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Biography of Sol KERZNER

South Africa > Business : Sol KERZNER

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Born on 23/08/1935 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Solomon Kerzner (b.August 1935), is the South African chairman and CEO of Kerzner international , a bilionnaire real estate tycoon and operator of destination resorts.

 Kerzner International owns the lavish Atlantis hotel and casino resort in the Bahamas and acquired its first UK gaming licence. His Bahamas-based company, Kerzner International, has bought into the beleaguered London Clubs International (LCI) - one of Britain's premier casino businesses that has recently fallen from grace - perfectly positioning himself to enter the soon-to-be-deregulated British gaming market.

It is 13 years since Kerzner, creator of the notorious Sun City and Lost City resorts, left South Africa under a cloud of alleged bribery, transferring his focus to the Caribbean and the United States, where he now owns mega-casino hotels in the Bahamas, Connecticut and Atlantic City. Each time he has sought to open a casino in a new territory, his controversial reputation has travelled before him and he has had to convince the local gaming board he is a person to be trusted. Each time he has eventually prevailed.

Kerzner's parents were Russian Jewish  immigrants to South Africa who settled in the seaside resort of Durban, where they had four children and made a living running a small kosher hotel on the beach front. It is said that Kerzner was bullied as a child, and enrolled in boxing classes to learn to defend himself. He toughened up further while doing national service and when he graduated from the South African army, he did an accountancy degree at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

As the resistance movement against apartheid in South Africa began to take off, so did Kerzner's business career. In 1960, the year of the Sharpeville massacre, in which 67 people were killed protesting against the South African government, 25-year-old Kerzner bought the Palace hotel in Durban, a small operation he soon turned to profit. His next move was to buy the Beverly Hills hotel in Umhlanga, which became South Africa's first five-star hotel. Slowly, he expanded the franchise to 31 hotels and built a hospitality empire that would culminate, in 1979, with the opening of Sun City.

Kerzner's own politics remain largely unknown, although he has tried to make a case for Sun City being a blow against apartheid - not a convincing one - and has contributed to the ANC coffers. Friends say that he is "straight down the middle" and never took much interest in the anti-apartheid struggle - at least, not until its leading lights were in government and positions of influence. But his closeness to Mandela is beyond question. As well as helping pay for Nelson's daughter's wedding, he secretly gave money to the ANC when only Mandela knew, and Mandela praised him as "by far the greatest entrepreneur in this country's tourist business".

In 1975, he opened his first overseas hotel, Le Saint Géran, in Mauritius and eventually sold off most of his South African holdings, including Sun City. He then moved his interests to the Bahamas, where he set about creating Atlantis. When it was completed in 1998, Michael Jackson sang at the opening.

While his business empire expanded, so too did Kerzner's family, but his homelife has been beset by tragedy. In 1978, his second wife, Shirley, committed suicide, from which friends say he has never fully recovered. His son, Butch (howard)- whom he elected to succeed him as head of the business, and who liked to claim, with a flair reminiscent of his father's, that Atlantis rivalled Disney in the US for "brand awareness" - was killed lin a helicopter crash over the Dominican Republic, aged 42.
Butch Kerzner built a partnership with the Dubai royal family that secured its investment in Kerzner International and was instrumental in securing land for a -second Atlantis resort on the Palm Dubai, which opens next year. He was negotiating with the Singapore government over a casino licence, building the One&Only brand and scouring the world for other development projects.

 Butch Kerzner died on October 11 2006 in a helicopter crash while overlooking potential development sites in the Dominican Republic. "Obviously it's a huge setback in my life. Life wasn't quite the same," says Kerzner, who speaks with affection for his son, demonstrating respect for him as a business partner and pride in seeing the boy make the grade in the same profession.
Sol Kerzner divides his time between his resort properties and his homes in South Africa, England and the South of France. He was the first non-American to be inducted into the US Gaming Hall of Fame and was given a lifetime achievement award by FEDHASA, South Africa's major tourism agency.


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Last update : 09/12/2008

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