South African To His Core: Richemont’s Billionaire CEO, Johann Rupert

Johann-Rupert-500x345

VENTURES AFRICA – Johann Rupert has led a career fuelled with passion and loyalty for his native South Africa. Having started his career as a school drop-out, and launching into the world of business on his own, he has courted controversy in his defence of South Africa in the media, while forging a reputation as the reclusive billionaire.

Rupert was born and raised in Stellenbosch, South Africa. While he had the opportunity to attend prestigious schools, Rupert had other ideas for his life career. Quitting his studies, Rupert travelled to New York to begin a business apprenticeship, working for the likes of Chase Manhattan, and Lazard Freres. However, with training completed, Rupert upped and returned to his native South Africa – intent on putting his skills and know-how to the benefit of the South African economy.

On his return, Rupert immediately created the Small Business Development Coorporation (SBDC) – a business which alone has created over 600,000 jobs for the South African work-force since its foundation, and has been responsible for helping SME start-up and growth in the country. Even in August of this year, he was honoured for this contribution to the labour and SME sector in the South African workplace, being appointed an Honourary Patron of Business Partners Limited (the business he initially founded as SBDC). Nazeem Martin, Managing Director said: “Rupert is a proud member of a family that has made a unique and substantial contribution to the development of small business in South Africa. We are proud of our association with him and the Rupert family, and thank him for his leadership and for the inspiration that will carry us forward”.

However, of perhaps the most note to his career was his creation of Compagnie Financiere Richemont. The Swiss registered holding group producing luxury goods (with a focus on jewellery, luxury watches, and premium accessories) has gone on to boost Rupert to billionaire status, and he is now considered the second richest man in South Africa boasting a net worth of $5.1 billion (Forbes, 2012). Richemont boasts ownership of some of the leading luxury brands in the world, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Panerai and Montblanc. Thus the South African Rupert has truly conquered the luxury products industry, and is widely accepted to be a global leader in the sector.

Rupert shot to the spotlight of media controversy in 2005, when the British magazine Wallpaper criticised the Afrikaans language as “the ugliest language in the world”. Rupert immediately pulled millions of rand’s worth of advertisement for all of his Richemont brands from the magazine, removing names such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill from the magazine’s pages. The feud drew wide-spread attention, with the Freedom Front Plus parliamentary party publically backing Rupert’s stand against the magazine, with party leader Pieter Mulder coming forward announcing that the party “wholeheartedly supports the actions of Mr Rupert”. Further, he explained that: “Any person with self-respect should protect his language in this way and that goes for all languages in South Africa.”

With Richemont stock prices continuously growing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange despite global tendencies for luxury goods companies to suffer decreases in the current depressed climate, Rupert looks set to continue his successes and support of the South African economy.