PEERMONT, the name of Ernie Joubert’s hotel, gambling and leisure group, can be translated as “Peak of Nobility”. And this casino king has his own crown, at the top of his company’s logo.
For a king who’s showing signs of usurping Sol Kerzner, South Africa’s world-famous casino king, Joubert, Peermont Global’s chief executive, looked more like a boring businessman than the king of casinos.
But I soon realised that I was completely wrong, especially when Joubert agreed to pose for the photographer in his sunglasses and was really upset that he’d left his cigars and Panama hat at home.
But replacement props — a Marlboro and glass of Johnnie Walker — were quickly found.
Joubert, after all, was once in advertising. But he’s since learnt that investors in a listed company demand a story of growth and good fortune, told with some sense of seriousness.
He is clearly the right man to tell the tale. He was in at the birth of Peermont, which started life as Global Resorts in 1993. Global Resorts had an office in the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) building and R2-million in seed capital.
Peermont has eight hotels and three casinos: Emperors Palace (formerly Caesars Gauteng) near Johannesburg International Airport, Graceland Hotel, Casino and Country Club in Secunda, Mondazur at San Lameer in KwaZulu-Natal, Grand Palm Hotel, Casino and Convention Resort in Gaborone, and the Syringa hotels in Gaborone and Francistown.
As well as being a raconteur, and a marketing and advertising guru, Joubert is a frustrated architect. He admits to having an obsession with tracing paper and redesigns architects’ plans for his hotels by making soon-to-be-discarded tracings over the originals until he finds a design that makes him happy.
“I’ve learnt to be demanding when it comes to design,” he said. “Once something is built, it’s difficult to change it.”
Joubert “pays attention to every square metre”. When he goes out or visits another group’s hotels he often paces out the rooms and piazzas to estimate their measurements.
When part of Emperors Palace was being designed, Joubert retreated to his boardroom, armed with tracing paper and pens, for most of December and the beginning of January. When he emerged the design was perfect.
“After the twentieth plan, I was happy,” he said.
“Do you think you’re like Sol?” I asked him, having heard stories about how the Sun King ordered that recently built buildings be demolished when they didn’t stand up to his scrutiny.
“I’m my own person,” he replied. “I’m not a Sol but I am very hands-on — in that respect I’m similar.”
Joubert worked for Kerzner for almost six years and says he “watched how Sol did it. He was demanding and difficult, but very inspiring.”
Joubert said his own management style was “very inclusive” and that he liked to make his employees feel involved.
“We debate things and they have the freedom to achieve.
“The company is still entrepreneurial and has the feel of a family business. Many of my best friends work here.”
Peermont, which listed in September, is still relatively small with a market capitalisation of only R2.5-billion and revenue of R917-million. But Joubert has plans to expand the group both locally and internationally.
Peermont’s bid for the contract for the development and management of a gaming resort in Singapore has been short-listed and the company is looking for other opportunities, particularly in the UK and US.
“We’ll look at attractive acquisition opportunities internationally, but we’ll be very careful,” Joubert said.
“When you buy something you usually know more about what you’re getting than when you build.”
He’s looking for development and management contracts here and abroad.
Back at home, Peermont could acquire more hotels and casinos, develop new sites from scratch and expand existing projects — if the omens are right.
Joubert started Peermont “because of the signs”.
He’d told Sun International that he would be leaving them but hadn’t decided where he would go.
“I was head-hunted from my own advertising agency to join a company so it was obvious that I was more of an entrepreneur than a corporate person,” he said.
He left advertising agency Joubert, Graham, Scott & Partners for Sun International.
It was on a business trip to the US that he decided he wanted to emulate Sun International. He wrote his 10-point business plan on a pocket notepad while at dinner with a colleague.
Searching for omens, he promised himself that if he won at the casino that night he would follow through on his business plan.
He won at blackjack, roulette and craps.
He bounced his ideas off his old university friend, FirstRand Bank chairman GT Ferreira, who agreed that RMB would lend Joubert R2-million as seed capital and give him an office.
“Next day, all hell broke loose,” Joubert said.
An article appeared in the Business Times with the headline: “RMB gambles on R1-billion new casino group”.
“Everyone thought I had R1-billion, which I didn’t, but I was inundated with calls.”
Joubert’s first acquisition was a bankrupt hotel in Gaborone.
“Investors were skeptical,” he said. “I had never before managed this type of business. I was a marketing guy.”
But his story was obviously persuasive because Peermont is now the highest-rated share in the leisure and hotels sector of the stock exchange on a price-to-earnings ratio of 16.
Though Joubert says he isn’t a gambler, except for a bit of fun and relaxation, he’s gambled a lot.
But the odds seem to be in his favour and, so far, he’s winning
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