LOVE, LAND AND LEGACY
For second-gen South African and CEO of Thanda Group, Pierre Delvaux, the journey to launching the Thanda Royal Residences has been anything but ordinary.
When Swedish billionaire Dan Olofsson suggested naming his South African Safari enterprise the Zulu word for ‘love’, his then management consultant and second-generation South African, Pierre Delvaux was the first to question it. “The Zulu do not really have a word for love,” Pierre explains, “But when I said ‘Thanda’, which means affection or ‘I like you’, Dan immediately liked the name. For me it felt bizarre to call your company love, or affection; but he was adamant that this was a project of love.”
Despite Pierre’s initial reluctance and amusement at associating a business operation with love, his connection with it so far has proven to be nothing short of a romantic saga. From having spent his entire childhood camping on Thanda’s grounds to eventually getting married on them, Pierre has devoted over 15 years of his life to shaping this pristine expanse of wilderness into one of the most coveted hospitality properties in the world. Now standing as Dan’s right-hand man and CEO of the Thanda Group, Pierre is championing his labour of love’s most treasured offering yet – The Thanda Royal Residences.
A Touch Of Serendipity
Chalking it up to either destiny or fate, Pierre shares that it was actually love that first brought his family to South Africa. A dramatic tale of love and war, Pierre’s grandfather, who was a professor of music in Belgium and his grandmother, a stately countess from Poland, escaped from Belgium under German occupation during World War 1 and later eloped to South Africa on a steam ship. They soon opened a music school in Durban where Pierre’s father, now 93 years of age, was born. Pierre himself was born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1969 and grew up camping on a cattle and game farm that would eventually become the original footprint for the Thanda Royal Residences. “I spent my whole childhood on this property in the wilderness among animals, camping around the fire under the stars, and learning to drive on its roads; I have a lifetime of memories with my family on that farm,” he wistfully recalls.
It was also through his time on and connections from the farm that Pierre first met Dan. Then a partner at an accounting and management consultancy practice, Pierre can still remember how their conversation went. “I had worked through the last two nights to deliver the feasibility and financial reports that Dan had requested on such short notice. But he took one look at it and said no, this is not what he wants.” However, as they got talking about what Dan really wanted, the land and the people, the conversation took a turn for the favourable. “I spoke Zulu, I had grown up in the area, and I had a lot of clients that owned game farms or worked with game farming. A few questions later Dan asked me what my rate per hour was. I should have doubled it,” Pierre jokes. “But I told him the truth and he said ‘you are hired’ and shook my hand. That is where it all began.”
Pierre with Thanda patron and Founding Member, the Zulu King His Majesty King Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuzulu during the 2006 signing of the Thanda licence agreement.
A Labour Of Love
In 2002, Pierre began the mammoth task of setting up the land that would eventually cover the massive Thanda Wildlife Reserve and Safari Lodge. “Because I knew the locals, I was able to negotiate the acquisition of neighbouring farms. In 2003, I was appointed as a Director for Thanda, which I saw not just as a responsibility, but as an exciting and adventurous opportunity.” Shortly after, Pierre oversaw the opening of the Thanda Safari Lodge in May 2004 and by the end of the year, he was working full time with Dan as CEO of the Thanda Group.
Initially intended to be only a private residence for the Olofssons, the idea of Thanda eventually expanded into one of a safari lodge and wildlife reserve. This called for significant efforts to restore the cattle farm into a natural habitat for big game animals. As Pierre explains, “My brief was that once Dan decided it would be a commercial product, it had to be the best. So we set out to build the best of the best, no expense spared, rehabilitating the land and reintroducing indigenous game animals.” Thanda Safari now stands as one of the world’s most unique and exclusive African destinations, as well as a global beacon for wildlife conservation. Apart from the multitude of awards under its belt, the lodge is also managed by the highly coveted Leading Hotels of The World group, which serves as a guarantee of its service and experiential excellence.
The Royal Residences
As CEO, it was Pierre’s job to expand on the brand’s values and develop its potential. More than anything, Pierre explains, it was about duplicating the surreal lifestyle that Dan and his family enjoyed into something other people could enjoy as well. This is how the concept of the Thanda Royal Residences was formed. “Dan’s family live like kings and queens and princes and princesses, with all their hundreds of friends and family. I have observed this for years and I can only describe Thanda Royal Residences as a key that opens the door to the most incredible lifestyle in the most beautiful place.”
Situated 23 km north of Hluhluwe, approximately 260 km north of Durban, the Thanda Royal Residences span over 7,000 hectares of virgin wilderness that were once the ancestral hunting grounds of Zulu kings. As Pierre passionately describes, “When you sit out around the campfire, our ancestors, thousands of years ago saw, experienced, smelled, and felt exactly the same as you can do right now. It is the same stars, the same animals. Nothing has really changed.” Comprising a total of 44 expansive and decadently furnished freehold private villas, the residences range from 350 sq m to 1,000 sq m in size and are located across vistas as diverse as mountain tops or river banks in pristine African bushveld.
As CEO of Thanda, Pierre is now the right-hand man of Swedish Billionaire and Founder of Thanda, Dan Olofsson.
A Privileged Circle
While most elite clubs and resorts around the world offer glimpses of exclusivity through memberships and temporary getaways, Pierre observed that the inclusion of a tangible full title asset on a protected nature reserve was indeed a rarity. “Some 10 years ago, The Yellowstone Club in Montana was the most exclusive residence club in the world, as they offered a combination of lifestyle, equity and ownership. That inspired me to duplicate the most exclusive club in America, in Africa,” he explains.
Asset apart, owning a Royal Residence also comes with a set of unique other benefits that immediately induct the owner into a privileged circle of royalty and billionaire philanthropists. For example, owners will have close association with the Zulu King Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuzulu, who is a patron and founding member of the Thanda Group. This also includes invitations to exclusive soirees, where ‘Founder Member’ (the first seven buyers) villa owners will be seated at the King’s table. All owners will also automatically become active benefactors to the Thanda Foundation, which is doing groundbreaking work in the fields of conservation and social change in Africa. “Through our different foundations we address helping children, education, and HIV/AIDS awareness. On the conservation side we are very involved in protecting and preserving endangered species like the rhino and cheetah, alongside marine projects that focus on vulnerable species like the dugong and whale shark.”
The membership does not come easy, however, as each owner is personally vetted by Dan, Pierre and the Zulu King before being allowed into the exclusive circle. As Pierre notes, “It is not about money. You can have all the money in the world but ultimately, these are the people we will be sharing New Year’s Eve, charity balls and enjoying unique experiences with.” With such selectivity in place, the power of association at the Thanda Royal Residences is anything but trifling, as Pierre knows all too well. “If I just think of what Dan and his family have achieved, that 15 years ago no one here knew who they were and today, they are the largest private investors and philanthropists from Sweden in Africa. That is just one family; now we are looking for 41 other people to join us and explore what they can do to help others. Can you imagine what is possible? Can you imagine the opportunities?”
Having spent his entire childhood on the same land, Pierre came full circle when he got married on the grounds of Thanda Safari.
This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 47 - Mar 2018