Dr Johann Rupert: A success story

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Dr Johann Rupert can justly be regarded as a leader in numerous fields and an achiever of innumerable successes. This versatile fourteenth Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) is known as, inter alia, both a local and an international business giant, critical thinker, wine entrepreneur, conservation enthusiast, sports lover and champion of the less-privileged.

After matriculating, this oldest son of the well-known Stellenbosch business leader Dr Anton Rupert enrolled for a course in Company Law and Economics at SU but interrupted his studies to hone his business acumen in New York. He returned to South Africa in 1979 and started out on his remarkable journey as a business pioneer and leader.

It was not long before Dr Rupert made his unique mark on both the local and the international business world. In 1979, he established the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), serving as managing director and chief executive officer of the Bank. Under his watchful eye, the RMB and Rand Consolidated Investments amalgamated five years later. He then joined the Rembrandt Group, later taking over the reins of the Group as chairperson. With his intuitive feeling for market trends, he restructured Rembrandt’s European interests in 1988 and established the Swiss luxury-goods company Compagnie Financière Richemont AG (Richemont). Shortly thereafter, he was appointed executive chairperson of Richemont SA Luxemburg and managing director of Richemont. In 2000, Rembrandt Group Limited was restructured and the risk-capital company VenFin was established under Dr Rupert’s able leadership.

Dr Rupert’s exceptional management skills have earned him a position on many a board, varying from the Board of the South African Academy for Science and Art to the Daimler Chrysler International Advisory Board. He has also served as non-executive chairperson of Gold Fields South Africa and as council member of the South Africa Foundation (the current Business Leadership South Africa).

Despite his status and success as a highly esteemed international businessman, Dr Rupert invests much of his time and energy in the land of his birth, his roots being firmly anchored in South African soil and in Stellenbosch. Through the establishment of the Small Business Development Corporation (now known as Business Partners), for example, he has helped to create approximately 500 000 employment opportunities in South Africa. He also serves as management trustee on the investment committee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Dr Rupert has always been an advocate of the meaningful creation and distribution of prosperity in South Africa. His open-mindedness in this respect is reflected in particular in his conviction that the country’s future prosperity does not lie in the export of raw materials but in the export of knowledge and ideas.

Dr Rupert’s entrepreneurial spirit also extends to the wine industry. As a wine entrepreneur, he took over the wine estate L’Ormarins from his late brother, Anthonij, and has developed and expanded it in memory of his brother. He has made a name for himself on all fronts in this field and was recently voted International Wine Entrepreneur of the Year at the Meininger award ceremony for Excellence in Wine and Spirits in Düsseldorf, Germany.

His illustrious business career has never, however, kept Dr Rupert from cherishing the more basic things in life – nature and our heritage – as did his father. In his capacity as chairperson of the board of directors of the Peace Parks Foundation and formerly as trustee of the Southern African Nature Foundation (the current World Wide Fund for Nature), he campaigns tirelessly for the conservation and protection of our environment and our heritage treasures.

A former cricket player, Dr Rupert’s deep interest in sport inspired him to assist in the establishment of the Sports Science Institute at the University of Cape Town and of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, an international foundation supporting 65 projects worldwide that benefit less-advantaged children in particular. He is also chairperson of the South African PGA Tour and honorary president of the South African Golf Development board.

His successes and achievements in such a wide variety of spheres have earned Dr Rupert numerous tributes. In 2004, SU awarded him an honorary doctorate in economics, followed by, four years later, an honorary doctorate in commerce from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and by the business school of the University of the Witwatersrand’s sought-after Management Excellence Award. Dr Rupert is also regularly acknowledged outside the academic world for his contributions to and achievements in the business world. The top 100 listed companies in South Africa have, inter alia, already voted him Most Influential Leader in South Africa three times. He has also been voted Business Leader of the Year by the Sunday Times, Die Burger and the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and has been named one of 200 international leaders of the future by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In 2009, he was awarded France’s highest tribute – the Legion of Honour – in recognition of his close business and cultural ties with this country.

Dr Rupert is married to Gaynor and the couple has three children.

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