Accountant Sven ‘the bear’ Axelrad writes ‘quirky’ books too

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Sven Axelrad's double life revealed in fiction, an accountant by day, rockstar-turned-author by night.

Sven Axelrad went into accounting as a career because it offered a steady income. However, his passion lies in the creative side of life. Having been part of a rock band in his youth, he is now a published author.

Speaking to CFO SA from his home office, his background is dominated by shelves full of books, and there’s an electric guitar leaning against one panel. Sven says, given his passion for being creative versus his day job, “I feel like I've been living a double life for a long time”.

So far, he has written two novels. In 2023, his quirky debut, Buried Treasure, was released, followed by God’s Pocket this year. Buried Treasure is about an old man and his dog, God, who have been burying bodies in the wrong graves, while God’s Pocket is set in the same fictional town, and is about an accountant, Filo, who moves to the secluded place to write his first novel.

Sven has been working away in the twilight hours writing for 15 years and, so far, has produced eight novels, and received many rejection letters. After submitting Buried Treasure to Penguin, they called him on his birthday in 2022 with a contract.

Covered in tattoos, Sven tells CFO SA that, while in school, he had planned to go into the arts. “But my parents convinced me that I need to study something serious. I enjoyed accounting from the start, but I just knew it wasn’t entirely me.”

Sven currently works as an accountant at Premier FMCG, where he has been for 15 years. The satellite location makes feminine hygiene products in Durban where he is based.

He says it was tricky reconciling the accounting and creative aspects of his life. “It was bizarre for me to tell the guys at work that I had a book coming out. I never told anyone I wrote. They were all surprised and supportive.”

Both books have been well received (Buried Treasure is currently on the longlist for the Sunday Times Best Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the HSS Award), and Sven found himself welcomed into the writing world and discovered that he was not just a lone figure wiring in a coffee shop but part of a community. He has also been interviewed about his book and launched it in several bookstores nationwide. “Each time it’s like going into an alternate universe.”

While Sven finds it difficult to find time to write while having a “day job,” he encourages people who wish to unleash their creativity to ensure they have a stable income. “Having the day job and the stability of a day job also means that your art can be purely art. Instead of your art having to be commercially viable.”

Sven was standing on a beach in Thailand with his then girlfriend, who is now his wife, when he received a call to say that there was a job opening at Premier and that he should apply.

Having been with the company for more than a decade, Sven saw the Lil-Lets brand, initially owned by London-listed Electra Private Equity and others, go through an acquisition by Premier’s largest investor, Brait.

Subsequently, Premier bought the factory in which the feminine hygiene products are made. “I've worked with the Lil-Lets feminine hygiene brands since 2008. When Premier bought the company, we all thought we were going to be retrenched,” he laughs, “but they have always looked after us.”

“Manufacturing is a very interesting environment,” says Sven. He adds that he gets teased by his mates for working with feminine hygiene products for “being the one guy in Durban who knows a lot about feminine hygiene products. But I’m proud of that.”

I've worked with the Lil-Lets feminine hygiene brands since 2008

Sven, who works under the GM at the company, who is a CA, has implemented procedures that deal with the mundane aspects of the job so he can, as he puts it, deal with “fixing problems” of the kind that can happen at any company.

The unit has a flat structure and Sven gets involved in many aspects of the business, which means he works with logistics and can also be found on the factory floor. “Being a small satellite unit means we all get stuck into everything. I’m as involved in setting budgets and management reviews as I am in stock takes and creating new procedures to make the factory run smoothly.”

At work, Sven treats his team with kindness and meeting people on their level as he seeks out a common humanity and tries to make the workplace a good place at which to be – a thread that also runs through his books. “I just try to engage everybody as best I can.”

He’ll also take time out to speak with people who want to write a book. “I also think that the world will become a better place through several small actions such as just being kind.”

In-between being an accountant at Premier, and writing books, Sven has also been teaching himself Spanish for the past two years, as it’s something he wanted to learn while at university. “When I got there to choose my subjects, it turned out it wasn’t possible to study Spanish. I’ve found you can always do what you want to do, you don’t have limits.”

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