Bill Venter 2001


In his personal capacity and as the Head of the Altron Group William Peter Venter, affectionately and respectfully known as Bill Venter, has not only provided a distinguished example of outstanding South African entrepreneurship and achievement at the highest level of international marketing and blue chip investment, but he has also made his mark as a compassionate supporter of the disadvantaged in our society. In particular he has played an inspiring role in positioning the Eastern Cape to meet the demands of the 21st century through programmes to promote large-scale job creation and the empowerment of people of colour, as well as through the provision of housing, education, health care and sporting facilities at the Altron Group's facilities in Port Elizabeth.

In addition to his numerous acts of personal charity in assisting those who cannot help themselves, such as needy students or impoverished patients requiring expensive medical treatment, Dr Bill Venter personally funded (at a cost of over R2 million) the restoration of President Mandela's old schools at Ounu and Nkalane near Umtata in the Eastern Cape. He is currently funding a school at a cost of R2,5 million for the Bomvana people at Elliotdale.

The philosophy of both Altron and the Bill Venter Foundation has always been to eradicate poverty wherever possible while remaining true to freedom and democracy.

As a champion of the African Renaissance, Altron is also one of the largest corporate donors to the upliftment of our country's citizens and, for example, pays the fees of 80 university students, the majority of whom are from disadvantaged communities. Dr Venter symbolised his personal dedication and his Foundation's ongoing support and commitment to human rights in South Africa, with the refurbishment of the Bram Fischer Library, housing some of South Africa's most valuable papers, including those of the Rivonia Trial.

Some of his programmes support the efforts of educational institutions and training facilities. In fact, one of the first winners of the Bill Venter Literary Award for the best literary work written by an academic at a South African university or technikon, was UPE's honorary professor in Biblical and Religion Studies Professor Wentzel van Huyssteen, at present the Princeton Theological Seminary's first James I McCord Professor of Theology.

Starting with a humble beginning as a pupil engineer at the Post Office and working his way up through part-time studies, Bill Venter has never lost his common touch and has always played a compassionate and constructive role in the broader society as well as caring for his employees in an exemplary way to ensure their well-being. He qualified himself as British Chartered Electrical Engineer and later as member of the British Institute of Marketing Management, and then at a very young age became Marketing Director for an international telecommunications company.

In 1965 he launched his own business - Allied Electric - with a small amount of capital, which eventually grew into the Altron Group, South Africa's largest technology group with sales of R11 billion a year. Altron consists of more than 145 electronic, power electrical, telecommunication, electronic systems and components, office automation and information technology companies. Dr Venter has recently handed over a great deal of the responsibility for the group to his son Robert.

More than 20 years ago Dr Venter recognised the potential of the Eastern Cape as a significant contributor to South Africa's economic and industrial growth and, through his Powertech operation, acquired the interests of both Aberdare Cables and Willard Batteries, today two of the most strategic components of the Altron group. In addition to providing a valuable source of income and employment for more than 3 500 people, both Aberdare Cables and Willard Batteries have played and continue to play a significant role in the social upliftment of the various communities of Port Elizabeth, through sponsorships, donations and financial assistance to educational bodies, sports clubs and the previously disadvantaged from all walks of life.

Some of Aberdare Cables (Standford Road) projects include the purchasing of computers for Vernon Gamanda School; printing for the Sithembi/e High School; donation of cables for the electrification of facilities at the Summerwood Primary School; a sponsorship programme at the Siyabona Educational Trust, donations for the Bethelsdorp Technical College and the electrification of the Helenvale United Football Club.

Aberdare's Markman manufacturing facility has invested heavily in the development of cricket in Port Elizabeth, mainly to assist previously disadvantaged persons to reach Eastern Province status. Other contributions include the upgrading of school fields in the Motherwell Township, the development of junior and senior soccer in Motherwell, the establishment of a creche in Motherwell, and support for the Missionvale Care Centre, Nazareth House and Eastern Province Children's Homes.

Aberdare and Willard Batteries have also recruited UPE students as management trainees as well as using the UPE Management Development Centre and UPE lecturers for training needs.

Dr Venter has also, through the Bill Venter Foundation, personally donated sizeable funds to the Port Elizabeth Mayoral Fund for the development of the city and its communities.

Bill Venter is a director of Anglo American Industrial Corporation, a director of Nedcor Bank, past chairman of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, member of the UN/SA School of Business Management and Ambassador for SA to the World Technology Advisory Council.

He has been awarded numerous marks of recognition for his achievements and contributions, including shields of honour, honorary professorships, gold medals, and honorary doctorates from the University of Northlands, Canada, the University of the Orange Free State and the University of Natal. His awards include SA's Marketing Man of the Year, one of SA's Top Five Businessmen of the Year (1978), an Honorary Fellowship of the SA Institute of Production Engineers; Honorary Vice-President of the Institute of Marketing Management, voted SA's best Chief Executive in a survey of 250 companies, first patron of the Electronic Industries Federation of SA, and patron of the Institute of Administration and Commerce of Southern Africa. He is also a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and was named Engineer of the Year by the SA Society for Professional Engineers (1995).

Bill Venter holds South Africa's highest honour awarded to private individuals - the Order for Meritorious Service Class 1 (Gold).

Dr Venter has played an exemplary role as top business magnate, reaching the highest levels in the business world, and has been a compassionate philanthropist actively involved in supporting his employees and the disadvantaged in the broader community. In recognition of the significant role he has played in the advancement and upliftment of the Eastern Cape as a region, the University wishes to honour him by conferring the degree Doctor of Commerce honoris causa on William Peter Venter.