When Lupita Nyongo famously said “your dreams are valid” in her acceptance during last year’s Oscar’s, she wasn’t kidding. The investment firm Brait, headed by South Africa’s 4th richest man –Christo Weise- has bought a majority stake in UK fashion retailer New Look for a whopping 780 million sterling pounds. His journey should become the official definition of the word inspirational; starting from nothing but humble beginnings, he is now considered by many to be the leader of South African retail sector.
“Any business either grows or dies. You’ve just got to keep growing.” This is simple philosophy that has taken him from being an ordinary lawyer at the Cape Bar to being the director of Pepkor, the discount clothing chain that his parents helped fund. From here, he grew Shoprite – a supermarket brand- to become one of the most recognizable brands in Africa. Shoprite currently has over 2000 stores across 15 countries in Africa and boasts sales of about 102 billion South African rand. This eventually led to formation of the investment firm which besides the acquisition of New Look can add 80% of Virgin Active to its ever-expanding portfolio. However no success is valid without constant persistence and overcoming failure. He experienced disappointment when his family previously controlled a group of low-price chains including Poundstretcher (a discount retail store in the UK) which was eventually sold due to poor results. This does not take away from the lessons he has learned throughout his journey, stating that the secret to success is to ensure that you have “very good people running these businesses.”
My only problem is why the UK? In his home country of South Africa the current unemployment rate is 25.5%, the highest it’s ever been since 2008. As an African it doesn’t make sense to put your money elsewhere other than at home, especially right now with Africa rising. The 780 million used to acquire New Look could have been used to create opportunities for those in South Africa. It is my prediction that those who will benefit from this transaction are in the UK not in Africa. The New Look brand was in trouble as before the deal was made; they were closing stores in the UK. Weis has said himself that in Africa “things are slow because there is still a huge infrastructure backlog.” This is no excuse as he clearly has the ability to make a change and be that change he would like to see.
That notwithstanding he is increasing African influence on the global market and he must be commended for that.