Dr Johann Peter Rupert was born 1 June 1950, grew up in Stellenbosch, and completed his secondary education at Paul Roos Gymnasium before enrolling at Stellenbosch University (SU) for a degree in economics and company law. He gave up his studies before graduating in order to pursue a career in business, but in 2005 SU awarded him an honorary doctorate in economics. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate in commerce from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2008.
After leaving SU, Rupert went abroad and completed his business apprenticeship in New York City. During the next five years, he worked for Chase Manhattan, as well as for Lazard Freres. During 1979 he made a return to South Africa and founded Rand Merchant Bank, of which he was CEO. When the company merged with Rand Consolidated Investments five years later, he left to join his family’s business, the Rembrandt Group. In 1989 he became vice-chairman of the Group and was promoted to chairman in 1991. 1988 saw him establish Richemont as an upshot of the Rembrandt Group Limited.
Over time, Rupert has also displayed a passion for conservation and philanthropy – he has conserved about 25 000 hectares in the Graaff Reinet area, for example – and has served as council/board member or trustee of The South Africa Foundation, Peace Parks Foundation, The Southern African Nature Foundation, The Institute of Directors in Southern Africa, Business South Africa, as well as the South African Academy for Science and Art. In addition, he is a managing trustee and member of the investment committee for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and served on the Daimler Chrysler International Advisory Board.
In 2009 he succeeded Dr F Van Zyl Slabbert as SU’s fourteenth chancellor (a position he currently occupies).
The awards and accolades that Rupert has received to date include being named Business Leader of the Year (several times) by Die Burger, Sunday Times and the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he was named as one of 200 International Leaders of the Future at the 1992 World Economic Forum in Switzerland and received the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur from the president of France in 2009.
In September 2018, Rupert was awarded the Appeal of Conscience World Leader Award for 2018 in New York for his philanthropy and work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.