BusinessPeople In BusinessThe corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

The death, at 89, of Anton Rupert ­- one of South Africa’s greatest businessmen ­- may not have meant much to your average UK reader. But walk past a Cartier shop or pick up a Montblanc pen and you’ll feel his influence.

Where South African corporates such as Anglo American and Old Mutual have
made a big splash on the world stage, Rupert was the only Afrikaans businessman
to achieve similar global success.

His Rembrand group created Richemont in the 1980s as a Swiss offshore
platform, circumventing South African exchange controls, and built a luxury
brands empire embracing Cartier, Dunhill, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc and
Piaget.

Afrikaners have never been regarded as sympathetic figures, not helped by
stick-in-the-muds like PW Botha, but they cannot be dismissed lightly.

They are deeply proud of their heritage and are among the most hospitable
people you could care to meet. Many of them are more enlightened than South
Africans of English descent.

Rupert was a good example of the Afrikaner who could see the big picture. He
once famously remarked: ‘If your neighbour does not eat, you will not sleep.’

Rupert was similar, in his way, to that other great South African business
icon Harry Oppenheimer. Despite sitting on different sides of the
English/Afrikaans divide, each saw a future beyond Apartheid.

Rupert’s son, Johan, chairman of Richemont, is a good example of how
Afrikaners have moved with the times. A few years ago, I called his London
office to interview him about a deal signed the day before.

After a few clicks, Rupert’s voice boomed down the line. Overnight, he had
flown back to Cape Town on the company jet and was about to play a round of
golf.

That’s what you call style.

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist

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