Who Is Wendy Appelbaum, the Richest Woman in South Africa?

Men remain the big shots in Africa when it comes to huge net worth. However, today, women are fast gaining momentum, breaking previously set barriers, and challenging the conventional status quo when it comes to wealth and financial success. Many African women have begun leveling the playing field from technology to agriculture, business, politics, oil and gas, real estate, manufacturing and production, and so much more, imprinting their names in the sands of time right next to men who have gone before them. Wendy Appelbaum is one such woman.

She didn’t need to “want” wealth as she was born into it. Wendy Appelbaum is the daughter of the African business tycoon and founder of the Liberty Group, Sir Donald Gordon. However, she broke out of her daddy’s shadow and went on to not only become South Africa’s richest woman but also one of the wealthiest and most influential businesswomen in Africa. She is a South African businesswoman, philanthropist, and women’s rights activist.

With a net worth said to be worth over R2.6 billion, Wendy chairs De Morgenzon Estate, a wine farm and an agricultural business based in Stellenbosch. Her company drive, select, and initiates programs through the Wendy Appelbaum Foundation, which focuses on education, health, and the well-being of South African women as its principal interests. This article examines in detail who Wendy Applebaum is, her early life and family background, career development, and business interests, and other salient points. Read on to get more details.

Quick Profile of Wendy Applebaum

  • Full Name: Wendy Donna Appelbaum
  • Year of Birth: 1961
  • Place of Birth: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Nationality: South African
  • Qualification‎: B.Sc. Psychology – University of the Witwatersrand
  • Parents: Donald and Peggy Gordon
  • Siblings: Richard Gordon and Graeme Gordon
  • Relationship Status: Married
  • Spouse: Hylton Appelbaum
  • Children: 2 boys – Nicholas and Matthew
  • Occupation: Entrepreneur
  • Net Worth: R2.6 billion

Wendy Applebaum’s Early Life Played A Great Part In Her Business Success Today

Wendy Appelbaum
Donald Gordon and his daughter, Wendy Appelbaum

Born in South Africa, Wendy Donna Appelbaum is the only daughter of South African business tycoon and Liberty Group founder Sir Donald Gordon and his wife, Peggy Gordon.  Wendy and both her brothers, Richard and Graeme, all grew up in Johannesburg. Her date of birth is unknown, and she has also not disclosed her ethnicity, but we know she was born in South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg. She admits that being the daughter of an influential and powerful man such as her father gave her an edge as their home was “almost like growing up in a business school.”

Wendy learned many things from her father, Donald Gordon, including inheriting his flair, composure, and business acumen. However, her work ethic was something she had to develop independently. Applebaum states that while her father clearly taught her a lot about business and even though the time she was born did not assert so much pressure on the girl child being successful in business, she decided to learn the ropes at her own pace – from her father – and it has been working ever since.

She Played A Lot Of Games And Imbibed A Competitive Spirit As A Result

As a young girl, Wendy was active and participated in many sporting activities ranging from chess to tennis, scrabble, bridge, showjumping, golf – she took up the latter as an adult – and many other sports. Her athleticism and competitiveness in games all played a part in making her business successful, as it is today. According to her, many of her successes in business can be attributed to the discipline, strategic thinking, stamina, passion, and focus she cultivated as a gamer.

Wendy Appelbaum

To win, Wendy Appelbaum had to develop top-notch negotiating skills, which became very relevant in the boardrooms she so often found herself in later in life. Wendy counts herself lucky because she came from a family where she was treated as equals with her brothers. She explains that family dinner conversations were like business classes- only with lots of fine dining!

She studied Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, after which she joined her father at the Liberty Group. She worked there, rising through the ranks till she became a director with Liberty Investors. While at Liberty Group, Wendy developed a reputation for continually challenging and critiquing her father’s decisions at boardroom meetings. More often than not, Donald Gordon simply accepted defeat as he could not match his daughter’s intensity in the boardroom as he would prefer not to leave matters worse off.

A Look Into Wendy Appelnaum’s Career Journey

In 1994, Wendy Appelbaum launched her first business venture, Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings (WIPHOLD) Limited, an investment company that financially empowered women from all walks of life. She co-founded the company along with ten other women and was the company’s Deputy Director. WIPHOLD grew exponentially and became the first-ever female-controlled company to be listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (J.S.E.), registering assets well in excess of $150 million (R1 billion).

Wendy Applebaum

Completely disadvantaged women were empowered and assisted in understanding how to make profitable investments and consequently become wealthier. However, after five years of working with WIPHOLD and just after the company was listed on the J.S.E, Wendy sold her shares to enable women who had been previously disadvantaged to fill her spot. In reflecting on her time at the company, Wendy says that her experience working at WIPHOLD was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.

The relentless entrepreneur also worked in her father’s company, Liberty Group, and served as a director at the Liberty Group Investors. There, she became one of the company’s largest individual shareholders then. Later on, she sold her shares and opened the wine farm with her husband in 2003.

Wendy attributes the knowledge, connections, and courage she found to pursue her dream to her experience at WIPHOLD. She had always nursed the desire to own a farm, which she did after she left Liberty Group, resulting in her wine production business. Her experiences working on several boards, sorting companies’ financials, and in H.R. came to use when she eventually started her own wine company, De Morgenzon.

She Has Held Leadership Positions In Several Organizations 

Wendy Appelbaum refers to herself as a serial board-sitter. She attained her first seat on the board of the Liberty Group and has gone on to sit on the board of over ten different foundations and companies in several capacities to date. Some of them include;

  • Chairperson – De Morgenzon Wine Estate
  • Chairperson – South African Women’s Professional Golfers’ Association
  • Chairperson – Sphere Holdings Limited, a black empowerment company
  • Deputy Chairperson – WIPHOLD Limited, a women’s investment portfolio
  • Deputy Chairperson – Connection Group Holdings, South Africa
  • Director – The Donald Gordon Foundation (which is the largest private charitable foundation in Africa)
  • Director – Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Limited, University of the Witwatersrand Post-graduate Teaching Hospital
  • Director – Victory Strategic Services
  • Director – Liberty Investors, an insurance and real estate company.
  • Board Member – International Women’s Forum
  • Board Member – Western Cape Tourism, Trade & Investment, WESGRO
  • Board Member – Harvard University’s Global Advisory Board
  • Board Member – Harvard University’s Women’s Leadership Board
  • Board Member – Synergos Institute, Southern Africa
  • Trustee – Redhill School Trust
  • Trustee – The Children’s Haemophilia & Oncology Clinic (CHOC)
  • Trustee – Helen Suzman Foundation
  • Trustee – World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWWF-SA)
  • Trustee – Tribune Trust, an investment holding.
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Wendy Appelbaum’s Wine Estate: De Morgenzon

In 2003, Wendy Appelbaum and her husband, Hylton Appelbaum, took over ownership of the DeMorgenzon Estate, an agricultural farm, and a wine-production farm. The wine farm spans 224 acres of garden vineyard, where wildflowers grow in abundance between the vines. The farm is located in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and today, De Morgenzon Wine Estate is among South Africa’s top and premium winemakers. The word ‘DeMorgenzon’ translates to ‘the morning sun.’

The Chenin Blanc, which was her maiden vintage, earned a 5-star S.A Platter’s Wine Guide rating and was the first-ever maiden vintage to attain this status. For three years consecutively, it also took home the International Chenin Blanc Trophy award at the International Wine Challenge held in London, England.

It has also taken home the world-famous Decanter World Wine Trophy award for Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and the Platter’s White Wine of the year award two times in a row. According to the Wine Enthusiast, the De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 was one of the top 100 wines for 2016, while the De Morgenzon Maestro White 2014 was one of the top 100 wines of the year 2017. Wendy Appelbaum sells well over half a million bottles of wine per year, with 75% of the sales made from exports.

Wendy Appelbaum

Wendy explains how far her business has grown, even though it is less than 20 years since its inception, outlining her hopes and plans for the company’s future. She says the company makes about 750,000 bottles of wine every year and export about 75% of the total production to the U.K., US, Canada, Sweden, Belgium,  Holland, and other foreign countries. Wendy believes that De Morgenzon Wine Estate has the potential for further growth and that the best is still yet to come.

Wendy Appelbaum Is Known For Her Philanthropic Accomplishments

A dedicated philanthropist, Wendy Appelbaum sees giving as a culture and a pointer to one’s success. She subscribes to a far higher standard of investment when it comes to helping those with lesser opportunities as she does not believe giving money is enough to be termed charity. Wendy’s approach to her wealth is pretty generous, as she believes that to whom much is given, much is expected. She has donated millions of dollars in funding the creation of the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Wits University and the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

Wendy Appelbaum

Wendy also serves as a trustee of the Donald Gordon Foundation, which is arguably the largest privately funded charity foundation in Africa. She also owns the Wendy Appelbaum Foundation, which focuses on education, health, and the well-being of South African women as its principal interests. The businesswoman is a member of the Global Philanthropists Circle, a community of frontline philanthropists who contribute their resources, influence, and time to fight social injustice and poverty.

She is also a member of the International Women’s Forum, a worldwide network of women who have made diverse and significant achievements within their various spheres of influence. Her legacy as one of the trailblazers for the feminist movement in South Africa can never go unnoticed or unappreciated, as she shattered several glass ceilings as far as African women are concerned!

Wendy Is Married To Hylton Appelbaum, And They Have Two Kids

Wendy Appelbaum is married to Hylton Appelbaum. The couple is blessed with two sons, Nicholas Appelbaum, a surgeon, and Matthew Appelbaum, who is a banker residing in Johannesburg. She lives with her husband, Hylton, who manages their wine garden – De Morgenzon Wine Estate, in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. He also holds positions in other organizations in South Africa, such as the Mindset Network, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, etc.

Wendy Appelbaum
Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum

During an interview with Wendy Appelbaum, which was conducted by Forbes Africa at her house in Cape Town, Nicholas, who walks in previously unaware of the ongoing interview, is asked how it felt to have a mother who was so energetic. Nicholas gave a rather interesting reply to the question explaining how Wendy remained a mother to her children in her home despite the demands of her engagements, adding that though she wasn’t necessarily the cuddly type, she was no less a mother. Wendy, speaking about her son, calls him an amazing child who is overly serious.

Here Are Some Of Wendy Appelbaum’s Recognition and Awards

Wendy Appelbaum was named among the wealthiest women in South Africa by Entrepreneurs.com, although it is quite possible that she may be the richest. Some of her awards and recognitions include:

  • One of the Most Powerful Women in Africa, Forbes Africa, 2020
  • Honorary Doctorate in Medicine, University of Witwatersrand, 2019
  • Businesswoman of the Year, Forbes Woman, 2015
  • Woman of the Year, Forbes Africa, 2015
  • Top 10 Female Millionaires to Watch Out For in Africa, Forbes Africa, 2012
  • International Women’s Forum South Africa Excellent Award, 2012
  • One of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in the World, 2006
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Romeo Ndlovu
Romeo's secret talent is taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary content. At work, he is thinking about how best to provide the most unique, original content that provides utmost satisfaction to the user. Away from work, he is a football addict who loves to catch up on his favorite pastimes

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