Wendy Appelbaum is a South African business leader, philanthropist and one of the richest and powerful women in Africa. She is the Chairperson of DeMorgenzon Wine Estate, wine and agricultural business in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Also, she served as the former Deputy-Chairman Wiphold, a women’s investment holding company listed on JSE. Besides, she also holds a strong position in other local and international organisations.
Altogether, Wendy is largely recognized for her selflessness, leadership skills in business and economic development, interest in general health and welfare, and her role in advancing women empowerment.
Wendy Appelbaum Background
Wendy Donna Appelbaum was born in South Africa. She is the only daughter of the South African business mogul, Sir Donald Gordon, founder of Liberty Group, and her mother, Peggy. She has two brothers, Richard and Graeme, and they grew up in Johannesburg.
As a child, Wendy played virtually all games such as; scrabble, tennis, bridge, golf, show-jumping and all other kinds of sports, all of which aided her success in business.
Also, she studied Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand. Thereafter, worked with her father at the Liberty Group, and also became a director at the Liberty Investors.
Wendy Appelbaum Personal Life
Wendy got married to Hylton Appelbaum, and they have two sons, Nicholas and Matthew. Nicholas is a surgeon and Matthew, a banker.
Her husband, Hylton manages the wine garden and holds positions in other organisations in SA like Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund Chairman, Mindset Network, e.t.c
Wendy Appelbaum Early Career
Wendy worked in her father’s company, Liberty Group and served as a director at the Liberty Group Investors. There, she became one of the company’s largest individual shareholders then. Later on, she sold her shares and opened the wine farm with her husband in 2003.
Similarly, in 1994, Wendy became a co-founder and Deputy Chairman of the Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings, (Wiphold). She co-founded the company with 10 other influential women and together, they empowered women from all walks of life. They empowered women who were completely disadvantaged and helped them understand how to invest and increase their finance.
However, after five years, shortly after WIPHOLD was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), Appelbaum left. She sold her shares so that previously disadvantaged women could fill her space.
DeMorgenzon Wine Estate
In 2003, Wendy and her husband, Hylton bought the DeMorgenzon Estate, a wine and agricultural farm. The wine farm is 224 acres of garden vineyard where abundant wildflowers grow between the vines. It is located in Stellenbosch, South Africa and the word ‘DeMongenzon’ means ‘the morning sun’.
DeMorgenzon is one of the top wine producers in SA. Her first vintage was a Chenin Blanc in 2005, and this was the first maiden vintage to get 5-star ratings in the SA Platter’s Wine Guide. It also won the International Chenin Blanc Trophy for three years in a row at the International Wine Challenge in London.
Over time, it has been awarded the unprecedented Platter’s White Wine of the year for two consecutive times and International Trophies for Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Award. The DeMorgenzon Maestro White 2014 was one of the top 100 of 2017, while the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 was one of the top 100 wines for 2016 according to the Wine Enthusiast.
Wendy sells about half a million bottles of wine a year, exporting 85% of it. Her main markets include the US, UK, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and others.
Wendy Appelbaum is a dedicated philanthropist who sees giving as a sign of success and a way of life. According to her, she just doesn’t believe in giving money and term it charity, “I believe in tackling major societal problems and funding initiatives that stand a chance of effecting real change and real improvement in people’s lives.”
She has donated millions of dollars to fund the creation of the Gordon Institute of Business Science and the Donald Gordon Medical Centre, in Wits University. Besides, she is also a trustee of Donald Gordon Foundation, one of the largest private charitable foundations in Africa. She also own the Wendy Appelbaum Foundation which initiates, selects and drive programs that focuses on health, education and women concerns in SA.
Also, she belongs to the Global Philanthropists Circle, a network of leading philanthropists contributing their time, influence, and resources to fight poverty and social injustice. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum, a global organization of women of significant and diverse achievement.
Wendy calls herself a serial board-sitter. Her first seat was on the board of the Liberty Group. Also, at some point in the mid-2000s, she was sitting on 15 boards, and to date, she still sits on the board of several companies, foundations, e.t.c. Some of them include;
- Trustee, Tribune Trust, an investment holding
- Director, Sphere Holdings Limited, an empowerment company focused on mining and finance.
- Director, Victory Strategic Services
- Board Member, Synergos Institute, Southern Africa
- Board Member, Harvard University’s Women’s Leadership Board
- Director, Western Cape Tourism, Trade & Investment, WESGRO
- Board Member, Harvard University’s Global Advisory Board
- Board Member, International Women’s Forum
- Trustee, World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWWF-SA)
- Trustee, Helen Suzman Foundation
- Director, Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Limited, University of the Witwatersrand Post-graduate Teaching Hospital.
- Director, The Donald Gordon Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in Africa.
- Trustee, The Children’s Haemophilia & Oncology Clinic (CHOC)
- Trustee, Redhil School Trust
- Deputy Chairperson of south Africa’s Connection Group Holdings.
- Chair, South African Women’s Professional Golfers’ Association.
Awards and Recognition
According to Entrepreneur.com, Wendy is one of the richest in South Africa. Arguably, she is also the richest woman in SA. Some other recognition include;
- One of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in the World, 2006
- Top 10 Female Millionaires to Watch Out For in Africa, Forbes Africa, 2012
- International Women’s Forum South Africa Excellent Award, 2012
- Businesswoman of the Year, Forbes Woman, 2015
- Woman of the Year, Forbes Africa, 2015
- Honorary Doctorate in Medicine, University of Witwatersrand, 2019
- One of the Most Powerful Women in Africa, Forbes Africa, 2020
Wendy Appelbaum Quotes
“Whatever you do, best you be passionate about it.”
“The more you have, the more responsibility you have to share it with those who don’t.”
“It really does not matter whether you sell computers, wine, investments or insurance, you have got to run a business like a business irrespective of what your product is.”
“I drive myself very hard… Life is too short to do something badly.”
“Your priorities change when you become a farmer. All sorts of things like the weather become more important; you become more in touch with the earth.”
“I don’t think the point is how much you’ve got. The point is what you choose to do with it.”
“Games teach you an enormous amount in terms of negotiation skills…”
“…If you have the opportunity to do wonderful work and make a difference in people’s lives, it’s a responsibility that has positive outcomes…”
“Philanthropy is a sign of success. A sign that you have spare capacity. It’s what I call a pissing contest. Pure ego coming back in chunks.”
“The wine industry is creative, it’s got so many parts, you meet some of the most extraordinary and passionate people around the world.”
“…Men see the big picture, women see detail. And it’s when the two work together that you get a much better outcome for the business, that’s why congruent boards are much more successful.”
“There is nothing, aside from perhaps hard physical labor, that women can’t do as well as men. Many women just haven’t had opportunities.”
“Sitting on boards is not about making friends. It’s about doing the right thing for your shareholders.”
Entrepreneurial Lessons From Wendy Appelbaum
Beyond Having An Opportunity, You Need More To Stand Out
Although Wendy is the daughter of a successful businessman, a concerted effort made her top the list of SA’s richest women. She explained how she learned a lot and inherited Gordon’s flair, business mind, skill and how some of the family’s dinner table conversation was more of business classes, yet much was not expected from her. It was her deliberate effort to do more and be seen that gave her an edge.
She also stated how she challenged her father in the boardroom, and how he was a sexist who never liked to see women in business. But nothing could stop Wendy because she wanted more than anything to stand out and lead.
Although she was born by a business tycoon, her father is not wholly responsible for her success. She seized the opportunity by herself.
Passion is everything to Appelbaum. She advised, “Whatever you do, best you be passionate about it.” In her interview with Forbes, she highlighted how it was important to find what you love most and do it. For her, she loved wine and farming, and this helped her in choosing her career path.
As a result, she built her estate into one of the top wine-producing farms in South Africa and even export it to European countries.
Experiences are there to shape us, connect us and make us more knowledgeable. Experiences have a way of helping us navigate life later in the future. As soon as Wendy realised how much she has gained while working with other women at WIPHOLD, she knew it was time to move.
Hence, she followed her dream and then ventured into the winemaking business. Not only that, she sees venturing into the wine business as one of the best things that happened to her to date.
Learning As A Way Of Life
In an interview with Forbes Africa, Wendy stated how games can help someone master negotiation skills. “Women essentially don’t know how to compete, I’m highly competitive, and I learned that on the sports field. I just challenged everything, I still do, and that’s what makes me a very good director”, she said.
Besides, she also learnt some amazing business skills such as attention to detail, determination, work ethics and patience from her father. Their daily conversation helped her learn how to identify opportunities and maximize their benefit.
Regardless of what you do or what your business entails, you need structuring. Having a structure is the only way your business can outlive you. “It really does not matter whether you sell computers, wine, investments or insurance, you have got to run a business like a business irrespective of what your product is.” Says Wendy
While putting structure in your business, hire credible staff, bring all your business library of knowledge together, and make sure practices are world-class. Do the right thing for your shareholders, and you will be amazed at how far you will go in business.
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