Indian billionaire and chairman emeritus of Max Group, Analjit Singh, a FORBES AFRICA cover in 2015, says he is increasing his investments in the hospitality sector in South Africa. On a visit to Johannesburg mid-May, Singh spoke to FORBES AFRICA of his bias towards the Cape. In four years since setting up a base and “home away from home” in the Franschhoek winelands of Cape Town, he has “17 land holdings here and substantial hectarage under wine cultivation”. He established the Leeu Collection here, and now owns three hotels, five restaurants and an award-winning wine business.
I am a citizen of the world. Why must I only be in India?
says the Founder and Chairman of Max India Limited with diverse interests in life insurance, healthcare, health insurance and senior living.
He has been ranked by FORBES as one of India’s richest, with a net worth of $1.2 billion. Singh is a partner in Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, which produces wines in the Swartland wine region, some 800 kilometers north of Cape Town. This is overseen by winemaking duo Chris and Andrea Mullineux. He runs a 17-key country house and winery on Leeu Estates, a 68-hectare farm in the Franschhoek valley, and secures wine from 50 vineyards in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. In the charming one-road village of Franschhoek, he also renovated Leeu House into a 12-room hotel that’s “very Cape Dutch” featuring thatched roofs, gables with plaster art, shutters and stable doors. He has also installed on both sides of the large garden, statues of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi – bought at the Everard Read art gallery in Johannesburg.
Incidentally, the gallery has just opened in Franschhoek as well, in partnership with Leeu Collection. At the Heritage Square piazza a few meters away, he opened Marigold, the town’s first Indian restaurant, and, again a first for Franschhoek, he set up Tuk Tuk, a craft beer microbrewery. He says it is now the most happening place in Franschhoek. “I am not done yet in Franschhoek,” says Singh. “I was looking for new vistas and personal renewal, so Franschoek appealed. I have found such connect and sense of place here.”
With a “substantial, high-end presence” in the winelands, Singh’s boutique winery targets the export markets of the United Kingdom, some parts of America, Europe and is just about making an entry into Asia.
Singh, who fell in love with South Africa when he first visited the country in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup, spends more than three months a year here. “I fired myself as the chairman of most companies [in the Max Group], I have no operational responsibilities. My level of involvement is almost negligible,” says Singh.
South Africa’s recent downgrading and all the noise in the current political environment is clearly no deterrent for the international investor. “We can be victims of analysis paralysis… If you spoke to someone in France 10 days ago, they would say don’t invest in France. Look at it now, they say ‘invest in France’,” he says.
He has also now acquired properties in Lake District, Florence and London. With a total of “68 keys combined in all properties” around the world, he says this will grow to 105 by the end of next year.
Singh’s long-term vision is to venture into game parks and safaris in this part of Africa, and he is also currently looking at the education space in South Africa.