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M&A and financial modelling

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Steven Harper

Steve worked on over 100 M&A and restructuring transactions across sub-Saharan Africa while in the employ of a listed financial services group in South Africa. During this time he gained in-depth transaction experience (including business case development, valuations, due diligence, deal structuring and transaction agreements). Steve has also reviewed and been involved in various new initiatives, including being part of the original team of three which created a health insurance / administration company which grew to over 400 employees.


During my time in corporate finance at Liberty Holdings, I worked on over 100 mergers and acquisitions and restructuring transactions in Southern, East and West Africa. There has been a growing interest in Africa over the past decade which has driven company values up. It is likely that these values will only be realised in the longer term, making it critical that shareholders have a long-term mindset and build accordingly. 

I am a long-term Afro-optimist and believe Africa will have its day to shine. Companies waiting too long to enter the market, however, may be too late. It takes time to build trust with in-country partners, employees and in the market, as there are nuances which need to be learnt and relationships developed.     

The largest contributing factor to failure I’ve witnessed post transaction is leadership changes within the first two years. This is a critical time in integrating two businesses successfully. I’ve seen it play out a few times where someone comes in, does a deal and then departs soon thereafter, leaving new management with the struggle of regaining the desired traction.


Helping establish Liberty Health Holdings awakened me to the difference between theory and practice in building a business. Having strong financial backers and a well thought out business plan isn’t enough. Factors change and assumptions which seemed reasonable at the start can prove to be untrue a year or so later. I am now an advocate of using design thinking and the ‘lean start-up’ approach when building a business to better manage uncertainty.  


Insurance is a sector ripe for disruption. I think the larger insurers are aware of the need to change and have been making progress, but too slowly. Most are product centric businesses with complicated legacy systems which need to become customer centric businesses with a digital and data driven mindset. This isn’t an easy transition.     

Finishing high school in the late 90’s, I signed up for a year of PC Engineering as IT was all the rage. Towards the end of that year I also did a diploma in Web design and Internet marketing. I tried to offer SEO services in Pietermaritzburg and, as you can imagine, it was a total flop! Wrong place, wrong time! No one took me seriously and I decided I needed to get a marketing degree to boost my credentials.  


In the second year of my undergrad degree, I remember going up to my finance lecturer and asking him what jobs require the project evaluation analysis we were being taught. That initial exposure grabbed me, and I changed my majors from marketing to finance. I enjoy numbers, but not accounting or statistics. Finance was the perfect match for me.


Outside of work you will most likely find me in the water or with my family. There is something special about being in water - like being in a different world – whether swimming, snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding or surfing. 


As a water polo coach, I loved being in the pool and training or throwing a ball around with the team. That style of coaching made me realise there’s huge value in creating a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ versus barking orders from the pool deck. The experience also showed me the importance of working with the talent you have, developing people further and pushing for the magic that becomes possible when a team works well together.


Founding Helmsley Advisory has given me the opportunity to work with different companies and use what I learn from their good (and bad!) practices for the benefit of my clients. I’m also forced to be more entrepreneurial and creative in my operations as a small consultancy. 

The name Helmsley comes from a family farm outside the tiny KZN village of Highflats. I have recently become interested in micro-scale urban farming so farm produce might once again be part of the Helmsley offering! 


Becoming a dad and investing time and love into developing  my kids’ little lives has made me realise that the investment of parents, teachers, coaches, family, friends and colleagues into my life over the years has helped to shape the person I am today. This humbling thought inspires me to ‘pay-it-forward’ by investing in others.   


The pandemic has made me realise that some things I thought were important actually aren’t that important. Some activities use too much time and energy and lockdown has exposed them. As a family we’ve been less busy, and it’s been healthy for us. I’d like to maintain that going forward.


I came to know about the MAD Network through Karola, who I’d met when we both worked at Liberty. Network consulting takes from the best of both worlds – I remain independent but still get to be part of a larger group of consultants. The network provides me with both business leads and a pool of trustworthy people to draw on, giving me the ability to take on larger projects beyond my individual capacity.

Selected client experience

Toptal Finance Expert (Nov 2017 – present) 


Helmsley Advisory – Founder & Managing Director (Jun 2015 – present)

Liberty Holdings – Corporate Finance Manager (Mar 2009 – May 2015)


Liberty Health Holdings – Corporate Development / Corporate Finance
(Apr 2007 – Feb 2009)


Liberty Life – Investor Relations / Strategic Initiatives (Jan 2006 – Mar 2007)


Liberty Life – Graduate Development Programme (Feb 2005 – Dec 2005)


Functional Skills

Problem solving

Critical thinking

Financial modelling


Financial analysis

Transaction structuring

Due diligence

Legal agreement review from a commercial perspective

Business models

MS Excel, MS Word, MS PowerPoint


Good general business acumen and attention to detail


Corporate Finance Institute (2020): Certified as a Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA)

University of KwaZulu Natal – Pietermaritzburg (2004)

BCom Honours (Finance) – Finance & Economics.
Top of Finance class.


University of Natal – Pietermaritzburg (2001 – 2003):

BCom – majoring in Finance and Economics.
Top of class in 6 subjects.


Varsity College (1999): Diploma in PC Engineering

Maritzburg College (1994 – 1998): Matriculated with an ‘A’ aggregate