Douw Steyn and Wife Carolyn
INSURANCE magnate Douw Steyn might shy away from the spotlight, but his propensity for grandiosity means he can’t help but find his way onto centre stage.
Mr Steyn is a self-made multi-billionaire, and the dinner party talk and tales of his passion and extravagance reflect a flamboyance that most South African executives couldn’t hope to replicate.
The 60-year-old Mr Steyn made his fortune after he founded Auto & General in 1985. In the mid-1980s, he built the Saxon as his own “dream home” amid fury from his new neighbours.
After being released from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela lived at the Saxon for six months while he wrote his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. In 1992, Mr Steyn moved to Britain to launch Budget insurance group.
The Saxon was converted into a 26-suite ultra luxury boutique hotel, with entry-level rooms going for R8100 a night and the ultra-plush suites going for R34000 a night.
Though based in London, Mr Steyn continues to invest heavily in South Africa and still owns the Telesure Group — the holding company for Auto & General, Dial Direct and other insurance companies. He also owns the 10100ha Shambala game reserve near the Waterberg region. Though he still uses the Saxon as a home base when back in the country, that might change once Palazzo Steyn is complete.
Despite eschewing the spotlight, his romantic tussles have ensured he remained in the headlines.
Though he recently remarried Carolyn Steyn, he was at the centre of a messy dispute in 2006 when former fiancée Donne Botha attacked his former girlfriend, beautician Bianca Ferrante, with a champagne bottle after finding them in bed together at the Saxon. At the time, Mr Steyn said that a lawyer had tried to extort R3m to make the case go away, and was quoted as saying “if justice doesn’t work in this case, something will have to be done with the legal system, and I will make it my mission to either remedy it or take it over — I have more money than the president”.
Mr Steyn is also reported to be a big donor of the ANC, and ran an open house for the ANC to hold meetings with the former National Party government during the talks that led to democracy in the early 1990s.
Though Mr Steyn’s South African insurance assets like Auto & General are doing well, it is his 1992 launch of the Budget group in the UK that really bolstered his fortune. The company, now known as BGL, is one of the UK’s largest insurance companies with 4.6 million customers.
The UK Sunday Times rich list, released last month, ranked Mr Steyn as the 158th richest person in that country, with a fortune of R8bn.
British newspapers claimed that Mr Steyn made a quick £220m thanks to an advertising campaign for his insurance comparison website — Compare the Market — which featured Aleksander the meerkat.
The soaring success of BGL and Aleksander enabled Mr Steyn to splash out on a £63m (R830m) mansion on Belgrave Square, one of the most expensive parts of London.
Mr Steyn stepped down as BGL nonexecutive chairman in February, and is said to divide his time between London and South Africa.
By Alec Hogg
Insurance entrepreneur Douw Steyn’s vision of an 800 hectare estate between Johannesburg and Pretoria is rapidly taking shape. The low profile billionaire’s own home, the R250m Palazzo Steyn, is the centrepiece of Steyn City
, which launches to the public next year. The house, South Africa’s most expensive, has 3 000 square metres under roof in a two and a half hectare enclave.
Sixty-two-year-old Steyn, who was schooled in Linden, Johannesburg and went to university in Potchefstroom, was only 33 when he launched the disruptive Auto & General Insurance
in 1985. Seven years later he replicated his model in the UK with Budget Insurance.
Steyn owns the up-market Saxon Hotel
in Johannesburg and the Shambala private game reserve
in Limpopo. But his biggest investment by far is Steyn City which will have swallowed R6bn in infrastructural costs by the time it is launched to the public next year. Close to the mushrooming Lanseria Airport, it is more than double the size of neighbouring Dainfern Estate and has been in development since 2008.
He describes the the project as a reflection of his confidence in the future of South Africa: “Unfortunately, many successful South African business people, who built their fortunes here, went on to disinvest in the economy. I see things differently.”
Typically, the painfully low profile Steyn chose to talk about the project through a question and answer interview published on the project’s website
. In it Steyn explains that the project “began with a tract of land that the director of Steyn City Properties, Giuseppe Plumari, first acquired, bordering Dainfern and privately-owned land to the north. I acquired the remaining portions to make up the current 2 000 acres of the estate.
Palazzo Steyn: At $25m, the most expensive house in South Africa
“Giuseppe and I share the same vision – to create a lifestyle estate unlike any other in South Africa built on the foundation of quality of life. A country estate offering country living, but with all amenities conveniently within reach. Too much time is wasted in cities sitting in traffic and commuting between home, work, schools and the shops. We want to bring all these elements of daily life into one estate and give residents back the precious commodity of time, in a secure, upmarket environment.”
“I’ve always wanted to invest further in my country. The spirit of ubuntu is unique and unparalleled anywhere else in the world that I’ve lived or visited.
“I could have invested in a luxury residence in Europe or in the States, but instead I chose to invest in South Africa. This is indicative of the confidence I have in our country and the success of Steyn City.
“I also long for the quality of life that we are creating for future residents and it therefore made sense for me to be a part of it. I don’t know of many investors that live on the lifestyle estates that they have developed. My wife and I are looking forward to entertaining our friends and business partners from all over the world at our new residence, while also exposing them to our magnificent country.”
Steyn City is planned to host 11 000 residences. It will also have a private hospital, two private schools and a number of office parks. Half the estate will be wooded parkland through which there will be a 42km running track.
The website’s interview with Steyn is in the form of questions and answers. Here are some more of his responses. You’ve got to love the last one:
No, not a ballroom. The basement where Steyn keeps his 33 cars. If you’ve got it……
Is it true your residence has a garage for 33 cars?
DS: My home has a basement area that will house my car collection of sport and vintage models. This is one of my hobbies and the architects were briefed to design a showroom where the cars can be easily displayed and manoeuvred.
Are you also an investor in Steyn City Properties?
DS: Yes I am. Steyn City Properties is spearheading the development of the estate.
Is it true that Steyn City has cost R6 billion so far?
DS: No. R6 billion is what the infrastructure phase will have cost at the time of launch to market in the summer of 2015. This phase includes the internal and external utilities beyond our boundary walls, such as water, sewerage and roads that will benefit stakeholders in the area. We have also partnered with government to fast-track the completion of major routes, including the William Nicol and Erling interchange, with the result that this commuter belt will be transformed.
Why you have named the estate after your family name?
DS: This question always makes me chuckle. Did anyone ever ask Donald Trump why he called his building in New York City Trump Tower? You will notice that our family crest forms an integral part of Steyn City’s corporate identity and this project was the ideal opportunity for me to honour my heritage by leaving a legacy of my family name in the country of my birth.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
Labels: Carolyn Steyn, Douw Steyn, Douw Steyn Budget insurance group, Saxon Hotel, Saxon Hotel Owner, Steyn City South Africa, Telesure Group