SA Billionaire Christoffel Wiese Bullish On UK, May Have More Takeovers Planned

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Written by Staff

South Africa’s third-richest man, billionaire Christoffel F. Hendrik Wiese, just dropped more than $1 billion for the U.K.’s New Look fashion chain, and he’s not done yet. 

His fortune is estimated to be 3.5 billion pounds ($5.5 billion US), according to the FinancialMail.

The only South Africans known to be richer are De Beers billionaire Nicky Oppenheimer and luxury goods magnate Johann Rupert, chairman of Switzerland-based Richemont.

Weise bought the Shoprite food chain for 1 million rand in 1979 — about 500,000 pounds ($786,200 US) — when exchange rates were at historic levels. Now South Africa’s largest food retailer, Shoprite is worth more than 5 billion pounds ($7.86 billion USD).

Wiese has seen his share of controversy, FinancialMail reports.

In 2009, he had about 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) in cash confiscated while boarding a plane at London’s City Airport. He eventually got the money back after his legal team proved that the money was just a tiny fraction of his assets and represented less than two weeks’ income.

From FinancialMail. Story by Neil Craven.

Two years ago few people in Britain had heard of Christo Wiese. This weekend the South African billionaire is firmly established as a major player in the UK’s fashion sector – having snapped up the New Look chain for 780 million pounds ($1.2 billion US).

And he may not be finished yet.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday from his Cape Town office, 73-year-old Wiese hints that more takeovers could follow. “We are being offered opportunities all the time,” he said.

“As South Africans we feel very at home in the UK – language-wise, the legal system, the banking system, it’s very familiar to us. And we think there are still opportunities.”

…Wiese, who owns a Kalahari game reserve, says he is still ambitious. “Any business either grows or dies. You’ve just got to keep growing. That’s the simple philosophy we have.”

Never was that philosophy more apparent than during the past two years when his activities (in the UK) have gone into overdrive. He considered taking over Sir Philip Green’s BHS business before deciding to launch his own fashion chain in Britain, now followed late last week by the New Look takeover – first reported as a potential target for Wiese in The Mail on Sunday as far back as October.

It adds one of Britain’s biggest fashion retailers to a portfolio that already includes shops and consumer brands across Africa, Europe and Asia. His investment company, Brait, also holds a minority stake in the frozen foods chain Iceland.

“If you add all the companies in all the groups together it has to be in the $25 billion range now (16 billion pounds). We are the largest food retailer in Africa with our Shoprite chain. That alone is a $10 billion business,” Wiese said, referring to the total sales of the businesses in which he has a significant interest.

That means Wiese’s business interests have a turnover that would match the combined weight of Marks & Spencer, Next and Green’s TopShop to Dorothy Perkins group, Arcadia.

Pressed on which British business may be next on his menu, he refuses to be drawn. “I can’t be too exact, but the market in general offers opportunities. The market is tough, but that’s fine – we are used to that.’” There is not, however, another takeover imminent as the team at Brait must first tie up the New Look purchase and he is still concluding a 4-billion-pound deal in South Africa.

“I’m more or less still tied up settling all the outstanding aspects of the Steinhoff-Pepkor deal,’”he said, referring to the sale of his Pepkor business to rival Steinhoff, announced last year.

But he insists: “I don’t feel like slowing the pace – not at all. My problem is that I wouldn’t know what else to do.”

Read more at FinancialMail.