Knighthood for SA businessman

15 June 2005

South African property and insurance magnate Donald Gordon has been awarded a knighthood for his service to the arts and business, reports Business Day.

Gordon, who holds both UK and South African citizenship, built up two successful business empires, Liberty Life in South Africa and top UK property company Liberty International. He was named in the Queen’s birthday honours list last weekend, the paper reports.

“I’m obviously very pleased about the recognition,” he told Business Day on Monday. “I have had British nationality for 21 months.”

Gordon has made significant donations to British opera.

Last year the Sunday Times reported that his £20-million (R248-million) sponsorship of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the renamed Donald Gordon Opera Theatre in Cardiff could earn him a knighthood. It is believed that this is the largest single private donation ever made to the arts in the UK.

Gordon, who will turn 75 next week, emphasised that he still had strong ties with South Africa, the country of his birth, according to Business Day.

“I am a dual citizen of the UK and South Africa. I am a very happy South African citizen and I am a very happy British one – I am very fond of both countries.”

Gordon retired from Liberty Life in 1999, but still contributes to many South African charities.

The Donald Gordon Foundation, formed in the early 1970s, is the largest private charity in Southern Africa.

The Sunday Times reports that its donations include R100-million to Wits University for the Donald Gordon Medical Centre.

The Gordon Institute of Business Science is named in recognition of Gordon’s contribution to South African business, and Gordon’s R30-million endowment to the institute.

Gordon told Business Day he would like to “resuscitate the ballet and opera world” in South Africa. “I am prepared to put in a lot of effort if I can find the right route in.”

In 1957 Gordon, a chartered accountant by profession, founded Liberty Life Association of Africa with initial capital of R100 000. By the time he retired as chair of Liberty Life in 1999, the company was valued at over R40-billion.

At the time Liberty Life was the largest listed life company and the third-largest life insurance company in South Africa, and was also listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Gordon co-founded UK company Abbey Life Insurance, which has since become one of the largest life companies in the UK and is a major subsidiary of Lloyds Bank.

In 1980 Gordon founded Liberty International, a £5-billion (R62-billion) shopping centre and commercial real estate business and the third-largest property company in the UK.

Gordon will retire from Liberty International at the end of this month, Business Day reports. The company has invited him to stay on as president for life.

In October 2000 Gordon received the UK Entrepreneur of the Year Special Award for Lifetime Achievement. In December 1999 he was cited as the “Achiever of the Century in South African Financial Services” by the Financial Mail, the leading South African business journal.

SouthAfrica.info reporter