The life and legacy of Marius Pheiffer: A tribute from the HR profession

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October 2, 2017

The life and legacy of Marius Pheiffer:

A tribute from the HR profession


On 8 September 2017, one of the country’s first HR and IR Leaders, Marius Pheiffer passed on. Let us reflect on his legacy and learn from his life, career, knowledge and experience. Today it is with great sadness that we mourn his passing, but it is also a celebration of his legacy.  In essence, the legacy of a person is the difference you make to society.  It answers the question: What do you leave behind after you are gone?


We remember Marius as a professional, friend and colleague.  Above all we honour him for the contribution he made to shape the course of our destiny as human resource professionals in South Africa.


Marius Pheiffer (right) receiving an award from SABPP CEO, Marius Meyer (left)


day, when reflecting on the legacy of Marius Pheiffer, I represent the profession of human resource (HR) management – the profession Marius believed in, the profession he worked in, the profession he helped to establish and grow in South Africa, the profession he had a vision for. I remember his passion for HR, his commitment to advance the profession, his role in building HR professionalism.  I also remember his excitement when something went right for the HR profession (such as the launch of the HR standards, or when the Minister of Justice approved HR professionals as Ex-officio Commissioners or Oaths), But I also remember his frustration when something went wrong. That is what professionalism is about – the continuous pursuit of doing what is right, of advancing the highest possible standard of professionalism, and the campaign to reduce and eliminate acts and incidents of unprofessional or unethical behaviour and action.


After Matric he had an abortive year studying to become a teacher where-after he joined the Department of Education, Arts and Science (Secretary for the National Council for Adult Education) and continued and completed his studies for a BA-studies part-time.


Marius had a post graduate qualification in Clinical, Industrial and Personnel Psychology, which he obtained part time at the Universities of Pretoria and Potchefstroom (now Northwest University). 


His career started in 1965 with the Department of Education, Arts and Science as Secretary for the National Council for Adult Education, after which he joined the South African Defence Force from which he resigned with the rank of Commandant (Lt. Col.). He worked for Chrysler and Sigma Motor Corporation heading various HR departments such as Personnel Administration, Training and Development and was one of the first Industrial Relations Managers in the country.


Marius started his consulting career with FSA-Contact Management Consultants in 1980 where he worked for 12 years and held the positions of Senior Consultant, Branch Manager, Divisional Executive, Client Service Manager and was a shareholder. He started consulting on his own in 1992 and subsequently founded his own company, Human Resources Bureau (Pty.) Ltd.  He was co-founder of VIVCOM (Pty) Ltd, who held the South African agency for Vivanco, Europe’s largest accessory company and PETCO (Pty) Ltd an import/export, trade and commodity brokerage company and Innovation Initiative South Africa (Pty) Ltd, specialising in intellectual property and innovation practices.  He had more than 45 years experience in HR and 30 years as a consultant having consulted for more than 200 clients over all major sectors and industries and trained thousands of trainees.


Having had many job titles in his career, Marius preferred not to have one in his company, Human Resources Bureau (Pty) Ltd. He fulfilled all functions for the company or contracted it out.


He was one of the first examiners of the SABPP and is registered as a Chartered HR Practitioner (Generalist) and served on the Professional   Registration Panel of the SABPP for more than 30 years. In 2016 he received a special recognition award from the SABPP for his contribution to the HR Profession.





In the late 1970’s Marius made contributions to the Wiehahn Commission and the scrapping of job reservation as well as developing one of the first grievance procedures and disciplinary codes in South Africa.  He developed some of the first IR courses such as Rights and Responsibilities, Negotiations, Labour Legislation and the implementation of an internal communication system based on the British Industrial Society Briefing system.  From the early 1980’s he developed training courses and systems relating to Remuneration, Job evaluation, job descriptions/profiling, remuneration market surveys and research and concepts such as dual/specialist career paths.





Marius has learned many lessons during his career, some of them which are reflected below.  Consider, discuss, explore them and if applicable apply them:



  1. Create sound administrative, reporting and support structures.


  1. Provide clear, unambiguous guidelines and rules, linked to the organisation’s strategy and values.


  1. Strive for objective, unbiased participation and input.


  1. Base decisions and actions on facts and in writing.


  1. Become proficient in supportive practices, tools and methodology such as Problem Solving/Decision Making, Lateral and Deductive Thinking, Statistics, Research, project management.


  1. As knowledge gained academically or otherwise is an input, convert knowledge into competencies and skills through practical application. Knowledge is a base by which one becomes competent.


  1. Understand the business environment, corporate strategy and objectives and a sound understanding of other functional areas.


  1. Create a common understanding of terminology and interventions.


  1. Regard with suspicion efforts by consultants to gain favour by discrediting the work and interventions of previously engaged consultants.


  1. Recognise contribution and effort.


  1. Distinguish between expected and exceptional performance determined by required competencies, profiles, grades and guaranteed pay as opposed to innovation.


  1. Recognise and contribute to the social, community and natural environment within which you operate.


  1. Competencies should be derived from the organisation strategy-objectives-structures and profiles and in sequence a. required b. acquired and c. applied.


  1. From an organisational point of view, career paths should be based on critical/core competencies. From an employee point of view career paths are not so much linked to the organisation but rather to the individual.


  1. Knowledge, obtained through academic study or any other means, is an input for becoming competent in a given field. Adding experience to knowledge through practical exposure leads to competence.


  1. Mentoring and coaching can be the most effective way of creating capacity.


  1. Always preserve and foster human dignity.





As a committed senior HR Professional, Marius shared some ideas for the youngsters entering the profession:


  • Gain as much knowledge as possible through academic qualifications or any other means.
  • Continuously broaden your exposure within the broader HR function.
  • Seek a mentor from which you can learn.
  • Don’t repeat other peoples’ mistakes.
  • Remember that in HR everything should be considered in context and ask yourself the question: “Where, what and how will my action or intervention impact?”
  • Don’t specialise too early.
  • Beware of being employed where your scope of work will limit your development.
  • Guard against complacency.
  • Acquire knowledge and improve your academic qualifications to enable you to develop through experience.
  • Do not be a follower of every “gimmick and Fad” that passes you by. Flavour of the days seldom have longevity and frequently are just the old practices disguised in a new coat by name-changing.
  • That which works and is suitable and successful elsewhere may not necessarily suite your own situation and requirements.




Since the sad news about the passing of Marius Pheiffer was shared with the HR community, several messages were received:

“Such sad news. Marius was a real champion of the professionalisation of HR. We salute you Marius for being a pioneer in the HR field.”

                              Shirley Zinn, Former HR Head of Nedbank, SARS and Woolworths



“May the peace of God be with the family. Our condolences, such a great soul. May his spirit rest peacefully.”

                                                 Sydwell Shikweni, Transformation Director: Merchants

“He was really one of the pioneers in the people/HR field. He was one of the finest people I knew.”

                               Wilhelm Crous, Group Managing Director: Knowledge Resources



“Long Live the legacy of Marius Pheiffer. May his family, friends and professional associates find comfort in the memories made and experiences shared with Marius. He will always be remembered as a fine gentleman, that contributed significantly to the numbers of HR people who became registered HR professionals with SABPP.”

              Brian Matthee, Group General Manager: HR: Chryso Southern Africa Group



“I am saddened to learn about the passing of our colleague. I was privileged to learn and work with him. May his soul rest in eternal peace. We pass our condolences to his family.  He will be dearly missed.”

            Mochabo Moerane, Chairperson: SABPP Professional Registration Committee






For years, the last Wednesdays of the month was the time when Marius arrived at the SABPP office for our monthly meetings to register new HR professionals. We always started these sessions with a laugh before tackling the serious business of the day.  I miss these Wednesday meetings, I miss the laughs and sharp sense of humour of a great man. Yes, Marius I miss you indeed.  But his legacy is alive as we continue building on his wisdom in registering thousands of HR professionals over the years and we will continue to do so in years to come.


Marius, thank you for your inspiration, professionalism, support and friendship.  His real legacy is a growing and thriving HR professional community in South Africa.  With his hard work, drive and dedication he has built up a reputation that is admired by all of us and so many HR leaders throughout the country. He opened many doors for us, and he has contributed to growing the HR profession in South Africa.  Ironically, while Marius opened many doors for all of us here today, we are closing the door to his life.  But his legacy will live on.


Let us learn from Marius’s spirit. Let us continue to build a new HR professional brand in South Africa, and show the world, like we have done with one of the best ever Fifa World Cup tournaments, that we can excel and achieve and exceed international standards in the field of HR management.  Let us create great workplaces with competent staff who are energised to deliver their best every day. 


Sadly though, today, the world of business and society is dominated by instant gratification and the pursuit of self-enrichment in a selfish world in which self-interest is the main objective. The biggest lesson for me from the life of Marius Pheiffer is that you should serve others in the interest of the greater good, in his case the HR profession. Serving as a volunteer and sitting on the same committee for more than three decades to serve your profession is what I would call selfless service to the profession and the lives and careers of others.

I close with the words of Henry Ford, these words remind me of who Marius was and why Marius will always be in our memories as a professional, leader, learner and friend.  And I know you want all of us as HR and other professionals to treasure and live these words:


“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” (Henry Ford)


Marius Meyer

30 September 2017

Memorial service, Pretoria



Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), a professional body in which Marius Pheiffer served since its inception 35 years ago. This tribute is shared on behalf of the HR professional community and the thousands of HR professionals who have been professionally registered by Marius Pheiffer as part of the SABPP professional registration committee.   The tribute is based on an extract from the book Wisdom from HR Mentors with a contribution by Marius Pheiffer published by SABPP and Knowledge Resources.