Luxury goods dynasty with humble origins

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The Independent Online
THE SOUTH African Rupert family, whose Richemont and Rembrandt companies will control a 35 per cent stake in BAT, is best known for its prestigious luxury goods empire.

Richemont, which took full control of the Vendome luxury goods company last year, is one of the world's leading jewellry and fashion groups with a stellar list of brands names including Alfred Dunhill, Cartier, Chloe, and Montblanc.

But the family's origins aremore humble. The dynasty was started in 1941 by Anton Rupert, the father of current chief executive Johann.

He started out with a dry-cleaning business in South Africa before taking out a loan to start a tobacco company. Its main brand was Rembrandt, which was later chosen as the name for one of the family's controlling companies.

The move into tobacco proved astute. The business prospered and in 1955 the young entrepreneur made his first foray overseas buying Rothmans, followed by Peter Stuyvesant.

His 48-year-old son Johann did not always work in the business. He started out as a merchant banker with Chase Manhattan and Lazard Freres in New York in the 1970s before returning to South Africa to found Rand Merchant Bank.

A keen cricketer and rugby player in his younger days, Johann once said he was not too worried about winning but hated to lose. It is a philosophy that appears not to have been greatly challenged.

In 1988 Johann masterminded the separation of Rembrandt's international interests into the Richemont companies in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

He took Rothmans International private three years ago and merged it with Rembrandt's southern African tobacco interests.

Vendome was created in 1993 through the restructuring of Rothmans and Dunhill.

Last year Richemont bought out the minority shareholders in Vendome in a pounds 1bn deal.