Sonja Keller grew up in Switzerland and emigrated with her family to Stellenbosch in 1993 in her teenage years. Her parents gave her and her twin sister the opportunity to choose a city in South Africa to live in. They travelled from the Kruger National Park to the Free State and Northern Cape until she and her twin encountered Stellenbosch and told their parents that they had made their decision.
In Switzerland she ended school at the age of 16 to start an apprenticeship (3-year job training in commerce) like many others. “While I enjoyed maths and was curious to learn new things at school, having to cope with Latin as a school subject proved a struggle and I chose to rather leave school for an apprenticeship,” Sonja explains.
Arriving in South Africa as a 16-year-old she had to go back to school with her rather broken English. “And, my Afrikaans was even worse!” Nevertheless, she enrolled for a BCom actuarial science at Stellenbosch University (SU) in 1997 and when faced with endless mortality tables in her second year, shifted her focus to economics, which had become her passion.
“Through the dedication of school teachers, perseverance and the encouraging environment at the Faculty of Economic and Management Science at SU I, rather ironically, pursued the economics doctorate at Oxford University just 10 years after dropping out of high school.”
Sonja joined JP Morgan in 2008 where she works as chief economist responsible for the economic and political analysts of South Africa. She also oversees the economics team analysing around 10 countries on the rest of the continent.
“I am an economist through and through – I enjoy reflecting on the ever-changing economic and political environment here as well as abroad, and the dynamic nature of the subject,” she says.
Her natural tendency is to avoid problems as she found that it seldom leads to a resolution, but she found that when having to take on challenges head-on she often demonstrates surprisingly good progress and eventual success.
“A supportive environment, be it from a faculty, neighbours, family or a mentor can make all the difference,” she says. Sonja would like to get involved in the required skills revolution in South Africa.
- By Elbie Els -