SA man scoops business ‘Oscar’

12 June 2006

Bill Lynch, CEO of South Africa’s Imperial Holdings, was named 2006 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year at an awards ceremony in Monte Carlo on the weekend.

Lynch, who built Imperial into South Africa’s largest transport and mobility conglomerate after arriving in the country 35 years ago with £2 000 and no job, beat a strong field of 32 national winners to take the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs.

Today, Imperial Holdings has annual revenues of €6.5-billion across seven divisions and employs 36 000 people on three continents.

The chairman of the nine-member judging panel, Bharti Enterprises founder Sunil Bharti Mittal, described Lynch as “the epitome of an entrepreneur – he started with nothing, but he grew an amazing business over 30 years, and today makes a huge positive impact in South Africa.

“He does that not only through the jobs he creates but also through the training, education and other community support Imperial provides.”

Ernst & Young’s Greg Ericksen said Lynch had “seen it all and done it all and is a great role model for entrepreneurs everywhere with his love of business and hard work.”

“Bill’s story is a classic one,” said Ernst & Young CEO James Turley. “He started from humble origins and through hard work and smart diversification built a multi-billion dollar international business.”

Hard work, love of business
In 1971, aged 27, Lynch came to South Africa with his wife Ann, £2 000, no job and few prospects during a worsening recession.

Armed with a village school education and a love of business that began the day he started work in a garage in rural Ireland, Lynch joined Imperial Motors, a car dealership losing €12 345 a year.

Lynch led a turn-around, applying disciplines that were second nature to a manager raised in poverty.

In 1973 he acquired 10% of Imperial – preferring to take a risk and buy 10% rather than accept a 5% stake for free – and led a growth strategy involving diversification into truck hire, logistics, car rental and leasing.

Imperial listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in 1987 at nine cents a share, and today trades – on what is now the JSE Limited – at around R134 (€21) a share.

In 1990, Lynch became Imperial’s executive chairman and showed his faith in South Africa’s future – at a time when many were predicting the country’s descent into political and economic chaos – by driving further expansion, transforming the core Toyota dealership into a multibrand network, among other initiatives.

In 1998-99, Imperial expanded offshore, buying Thyssen-Krupp’s European logistics business and moving into aviation leasing.

Group turnover since South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994 is up 28-fold. reporter

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