Quick-fire Q&A with Sol Kerzner

By Anton Pretorius

He’s been called many things: charismatic, blunt, controversial, notorious, genius, ‘South Africa’s Donald Trump,’ and more commonly, the ‘Sun King’. But despite what you might think of South Africa’s most famous billionaire and legendary hotelier, Sol Kerzner remains undoubtedly, a true business visionary.

The sweet fruits of my persistence came via a phone call from London on a cold and miserable morning in the Mother City. It was the empire headquarters. After weeks of relentless nagging, I finally crack an interview with arguably one of the world’s most revered and renowned business tycoons.

I’m summoned to his lair in Hout Bay. “Don’t be late,” came the warning from his private office in London. The lush and opulent 120-hectare Leeukoppie Estate, purchased by Sol in 1983 for little less than R3-million (Ed – barely the price of a two-bed in Sea Point today) is nestled snugly between the seaside villages of Llandudno and Hout Bay, the playground of South Africa’s elite.

Describe your leadership style?

A leader is someone who would do whatever is necessary to ensure they’re surrounded by the best possible team. A team that can effectively communicate with personnel will get the best out of any business. People form a business. I always made a point of recognising the good work of staff. Surround yourself with the right people and understand your product.

How important is tourism for the economy?

It’s very important. Take Sun City for example. We worked closely with government at the time, as it was in both our interests. It built a town and created thousands of jobs for people from surrounding communities. The Atlantis resort in the Bahamas was the country’s biggest employer after the government.

Your biggest wish for South Africa?

My biggest wish is for political stability. Things are very uncertain at the moment. This is a country with great resources and natural beauty. Good leadership is key if you want to inspire confidence and see the country flourish.

Advice for aspiring hoteliers?

Be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way through to the top. It’s a valuable learning curve. In a business that operates 24/7, you need to be unquestionably dedicated and excited about what you do. Get the best possible experience and learn from it. It also helps to be creative if you want to stay ahead of the competition. BE A LEADER, NOT A FOLLOWER.