The fur­ther ad­ven­tures of Christo Wiese

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Editor’s Note - MARC HASENFUSS email Marc on hasen­fussm@times­me­dia.co.za

HOW BIG WILL RE­TAIL ty­coon and se­rial risk-taker Christo Wiese bet on Stein­hoff In­ter­na­tional? As col­league Stafford Thomas’s cover story notes, Wiese is a sig­nif­i­cant share­holder in Stein­hoff. But he may be­come an even big­ger par­tic­i­pant if pan-African su­per­mar­ket gi­ant Shoprite is re­versed into the Stein­hoff mix. And what will be­come of the re­tail el­e­ment in Brait — where Wiese also holds sway? Could First Look eventually also be ush­ered to­wards Stein­hoff?

It’s rather strange to think Wiese’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Stein­hoff had its roots in un­listed liquor com­pany KWV. Read­ers might re­mem­ber that more than a decade ago Wiese swapped his sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity stake in KWV for PSG Group shares … and then swapped out his PSG shares for Stein­hoff pa­per a few years later. (Stein­hoff holds 20% of PSG.)

In­vestors prob­a­bly won’t bet against Wiese and Stein­hoff’s Markus Jooste build­ing a re­tail-based con­glom­er­ate that would rank among the big­gest (and most prof­itable) in the world.

More con­ser­va­tive in­vestors might fret about the risks in ad­ven­tur­ous and ag­gres­sive deal making. Wiese, though, will know all too well the cost of overex­tend­ing cor­po­rate am­bi­tions — hav­ing fallen short of ban­cas­sur­ance am­bi­tions in the late-1990s when a spe­cial­ist fi­nan­cial ser­vices con­glom­er­ate as­sem­bled un­der the old BoE con­stel­la­tion came un­stuck amid the small banks cri­sis in SA.

On a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tack, I must once again apol­o­gise for my ca­sual cameo at the Stock­bro­ker of the Year awards at the JSE last month. Ad­dress­ing a room full of stock­bro­kers in an old pair of jeans is un­for­give­able.

Still, if it’s bad enough re­al­is­ing that your suit-bag is not go­ing to turn up on the bag­gage carousel at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional, then it’s far worse remembering your speech is in the in­side pocket of the suit.

Any­way I am happy to re­port that the good folks at SAA man­aged to lo­cate and safely re­turn my for­mal at­tire.

Fin­ish­ing on a sad note, I feel I must re­flect on the re­cent pass­ing away of leg­endary fi­nan­cial jour­nal­ist Howard Preece. I had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with Howard for a hand­ful of years, and can prob­a­bly say with­out risk of con­tra­dic­tion that he set the bar for fi­nan­cial writ­ing. He was an old school gen­tle­man, a hugely en­ter­tain­ing col­league and writer whose copy was not only en­light­en­ing but also easy to read.

Howard’s cor­ner of­fice at the old Fin­week (which he shared with a stoic Kaveer Be­ha­ree) was a clus­ter of con­fu­sion with pa­pers piled up on ev­ery inch of the desk. Kaveer would of­ten strug­gle to find Howard’s phone when it was ring­ing. But if you asked Howard for the Re­serve Bank bul­letin for the third quar­ter of 1997, he could find it in 10 sec­onds.

A great man has de­parted. ■■IM

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