Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|November 1, 2020|5 Minutes|In Billionaire, Billionaire Watch

Billionaire Watch

How An African Billionaire Beat The Blooming Lockdown

When the COVID-19 lockdown threatened the booming blooming flower industry of Uganda – the billionaire who owns a large part of it moved swifter than sunlight to save his investment.

Billionaire Sudhir Ruparelia – worth an estimated $1.2 billion according to Forbes – made his money through trading, banks and hotels, in an economy hard hit by the pandemic.

“It looks like the economy here is going to contract between 25 and 30 per cent through this pandemic,” he tells Billionaire Tomorrow from Kampala.

But his pride and joy is his flower business called Rosebud Ltd. It is based around scores of hectares of greenhouses on a farm in the wetlands of Entebbe on the fringes of Lake Victoria. It is a prime spot for growing as the climate allows the flowers to bloom all year round.

The farm has captured nearly half of the Ugandan market and exports 350,000 blooms- a-day to the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to Ruparelia. In 2017, it was making the billionaire $5 million-a-year, his plan was to expand to increase this profit to $100 million by shipping half a million stems a day.
“We target the supermarket trade,” says Ruparelia, “The Dutch are tough to do business with but, at least, they pay when they say they will.”

COVID-19 threatened to pluck the petals from this plump business. Ruparelia raced down to the wetlands of Entebbe to talk to his 750 workers. In a moment of inspiration, he promised them three meals per day and a bonus provided they lived on the farm, insulating them from the pandemic and allowing them to continue to work. The economy in Uganda may have shut down for two months, but the flower export business never slept.

“We were commended for our actions that probably saved our business,” says Ruparelia six months on from the lockdown.

South African billionaire Adrian Gore sees parallels with the fears around COVID-19 to the nervousness ahead of his country’s transition to democracy in 1994. A couple of years before Gore, an actuary at Liberty Life, decided to go out on his own with a private health scheme.

Back then It took a long time for his company Discovery to garner more than 1800 members in an atmosphere of uncertainty and change in South Africa as unrest took the country to the brink of civil war.

“Billionaire Laurie Dippenaar told me that it was going to take time and thank heavens I listened,” Gore told Billionaire Tomorrow.

Today Discovery has more than three million members and is one of the richest companies in the world health business.

“I think there are a lot of parallels between COVID-19 and the uncertainty back then. I think what we need to do is build confidence in the country again.”

The first time Africa’s youngest billionaire Mohammed Dewji watched his favourite football club Tanzania’s Simba Sporting Club when he was a child, he had to jump the fence because he did not have any money for a ticket. Fast forward to 30 years later and Dewji has ploughed $50 million of his billion-dollar fortune into buying a controlling stake in the club.

Now Dewji is going to have to gain something that money can’t buy – the support of the club’s supporters for his new appointment of his former aide Barbara Gonzalez as the club’s CEO. The fans complain the 30-year-old doesn’t have the experience.

Dewji points out that Gonzalez has an impeccable CV including Manhattanville College, where she had graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honours) in Economics and Political Science. Aside from this, she also holds a Master of Science in Development Management from the London School of Economics.

The lady herself told the press she played football during her teenage years at school, starting off as a left-back before switching to right back.

“My dad was a huge Arsenal fan. I grew up when Arsenal’s Invincibles were doing well,” she recalls.

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