How A South African University Drop Out Built A Billion Dollar Business
Many successful entrepreneurs had to hustle from scratch, but a few had a foundation already laid out for them. This could be in the form of a family business, a partnership opportunity, substantial startup capital, and more, but the success or failure of the business ultimately depends on the decisions they make to take the firm to even greater heights and to keep it soaring.
This is the success story of Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company, Richemont and the South Africa-based company, Remgro. He was one of such people who did not just have a great foundation pre-set for them but also hustled and proved himself prior to taking over the helm of his father’s business, and was able to build it to an empire that continues to grow even weigh after his father’s passing.
Here is how he did it:
Early Life And Education
Johann Rupert was born in Stellenbosch to Anton Rupert and Huberte Coote. His father, Anton, was an entrepreneur. He was also the founder of one of South Africa’s largest corporations.
Johann Rupert attended Paul Roos Gymnasium and the University of Stellenbosch, where he studied economics and company law. During the course of his studies, he realised his interests lay in the Finance sector. And later on, dropped out of college to become an entrepreneur.
In 2004, many years after leaving school, his Alma mater awarded him an honorary doctorate in Economics.
Journey To Entrepreneurship
Johann Rupert began his journey to entrepreneurship when he dropped out of the University of Stellenbosch.
After leaving, he relocated to New York, then subsequently joined Chase Manhattan Bank, now JPMorgan Chase; where he worked for a period of 2 years.
He went on to join Lazard Freres, a financial advisory and asset management firm, and worked there for another three years.
He returned to his country South Africa in the year 1979 and went on to establish the Rand Merchant Bank which he ran until 1984.
In 1984, he merged his bank with another bank, Rand Consolidated Investments (RCI), which was owned by Laurie Dippenaar, GT Ferreira and Pat Goss.
Joining The Rembrandt Group
After the merger, Johann Rupert joined his father’s company, the Rembrandt Group, where he assumed a senior executive position.
In his bid to diversify the group from its base in tobacco and alcohol products, he founded Compagnie Financiere Richemont in 1988; an investment holding subsidiary of the Rembrandt Group, through which he acquired minority stakes in luxury brands like Cartier Monde SA, Alfred Dunhill, Rothmans International, Montblanc and Chloé.
He was later appointed as Vice Chairman of the Rembrandt group.
His Influence In The Organisation
In September 2000, Johann Rupert restructured Rembrandt Group Limited and formed Remgro Limited and VenFin Limited. Remgro represented the tobacco, financial services, mining and industrial interests, while VenFin, on the other hand, represented the telecommunication and technology interests of the company.
He was also appointed Chairman and Chief Executive of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.
As of the time of publishing this article, Richemont is the 3rd largest luxury Goods Company in the world, employing over 21,000 people and its 2011 revenue over $6 billion.
Johann Rupert also is a non-executive chairman of Venfin and Remgro.
Apart from his interests in tobacco, luxury goods and private equity, Johann Rupert is one of South Africa’s most recognizable wine entrepreneurs. He owns two of South Africa’s best-known vineyards, Rupert & Rothschild and L’Ormarins. A wine business he got involved with after the death of his brother Anthonij Rupert, in 2001. He also owns one of the country’s most exclusive golf clubs and established the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which houses his personal collection of over 200 antique vehicles.
Johann Rupert has also been actively involved in investing in young, budding entrepreneurs. He has famously provided seed funding to several young entrepreneurs engaged in diverse sectors.
For example, in 2008, he invested in FireID, a tech startup which provided a cell phone encryption service. The company initially generated a lot of buzz in global media, but eventually failed and closed shop in 2011- barely three years later. But when a reporter asked him about his lost investment in the company, Johann Rupert replied indifferently: “You win some; you lose some.”
Remgro Group Today
Remgro as a group is known for its investments in various sectors. It is a diversified investment holding company which currently has over thirty investees. The company is listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange(JSE).
The group’s investments consist mainly of investments in the banking, healthcare, consumer products, insurance, industrial, infrastructure and media and sport industries.
Johann Rupert invests so much of his time and energy in his country, South Africa. He is deeply rooted in his nation and his native town of Stellenbosch.
He established the Small Business Development Corporation (now known as Business Partners) in his country and he has been instrumental in the creation of around 500,000 employment opportunities in South Africa. He is a management trustee on the investment committee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Johann Rupert actively advocates for building and distribution of prosperity in South Africa. His belief is that the country’s future prosperity does not lie in the export of raw materials but in the export of knowledge and ideas.
Awards And Recognitions
- He was named “Businessman of the Year” by the Sunday Times in 1988
- Named business leader of the year by Die Burger newspaper and the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce in1990
- He was named one of 200 “Global Leaders of Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland in 1992
- Received the M.S. Louw Award from the A.H.I. (“Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut”) in 1993
- Named Sunday Times Business Times’s Businessman of the Year for second time in 1996
- Awarded the 1999 Free Market Award by The Free Market Foundation of South Africa in 1999
- Voted “Most influential Business Leader” in South Africa by CEOs of top 100 Listed Companies in the year 2000
- He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Economics by the University of Stellenbosch in 2004
- In 2006 the financial times nicknamed him “Rupert the Bear” because he had previously predicted a world economic crisis which came to pass. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Commerce from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. He is married to Gaynor Rupert and has three children.
- Voted South Africa’s Business Leader of the Year by the CEOs of the Top 100 Companies, for the third time in 2008.
- Appointed “Officier” of the French “Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” by the President of the French Republic in 2009
- Selected as the 2009 International Wine Entrepreneur of the Year at the Meininger “Excellence in Wine and Spirit” awards ceremony in Düsseldorf, Germany in 2009
- Appointed Chancellor of Stellenbosch University in 2009
- Made Honorary Vice President of the European Golf Tour in 2010
- Awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2010
To Sum It Up
Just as anyone with passion can be successful, rich kids too can be successful. No matter where you are, you need to be smart, work harder than most people, and make carefully calculated decisions.
You control your actions and not the end results. And when your actions (great plans) are followed through judiciously, success mostly happens.