Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eric Sampson: South Africa's Steel Baron

SA's self-made tycoon presides over a company with a bigger sales turnover than De Beers

Eric Samson showed signs he would make a great businessman while still at school. After a cake sale at Parkview Junior , the principal announced that Samson had raised the largest amount of money ever from selling biscuits and sweets - £19, 9s, 6d. That was nearly 60 years ago. Since then the Macsteel Holdings co-chairman has applied his entrepreneurial skills to building a formidable empire in steel manufacturing and trading, and shipping, with a global footprint. He now presides over the biggest unlisted company in SA - bigger by sales even than De Beers.

Samson's success is an extraordinary story of a man who started his business life at the age of 19 - armed with no more than a matric certificate from Parktown Boys' High - selling wire and steel products for his father. Today he runs a company with turnover of almost US$9bn (De Beers had sales of $7,1bn last year). This puts Macsteel in the same sales league as listed companies Bidvest and Sasol and makes it twice the size of Pick ' n Pay or Sappi and four times the size of Nampak.

Macsteel's products are used across SA industry. Every SA company that makes anything out of steel is likely to be supplied by Macsteel. That goes for steel roofing, fencing, construction companies, or even washing machine manufacturers.

"He has built a gigantic, world-class business without going public. No other SA businessman has done that. I can't think of a better businessman," says Cyril Ramaphosa, a member of Macsteel Holdings' board.

What makes Samson's story all the more remarkable is that he has built his empire
below the radar. He has kept out of the public eye, mainly because Macsteel is an
unlisted company...

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