As other African billionaires choke, S. Africa’s richest man is becoming even richer


Christo Wiese bets on retail are paying off handsomely as peers battle global markets turbulence that has shaved off more than $8.3bn of their wealth.

SOUTH Africa’s Christo Wiese is a rarity among Africa’s billionaires this year: he’s getting richer.

While the other seven Africans ranked among the world’s 400 richest people have seen their fortunes fall more than $8.3 billion combined amid a commodities rout and sinking markets, Wiese has added $943 million to his net worth in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“I am in what you would call very basic industries,” said Wiese at an interview at his office in Parow, a gritty industrial suburb of Cape Town. “They don’t necessarily shoot out the lights in the short term. They’re representative of someone having a multi decade approach to life.”

Last November he sold his discount retail chain Pepkor to Steinhoff International Holdings Ltd., Africa’s biggest furniture retailer, for $5.7 billion. He owns 19% of the publicly traded company.

Earlier this year, his investment firm, Brait SE, paid 1.46 billion pounds ($2.22 billion) to buy Richard Branson’s gym chain, Virgin Active Ltd. and popular British discount retailer, New Look Retail Group Ltd. Brait has risen 75% year-to- date, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

With a fortune valued at $7 billion, 75-year-old Wiese has become South Africa’s richest person. He surpassed Cie. Financiere Richemont SA owner Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer, whose family founded the De Beers diamond group. In April, when Wiese bought Virgin Active, he ranked as the country’s fourth richest person, according to the index.

Next week he’s traveling to Rome to become the first African inducted into the World Retail Hall of Fame. He joins billionaires Ingvar Kamprad of Ikea, Europe’s second richest person with $40.1 billion, and Amancio Ortega, founder of the Zara retail chain, who’s the world’s second richest person with $68.4 billion.

A lawyer by training, Wiese first began working in retail in 1967 when he joined Pep Stores, which sold discount clothing. He expanded the chain to rural parts of Africa, and grew it into one of South Africa’s biggest retail groups.

The billionaire said his recent investments in Britain don’t reflect confidence in one region over another. He said his African businesses are growing despite the recent downturn.

“There are countries that continue to do well. Nigeria and Angola will adjust to the current low oil prices,” he said. “Africa has had a good run the last decade and maybe those countries that have had a good run now have a taste for it, and can see what can be done. Taking a medium term view, you ignore Africa at your peril.” 


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