Nicholas Oppenheimer
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Visionaries - February 10, 2022

5 Business Lessons from African Billionaire Nicholas Oppenheimer

From selling his company for profitability, to maintaining a winning attitude and mindset, Oppenheimer is indeed an industry veteran.

Nicholas Oppenheimer is one of Africa’s richest people, with a net worth of $8.7 billion. This veteran has made a lot of strategic business decisions that immensely scaled a family business. Recall that in 2012, Oppenheimer sold 40% of his family’s stake in De Beers to mining giant, Anglo American – a company founded by his grandfather, Ernest Oppenheimer.

We’ll consider the balance between logic and emotion that led to this sale and other qualities that made an Oppenheimer multi-billionaire here in Africa. 

You don’t have to leave Africa to become a billionaire

Oppenheimer is one of the great business minds in Africa that believes the continent is suffering from donation fatigue. His controversial stance is predicated on the idea that Africa’s economy can thrive without investments or loans from the western world. 

“Because I am an African I reserve the right to say that Africa does not exist simply to make people in the UK, or anywhere else in the developed world, feel good about themselves”, he said back in 2005 after disclosing the sale of his stake in De Beers.

“I’m a great believer that, if you know how to operate in Africa, there are unbelievable opportunities”, he added.

Stay humble and true

The fake it till you make it mentality will only get you so far. It is the thin line between building an actual business or a sham. Oppenheimer has stayed true to his convictions about business life. He’s not at all worried about losing touch with an elitist customer base who expect him to be a lover of the theatre or collect antique books like his father. “I’m a philistine”, he said. 

Emotional business decisions are mostly bad decision

Oppenheimer’s decision to sell his family’s stake in De Beer’s came in the face of strong emotions. It felt like letting go of over 100 years of history, from the time his grandfather started the business.

“Obviously very emotional for all of us in the family when we debated whether this was the right thing to do or not,” he said upon announcing the news. “You know, it’s 100 years of history – 1902 when my grandfather came out here first to join the diamond business in Kimberley”, he said. 

“ So indeed very emotional. But at the end of the day, we in the family decided this was indeed the right thing to do, and it was a unanimous decision. And in a sense, you’ve got to move on and now’s the time to look to the future and think what exciting things we can do in Africa in the future”, he added. 

Master the art of recovery

At the time Nicholas Oppenheimer sold his stake in De Beers, there was a fall in demand for luxury goods as a result of the recession. This played a major role in the sale of the Oppenheimer family’s De Beer stake. After this decision was made the revenue surged 53 per cent to nearly $5.9 billion in 2010 from a dip in 2009. 

On the back of this impressive improvement, some analysts argued that the offer from Anglo American undervalues De Beers, though Oppenheimer maintains that this is not the case, “Anglo American is the natural home for our stake”, he says.

Invest more, save less

Even at 76, Nicholas Oppenheimer continues to scout the most lucrative investments for the future. He’s not big on throwing the money from the sale of De Beers into a bank account, but rather is on the lookout for the best investment he can make here in Africa and around the world. 

“We’re going to be obviously looking at investments,” he said. “That’s a compensation for the sadness and the emotional feeling we have about De Beers. We will be looking for opportunities and we are very Africa-orientated and we are going to be looking, obviously, around the world, but there will be a very clear African bias to what we hope to do in the future.”

READ ALSO: How African Billionaire Strive Masiyiwa Made His Fortune 

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