In 2003 Kirsh went to US investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest man, and offered him a 27% stake in his 100%-privately held US trading business, Jetro Cash & Carry. Buffett saw the potential in Jetro and accepted a minority holding, against his normal rule of buying control. But they could not agree on the terms.
In the next few years, Kirsh transformed Jetro into one of the largest private companies in the US, worth more than US3,5bn . Now Jetro — modelled on SA’s Metro Cash & Carry, which he once controlled — dominates the distribution of food and dry goods to small stores in big cities. It is his cash cow.
At 78 he has quietly built a private global empire spanning about a dozen countries, worth well over the R20bn or so wealth of each of the three South Africans — Patrice Motsepe, Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert — on the latest Forbes list of global billionaires.