The Richest Woman in South Africa: meet Wendy Appelbaum
Updated: Apr 2
How did the richest woman in South Africa, Wendy Appelbaum, come to be? Appelbaum speaks about her father’s influence on her business and the importance of active philanthropy.
Who is Wendy Appelbaum?
Wendy Appelbaum, daughter of Liberty Group founder Donald Gordon, is the Owner and Chair of De Morgenzon Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Appelbaum admittedly did have an advantage in being the daughter of Donald Gordon. Having such a powerful, influential father was “almost like growing up in a business school”. She inherited his flair and mind for business. However, her father is not responsible for her successes. “He certainly taught me a lot about business,” says Appelbaum, “but being a girl and growing up in the 1970s [meant] there was not much expectation [for] me to do anything. It was my choice to do something. So, I have always worked and I have always been busy.” She grew up wanting to challenge expectations, and that she did. Today, she is arguable the richest woman in South Africa.
She served as a director at Liberty Group Investors where she was one of the company’s largest individual shareholders before making her fortune by selling her shares and opening her wine farm with her husband. In 2012, Appelbaum made the list of Forbes Top 10 female Millionaires to watch in Africa. Passion is the name of the game for Appelbaum. She advises, “Whatever you do, best you be passionate about it”.
Appelbaum’s first business venture was in 1994 with Wiphold, an investment company that empowered women from all walks of life. She started the company alongside 10 other women. Wiphold was the first female-controlled company to list on the JSE. Reflecting on her time at Wiphold, Appelbaum says working there “was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life… We empowered women that were technically completely disadvantaged, really empowered them to understand how to invest and take a little bit of money and make it a lot. There was an incredible amount of energy in that boardroom. I’ve never been in a boardroom that good ever since.” Her experience at Wiphold gave her the courage, connections and knowledge to follow her own dream. “Once I realized that all this experience I was getting across the board, from financials to marketing to HR, I decided I was going to do it for myself and that was when we started De Morgenzon.” Appelbaum had always dreamed of owning a farm, thus leading o the winemaking business. In 2003 she bought the De Morgenzon wine farm. Today, the farm is ranked highly as among the top wine farms in the country.
Appelbaum is a dedicated philanthropist, donating $23 million to fund the creation of the Gordon Institute of Business Science and the Donald Gordon Medical Centre. She is also the trustee of one of the largest private charitable foundations in Africa, The Donald Gordon Foundation, as well as the Wendy Appelbaum Foundation, focusing on health, education, and women. She lives by the belief that “the more you have, the more responsibility you have to share it with those who don’t.” Of her philanthropy, she says, “My philanthropy is strategic. Money alone doesn’t solve problems. I don’t believe in the kind of giving that can only be termed “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.”
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