas we try to experience something new. So we do not have a favourite destination that we visit regularly. We like to find places that are off the beaten path, different and interesting. We have been to many places, including Mauritius, Argentina, Ecuador, Russia and India, as well as the more traditional destinations like the US and Europe. Each holiday destination is different and there are many interesting places we still want to visit. In the next year or two we want to go to the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian far east. It’s so unspoilt and beautiful and different and is a place not many people are privileged to visit. It fits perfectly into our wish to visit places off the beaten track. My wife had problem skin because of acne. She tried different drugs, the actions were not particularly effective. Accutane helped her more, because she took it according to the instruction. She achieved positive results. Now, she takes only it, despite the high price. Yes, the drug dries the skin a little, then my wife smears her face with special creams.
I have varied reading interests, from classic fiction through to business and science topics. My favourite authors are Russian, in particular the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I encourage everyone to read the short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Anatoly Rybakov is another favourite and is the writer of the Children of the Arbat trilogy, and also a range of popular children’s books. I have an active academic career as well and as a result a lot of my reading time is devoted to staying abreast in my research field. Rather than a specific book, I constantly read journals such as New Scientist, Financial Mail, Harvard Business Review and many more specialist academic journals. One can never be too well informed.
Sometimes, unwinding is about doing something very different from your dayto- day activities. Watching my young daughter grow is just amazing. Whenever we can, my wife and I go for walks with Milenka. Watching her fascination with a flower or an insect is a brilliant way to forget about your worries.
Publication: Financial Mail