Every year we all eagerly check out the Forbes World’s Billionaires list to enjoy the thrill of seeing just how much money a lucky few – like Cyril Ramaphosa – have been able to accumulate. But if you’re like me, you’ve seldom given much thought to how those lists are compiled. After all, not all assets are publicly declared, and not all companies are publicly traded – finding out exactly how much a particular stake in a given business is worth can be tricky, not to mention figuring out exactly who owns a certain luxury London townhouse. In this interview, the head of Forbes Africa give the fascinating inside track on exactly how Forbes works out that Ramaphosa, who is about to divest from his Shanduka, is worth $700m – and how the whole process is equal parts art and science. – FD
ALEC HOGG: Newly appointed South African Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, will divest entirely from Shanduka. He says that’s the black investment firm that he founded in about just over a decade ago, in 2001, and he’s doing that to avoid conflicts of interest with his Government duties. Joining us in the studios is Chris Bishop, Managing Director at Forbes Africa, which in the Africa 40 richest league, we have him at number 29, Cyril Ramaphosa net worth $700m. Chris, it’s always so fascinating to look at people…at lists of the rich in particular. How do you put these things together and how did you get to Cyril at $700m?
CHRIS BISHOP: Okay, well this is an applied science, which is part of the core of what Forbes does, these famous lists. It’s been going for about three or four years now. We’ve been taking part in it more closely this year than previous years – our staff here at Forbes Africa – we now contribute actively to this list. There’s a department in San Francisco, which is the Wealth Assessment Department and that is where all this information goes. They get it from across Africa and from us now, and that is where his wealth is going to be. It will be reassessed this year – obviously, what’s going on – but also, that is where his wealth is given the stamp of approval. It is verified, if you like, and I can tell you something. I deal with the guys regularly in the States and they are very tough. They won’t let anything fly. They’re a bit like the tax people around the world. They will not let anything fly, so how the assessment will be done…we do it on equity, we do it on property, for instance, jets they own, we get the receipts for the jets, and we try to work out the depreciation.
ALEC HOGG: Do they participate or do they cooperate?
CHRIS BISHOP: Yes, it depends. Some do. Some don’t. For instance, last year in November, there was a guy called Abdulsamad Rabiu, a big Nigerian businessman who’s into cementing commodities. He cooperated because he said he was a billionaire straight out. We only had him at 500 million, so we reassessed him and it was great. He told us he had $60m worth of property in London. He owned The One and Only in Cape Town. He has the penthouse suite, which he used on a regular basis.
ALEC HOGG: And he wanted you to know this?
CHRIS BISHOP: Yes, jets, four jets. I was going through them – four jets. They were worth about $20m.
ALEC HOGG: Why does he need four?
CHRIS BISHOP: Because they’re all over the place.
ALEC HOGG: Does he have a big family?
CHRIS BISHOP: There’s one in London, one in Nigeria, one in South Africa and he has them all over the place. When you get somebody who is interested in doing it, it is brilliant because then they send you stuff and they’ll say ‘no, this is new here. This is new there’, but again, it is very interesting working with the auditors on that side, to see what’s accepted and what isn’t accepted. What happens is sometimes… This guy gave us his brother’s bank account. He said, ‘look, I’ve given him this’ and they say ‘we can’t have that because he could have given it today and taken it away tomorrow, for all we know’. It is a fascinating science however, and it is very difficult. Many people still complain to this day. In fact, we have a guy in East Africa we’re trying to do at the moment, who says he’s not a billionaire. He said he has less – guy called Vimal Shah – and he says that if we can prove he’s a billionaire then he’ll sell us his business, which might be quite an interesting proposition. I don’t know.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Talk about being humble, but in Cyril’s case, how did you ensure full disclosure, if you did it all?
CHRIS BISHOP: Well, again, you have to have the cooperation of the people involved. Most of the work with Cyril has been done in the years before Forbes Africa was published. Now, we’ll obviously be participating in it. As I said, he has to come up with his shareholdings. He has to come up with market cap value for his companies, property, and even that buffalo I suppose, that he bought for R20 million or whatever it was.
ALEC HOGG: Then he walked away. It’s interesting about Cyril, because Shanduka does publish an annual report and we know that his Tshivase Trust owns 30 percent of Shanduka. It’s in the report. What I find quite interesting looking through, is the Chinese Investment Corproation owns 25 percent of Shanduka. So these BEE deals go 25 percent to the Chinese – interesting. Be that as it may, then you have McDonald’s and you have Coca-Cola, unlisted companies which must be worth masses of money.
Having survived the Cultural Revolution, Chinese must surely qualify as formerly disadvantaged? @alechogg
— Cliff Featherstone (@seaef) May 28, 2014
CHRIS BISHOP: Yes, exactly, and the one question obviously, we’ll be asking in issues to come is what is the difference between owning Shanduka and transferring that ownership, if you like, to Coca-Cola Bottling and to McDonald’s. Is that not still a conflict of interest? That is something we’re going to be looking into because, presumably, there’s mineral rights to be considered with Shanduka. There’s policy, absolutely but…
ALEC HOGG: There’s also coal and platinum.
CHRIS BISHOP: But isn’t there a policy also for Coca-Cola and for McDonald’s?
ALEC HOGG: Last night, his announcement from the Presidency said he’s divesting entirely from Shanduka, so there is a little bit of confusion. Is some of it being divested or not? If you say ‘entirely’ well then you are leaving. You have a figure of $700 million.
CHRIS BISHOP: Yes.
ALEC HOGG: I presume that’s primarily through his Shanduka Holdings.
CHRIS BISHOP: Yes, well a large part of that will fall away, you see, because essentially, based on his equity holding in Shanduka and the market – the value of that on the Stock Exchange – then that will be subtracted from that $700 million. You might find that he drops down the list several places this year, which is a possibility, but again, there’s a lot of work to be done in the next six months, so we can try to find out. It’s going to be quite interesting now is that he’s a politician full-time. Perhaps maybe he’ll be better at revealing his personal wealth now, I don’t know. It will be to be transparent.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: That’s an interesting thing.
CHRIS BISHOP: They have to anyway because there’s the list of The Register, in Parliament, where you have to declare your interests and assets. I think it is going to be quite interesting, bearing in mind he’s been such an integral figure in business in this country for 20 years.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: But on that, it’s interesting, because just yesterday we spoke to Peter Attard Montalto from London and he said that foreign investors aren’t necessarily sure about his understanding of the capital world because he probably comes from a BEE market. With him divesting here, does this set a precedent, in a political sense?
CHRIS BISHOP: Well, I mean, I think it’s good that he’ll be seen as transparent. He’ll be seen as somebody who’s trying to do the right thing and someone being involved in good governance, but the point about Cyril as well, is in the business world, he’s learnt the hard way. He’s a lawyer and he was a Union Leader. That was his background and the unions only came through because, as a lawyer, he was asked to set up the NUM, which he did in 1982. What I’m saying is that he’s actually had to learn business the hard way and one thing…
ALEC HOGG: Sorry, just say that again Chris.
CHRIS BISHOP: He’s had to learn it from the bottom.
ALEC HOGG: He was given this and given that. What was the next thing?
CHRIS BISHOP: No, you can say he was given shares, yes, but what I’m saying is the actual dealing in the boardroom, he had to learn it. He had no experience before then.
ALEC HOGG: Yes, that’s not business. Business is creating. He made a lot of mistakes. Nail was a disaster.
CHRIS BISHOP: Absolutely.
ALEC HOGG: Malope, if you remember that one…that was actually listed on the JSE and went belly up. If you have the McDonald’s franchise for South Africa, how wrong can you go? If you have one of four Coca-Cola Bottlers, you didn’t build it from scratch. You acquired ownership of it, so I’m not so sure that he’s learnt business the hard way. I think he’s actually had a very easy ride
CHRIS BISHOP: Well he’s not a Harvard MBA guy who was perhaps eased into the job. I’m saying that, yes, sure, I take your point that he’s taken shares under BEE etcetera. What I’m saying is that he has learnt a lot about the way this company works from the streets, particularly in 1987, when he led the strike.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: So what does that tell us about his leadership abilities then?
ALEC HOGG: But I think the point that Gugu has made, and it’s a really good one, is that the international investors are saying ‘don’t necessarily believe that Cyril Ramaphosa is an ally of business. He’s not necessarily a free marketer. He has other priorities and other obligations, which within the Party of course, don’t make this a free market country’.
CHRIS BISHOP: Sure, but he’s a very clever politician as well. Don’t forget, he was the man who introduced Mandela from the balcony at Cape Town – Town Hall – when he was released from prison – Cyril Ramaphosa. Who was the man who was instrumental in the disciplinary of Julius Malema? Cyril Ramaphosa.
ALEC HOGG: Who was the man to say, ‘oops, I didn’t mean to buy that buffalo’, after you had the Lonmin (Marikana) issue?
CHRIS BISHOP: Cyril Ramaphosa. Exactly, he’s a clever politician. For instance, I remember we tried to do a cover story on him, not long before the political thing, and he said no, I don’t want to do it.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Why?
CHRIS BISHOP: He said ‘I don’t want to do it’ and we wondered why and then of course, a couple of months later he is suddenly going to be in line to be the next President of the Republic of South Africa, so obviously, he was trying to play it both sides. He’s a clever politician.