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The Whisky Whiz On How His Whisky Took Him Far



On a cool April afternoon in Johannesburg, we are at 4th Avenue in Parkhurst – a charming suburb with stylish resto-bars, Afr0-chic boutiques and eateries spilling on to the streets – for a rather heady experience in the middle of the day.

Every tipple, every bit of trivia is crucial for this entrepreneur on the block. At the Bottega Café, which gets full on weekends and most weeknights, owner Saverio Cardillo is always present to offer customers a hands-on experience and bespoke tastings of whisky.

He pulls up a chair and gets talking animatedly about the bottles of the fermented beverage that imperviously fill the glass showcases lining all the walls of his café.

For starters, he says there are two ways to spell it – and that could be a conversation starter at any party. The Irish spell it ‘whiskey’ and the Scots ‘whisky’.

“I call it the heaven journey. It is a little point that no one knows about. Every single person that walks in here and does not know about it, they walk in and say ‘wow!’ because it is like a little onion, that you can just exfoliate all these layers,” says Cardillo.

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The restaurant is small and intimate but the umpteen bottles of whisky in every crevice and the cabinets behind you, make it akin to a distillery, minus the bulky barrels.

Cardillo’s love for whisky started only over eight years ago when he was first gifted a Glen Ord by one of his suppliers.

“I tasted it and it was phenomenal. That is how I got into single malts and started dabbling in all the Ireland malts…”

A South African with Italian heritage, Cardillo says he has a palate for Scottish whisky. And for this interview too, whisky-tasting is a prelude.

He gets us to taste the Pogues Irish Whiskey, which is very gentle, soft and easy. My colleague tasted the Jameson Distillery Edition with the orange, brown sugar, ginger, peach and salt taste.

As a first-time whisky-drinker, I understood that not all whisky tastes bad, thanks to Cardillo, who knows how to pick the right taste for different palates.

“This is what it’s all about. People come in, sit down and drink their whisky and they don’t get intimidated when they come to my restaurant,” he says.

The Bottega Whiskey Club, which he started in 2013, boasts of over 2,000 members, mostly from the financial sector, lured to the club through word of mouth.

“We have four types of clients – those that know nothing about whisky and we try and educate you and try and accommodate your palate. Then we get the guys that have been to Scotland and have been collecting for years and years and only buy limited editions. Then you get the guys who buy whisky to stock up their bars. Then you also get the collectors that will drink their whisky,” he says.

The restaurant has over 700 malts, which they use for their whisky-tasting events. They pair the whisky with cigars and sometimes come up with different food pairings.

Surprisingly, for a self-taught whisky expert, Cardillo says that he is not a collector.

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“I am not like that. I am the type that needs to know what is in that bottle. I would hate to die one day knowing that somebody is going to be drinking my collection not knowing what was in that bottle,” he says.

But for those that do like to collect their whisky as a form of investment, Cardillo believes they could earn significant returns.

“We have bottles that we bought for R500 ($40) or R600 ($49) and now they are worth a lot of money. The increase in value of the whisky depends on if the distillery closes down. If they are no longer making any more of it, then the demand for that bottle of whisky increases,” he says.

Currently, the Jameson Gold Reserve has been discontinued, so he advises whisky drinkers should buy as many as they can of it, as the value of the bottles are bound to increase by 10%-15%.

“It currently retails at R893 ($73)… So you could look at doubling your money in a couple of years. For example, the Compass Box, they made just over 5,680 bottles; I was retailing them at R2,000 ($163), but I see now three years down the line, they are auctioning them and selling them at R4,800 ($392) to R5,000 ($408),” he says.

However, a whisky club as a business is not as lucrative.

“We turn a lot of stock [from the business], but if I had to do it purely as a business, no, I would not make any money from it. Not when you consider the rentals and other expenses. The club is purely for coming to see what we have and tasting the different kinds of whisky,” says Cardillo.

There is no right or wrong way to drink whisky.

“What you like and what the next person likes are two different things. You can’t get intimidated. You are only supposed to drink the whisky with ice or you are not supposed to drink the whisky with the ice. There are so many rules that are just falling away now,” he says.

The best way to put this to the test is to pour a neat whisky in a glass and drink it. You will be able to taste all the different aromas. Thereafter, pour yourself another glass and pour a bit of water and you will be able to taste the barrel’s wood. It will become spicy as you see the whisky open up, as it becomes cloudy, and you will be able to see the oils release.

Saverio Cardillo. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

“This is why I say when people ask me ‘how are you supposed to drink your whisky’, I say ‘it depends entirely on your palate’,” says Cardillo.

“I once had a gentleman who walked in here the other night and he ordered a Johnnie Walker Blue Label and he drank it with cream soda. I didn’t even cringe.”

His is not limited to just tasting whisky, he also resells whisky for collectors hoping for returns on their long-held bottles.

“…[I] am a little bit sceptical about selling their collections. I sell on behalf of them, and I don’t put my name behind it and I don’t sell it using the name of Bottega. I let everyone know that it is somebody else’s collection,” he says. Cardillo receives the commission from the proceeds of the sale.

“If something goes wrong with the lid or counterfeiting in whisky or it leaks, that is my reputation at stake, and that is what I have to be careful about,” says Cardillo.

Cardillo took his hobby and turned it into a calling imparting knowledge to discerning drinkers, making him a limited edition among restaurateurs.

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Advances In Nigeria’s ‘Burglar Watch’ Industry




The escalating safety and security issues in Nigeria raised the alarm for this innovative entrepreneur.

Today, organizations not only face escalating risks but also the certitude that they will face a security breach at any time, if proper precautions are not taken. Such was the case for Paul Ajibulu when his office premises were ransacked by thugs in Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island, Lagos.

“We had just got our office fully furnished with MacBook computers and the whole works. When we came in the next day, we found the locks broken and all the office equipment had been looted. I lost about $20,000 in all that day and that set our business back for a couple of months,” says Ajibulu.

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To solve his problems, he reached out to Extreme Mutual Technique, an automated digital systems solution and renewable energy service provider.

The company says it boasts top-tier clients such as MTN, the Embassy of Sierra Leone, South African Breweries, and Africa Finance Corporation, amongst many others.

Akpobome Ojoboh, its founder and Managing Director, is adamant his systems are a must-have for every organization in Nigeria.

“We initially started the business called Extreme Surveillance Systems limited. Coming from my previous background, we decided to focus on CCTV and digital security. Considering the fact that Nigeria was being terrorized by security mishaps, we decided to [resolve] that,” says Ojoboh.

Safety and security have never been discussed in Nigeria as they are now. Threats are from everywhere, and at all places. Routine security checking at offices and shopping mall entrances has become the norm.

The idea of preventing crime is an appealing twist in today’s times and although it’s comforting for many to imagine a competent police officer monitoring every camera in Lagos, the question remains whether CCTV systems really do prevent crimes from happening or do they merely help in nabbing a criminal once a crime has occurred.

In a city like Lagos where you have constant disruptions to power, the long-term success of these systems presented significant hurdles for Ojoboh in the early days.

“There are so many limitations to digital security vis-à-vis the lack of a proper database that even when you have [identified] the culprits, you cannot find them. Furthermore, there were limitations to how people took ownership of their equipment because there was [often] no power. So, you put a system and people say ‘what if there is no power’?”

To combat these challenges, Ojoboh decided to provide another solution, by moving into the world of inverters.

“Then again, these inverters run down when there is no power to charge them so we went into renewable energy called solar to back up our inverters and digital solutions. That is when we changed the business to Extreme Mutual Technique Limited,” says Ojoboh.

Security is one of the largest businesses in the world, according to Ojoboh.

He has seen an increase in more families opting for peace of mind by having big brother watching over their loved ones whenever they cannot be with them.

“When I first became a mum, I would always worry incessantly about my daughter left alone at home with my nanny. Then, we started noticing strange marks on my daughter and I had heard about people mistreating children they cared for but I never thought it would happen to me. I reached out to a security company to install a camera in the house and lo and behold, I saw the nanny hitting my daughter. My whole world crumbled,” says Rebecca Gyan, a grocery store owner in Accra.

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“You have to be prepared because if you are not, then you almost cannot stop any security breach. It helps you to know some proactive measures to protect yourself. If you have a CCTV system and you notice there is a particular group of people visiting your building, you will be able to notice and react,” says Ojoboh.

As organizations become familiar with probable threats and vulnerabilities, they will be able to establish both preventive measures and responsive systems, to decrease the likelihood of intruders and attacks.

Since starting out in 2007, Ojoboh has grown the team to a 40-member business spread across Lagos and Abuja. The company has also moved into IT and engineering services in the areas of energy infrastructure, home automation, fire safety and digital security solutions.

With power still an issue in Nigeria, Ojoboh sees the future of his business in the area of renewable energy to power his systems to provide that all-important peace of mind to his clients. 

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Gordon Ramsay Plots 100 US Restaurants With New Private Equity Deal





On a given day at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, chef Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous pub and grill will make around $20,000 from fish and chips. The 1,200-square-foot space sees around 1,300 guests a day. Since debuting on the strip in 2012, Ramsay has added another location in Atlantic City.

Combined, both have sold more than 300,000 fish and chips dishes. “It’s taken the nation by storm. I look at the lines outside the door,” Ramsay told Forbes on the phone earlier this week.

His steak restaurant, which launched seven years ago at Caesars’ Paris Las Vegas Hotel, has meanwhile expanded to Atlantic City and Baltimore, luring diners with beef Wellingtons (more than 250,000 sold since 2012) and sticky toffee puddings (more than 200,000 sold).

That kind of demand needs to be taken advantage of quickly. Which is why a year ago, Ramsay started looking for a partner to help him rapidly expand these brands. “I wasn’t ready to pedal this bike up a hill on my own. That would take me another 15 years,” Ramsay says. “Let’s get this thing done.”

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And now Ramsay has inked a deal with Lion Capital, a private equity outfit with offices in London and Los Angeles, which has scaled restaurants like wagamama, the pan-Asian noodle chain, as well as brands like Kettle chips and Jimmy Cho. Lion now owns 50% of Gordon Ramsay North America, while the other 50% is controlled by Ramsay.

He declined to comment on the size of the transaction, but the deal stipulates that Lion will invest $100 million over five years to build an empire of Gordon Ramsay restaurants across America. The joint venture expects to open 100 new locations across the U.S by 2024. 

“I fell in love with this country 20 years ago. There’s a will here. My goal, right now, is to establish one of the most exciting food brands in America,” Ramsay says. “Being a control freak, I needed the right partner on board. There’s a lot of businesses that don’t like that kind of stranglehold. For me, the partnership was crucial.”

Ramsay already has eight restaurants across Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Baltimore in partnership with Caesars Entertainment. There’s five concepts in Las Vegas, of which three are brands that will be expanded through the new deal — Gordon Ramsay Steak, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips.

“Vegas has been the most amazing platform. Everyone thinks it is just full of partying and entertainment, but it’s one of the most severe and revered culinary capitals anywhere in the world. You don’t get a second shot at it,” Ramsay says.

The restaurant concept, Gordon Ramsay Steak, launched in 2012 inside Caesar Entertainment's Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
The restaurant concept, Gordon Ramsay Steak, launched in 2012 inside Caesar Entertainment’s Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.GORDON RAMSAY STEAK

The deal will also bring two more concepts to the U.S.: Gordon Ramsay Street Pizza and Gordon Ramsay Bread Street Kitchen, which he calls “a modern Cheesecake Factory.” It already has successful locations in London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore. 

Ramsay is a six-time Celebrity 100 listmaker who earned $62 million last year, mainly from his television deal with Fox, in which he produces and stars in shows MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef Jr. as well as 24 Hours to Hell and Back.

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“It may seem aggressive, but we’re not opening up 80 or 90 of the same restaurant. We’re crossing over with a multilayered brand. That’s the bit that I’ve worked hard at. We’ve divided and conquered.”

Ramsay’s 15 restaurants in London won’t be impacted by the Lion Capital investment. The announcement comes just a few weeks after British chef Jamie Oliver announced that all but three of his 25 restaurants in the U.K. will close.

“It’s a very oversaturated market there, and you need to be very careful with that level of expansion. It’s unfortunate to see the situation he got himself into, but that’s what happens when you’ve got a juggernaut that’s out of control, as opposed to being in control,” Ramsay says. “I’ve sat patiently, learning from other people’s mistakes.”=

-Chloe Sorvino; Forbes Staff

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Pain, Poison And Potential




For a man who wanted to end his life at one time, it is quite ironic that Steve Harris is today one of Nigeria’s most successful life and business strategists.

Being born into a lower middle class family is one thing; trying to make a name for yourself after dropping out of university twice is another. That is what Steve Harris, a life and business strategist and motivational speaker, fondly known as ‘Mr. Ruthless Execution’, has accomplished.

Harris learned the sinusoidal motions of the entrepreneurship journey very early in life.

At 40, he is the Chief Executive Officer of EdgeEcution, an organization that helps high performance individuals and institutions bridge the gap between their performance and potential.

Today, he is among one of the most downloaded, quoted and followed personal development trainers in Nigeria, a feat that is outstanding when you consider that he almost committed suicide before this journey even began.

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The events leading up to his worst day began to unfold when Harris gained admission into the University of Benin in Nigeria. His parents wanted him to become an engineer but his failure to attain the required grades meant he had to take the Industrial Maths class instead. That is when his emotional saga began.

“I had altercations with my lecturers and I was flunking because I was not cut out for math. I had issues with my lecturers because at the time, my department was the most corrupt department in the university and if you wanted to pass, you needed to bribe your lecturers. So they were pretty much a cartel and if you didn’t pay, you wouldn’t pass, so someone like me who at best was a C student became an F student.”

As a result, he scored 4% or 11% in his exams even when he had prepared well enough.

“I eventually got kicked out [of university] in 2004.”

Harris managed to get into a private university but this time, he was required to start all over again.

“I couldn’t go the distance and I dropped out in my seventh month. I couldn’t handle it because my mates were already working. My younger sister was also already working and I was going back to my first year of university. I started having suicidal thoughts and I couldn’t handle it anymore so I dropped out.”

Those suicidal thoughts would come back to haunt him later.

Being the first-born of three children, Harris was the one most likely to succeed. As fate would have it, his two failed attempts at university made him the black sheep of the family.

“I remember coming back home and my younger sister had graduated and my parents were super stoked, and here I am, the first child and I didn’t even get it together. Very quickly, she got a job and started earning money. She began buying things for the house and taking care of responsibilities and started giving me an allowance. I remember she gave me N10,000 ($28) and I was very grateful because I didn’t have any money,” says Harris.

“Like all African parents, my parents started complaining and reminding me about how I wasted their money and how I failed. How the children of others were working in [companies like] Shell and I was just at home.

“I would hide from friends and family members when they visited so I wouldn’t have to tell them my situation. The next month, my sister gave me N5,000 ($14) and I couldn’t ask her where the other N5,000 had gone. She was such a high-flyer that within six months, she moved into her own place and bought a car and here I am, first-born and I couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas card,” avers Harris.

Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“One day, my sister asked me to come over to her house for my monthly allowance. I went in and she had everything I wanted, she had a flat-screen TV, the whole nine yards, and I was just sitting there comparing my little sister with myself and I was thinking ‘there is no way I was ever going to catch up with her’. We were talking and in the middle of the conversation, I pissed her off and she said, ‘I am not even going to give you any more money’ and she kicked me out of her house.

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“I felt so embarrassed and ashamed and here I was, the one who everyone thought was most likely to succeed and I was being kicked out of my younger sister’s house because I didn’t have money. That messed with my mind. I remember sitting at home and I had bought rat poison. I kept thinking that it would be so much better to die than being alive and subjected to the misery I was giving my parents,” says Harris.

As he sat down with the box of poison, mentally preparing himself to end the pain and embarrassment he had brought to his family, one of his siblings walked into the house, in the nick of time.

“That is what stopped me. Then, I also found out that if you commit suicide, you will go to hell and here I am, living my own hell on earth and if I died, you are telling me I am going to be in hell forever?”

That was the wakeup call Harris so desperately needed.

He began to work his way up, starting off with volunteer jobs such as being a church driver for his pastor and also working as an office assistant with Fela Durotoye, a management consultant and recent presidential candidate of the Nigerian elections.

Harris grew through the ranks until he became a management consultant before starting off on his own entrepreneurial journey. Amid the challenges of finding his true purpose, certain thoughts came to his mind that changed his outlook towards life forever. He began asking himself: ‘why am I on this earth?’, ‘how can I make enough money to take care of myself and my family?’ and ‘how do I use my talent to help others?’

He found the answers in books on business written by authors such as Tom Peters and Michael Porter. That is when Harris first discovered he had a penchant for success.

And with his ability to overcome failure, Harris is now on a mission to empower millennials to look inward at their strengths and inner power, and with his able guidance, build brands that can beat the odds and survive, just as he did. 

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