Koos Bekker became a dollar billionaire earlier this year after transforming Naspers from a decades-old print business into the largest media company in emerging markets.
Formed in 1915 as De Nasionale Pers, the company published what became South Africa’s first Afrikaans daily newspaper, Die Burger, which defended apartheid rule in commentaries and articles when the segregationist system was put in place in 1948.
Bekker, the company’s 60-year-old chief executive, took control of the group in 1997 and began investing in technology and media companies, according to BPI Africa Capital analyst Kate Turner-Smith.
Buying stakes in more than 100 businesses, including China’s Tencent Holdings and Russia’s Mail.ru, Bekker turned Naspers into an investment house that has added almost $34 billion (R344bn) in market value since 2003.
“The company has changed 180 degrees,” Turner-Smith said. “Koos Bekker is quite a visionary guy. He saw the writing on the wall with print media long before most of the market did and started investing in internet businesses.”
Bekker takes his compensation in stock alone, and controls almost 4 percent of Naspers through a combination of 11.7 million share options he holds directly and a 1.1 percent stake held by a family trust. Measured in local currency, Naspers shares have risen 30fold since 2003, making it the best performing stock on the JSE, and pushing up the value of Bekker’s personal holdings in the company to $1.2bn.
With his wife, Karen, he also owns Babylonstoren, a 200ha farm, winery and luxury hotel about 60km north-east of Cape Town.
Local property records show he bought the estate in 2007 for R35m.
Through a company spokeswoman, Meloy Horn, Bekker declined to comment on his net worth.
Naspers delivered R50.2bn in revenue in the fiscal year to March, 60 percent of which came from pay television.
More than 6.7 million households from South Africa to Nigeria paid to watch content on DStv, the satellite service owned by Naspers subsidiary MultiChoice. Naspers also owns television broadcasters M-Net and SuperSport, which provide premium content for DStv, including soccer’s English Premier League and Formula 1 car races.
The Potchefstroom-born Bekker focused his thesis at Columbia Business School in the 1980s on pay-television businesses, such as Time Warner’s HBO, which was then an emerging business model.
In sub-Saharan Africa, SuperSport is the largest broadcaster of soccer matches, according to Horn, a boon in a region with millions of fans, including Bekker, who was a member of the organising committee for South Africa’s soccer 2010 World Cup.
After graduating from Columbia in 1984, Bekker returned to South Africa, where he recruited several media companies, including the Naspers publishing house, to serve as one of the founding shareholders of M-Net, a pay-television company.
M-Net sold shares on the JSE in 1990, and was delisted and consolidated under Naspers after Bekker was named chief executive in 1997.
Four years later, Bekker made one of his early emerging market investments, buying half of Shenzhen-based Tencent, which is now China’s biggest internet company, for $32m.
The stake was diluted to 34 percent after Tencent’s 2004 listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange and the introduction of a share incentive plan, and represents about 80 percent of Naspers’s value, according to Turner-Smith.
Tencent’s stock has soared 49 percent this year through Monday, defying an 11 percent drop in the MSCI emerging markets index, and a 1 percent decline in the Hang Seng index, in the same period. Naspers shares are up 58 percent since January.
Yesterday, Tencent slipped 1.67 percent to HK$364 (R475) in Hong Kong trading. Naspers dropped 0.35 percent to close at R854 on the JSE yesterday, valuing it at R356bn.
“Naspers and Tencent are almost identical,” Turner-Smith said, referring to the performance of the companies’ shares.
“Bekker’s wealth is effect and the cause is Tencent. He was a smart guy; he had his finger on the button very early,” she added. – Bloomberg