How does entrepreneur MARTIN VENTER strive to sow hope in a Cape Winelands valley? 

‘My vision is to transform this valley for all its people,’ says Martin Venter, founder of Val de Vie, a luxury residential estate in South Africa’s winelands  |  Photo: Nicky Elliott
Founder and CEO of Val de Vie, a residential estate near Franschhoek in South Africa, Martin Venter grew up in slightly less leafy Kempton Park, on Gauteng’s East Rand. He attended Hoërskool Jeugland, studied law at Pretoria University and worked as an attorney before going into property development. Martin is married to Lizelle, a doctor with an interest in paediatric emergencies, and they live on the estate with their son and daughter, aged 4 and 7. Here he speaks to SUSAN BENTLEY about the estate, his core business principles and his hopes for the local young people he mentors…

The impetus for Val de Vie? When I was 13 I had a dream of a valley with a river, vineyards, horses, and an old house. Later I felt called to establish a safe and secure place where families could live and grow. I searched for the right place over the years and found it in 2002 – just as it was in my dream: a valley, the Berg river, vineyards, horses and an old house built in 1783 by Abraham Andries Le Roux, one of the first French Huguenot pioneers.

Why the name Val de Vie? The vision was a place of life for families, and this is what val de vie means: valley of life. We chose a French name relating to the original French Huguenot settlers here. It’s a simple name, easily expressed by people, whatever language they speak.

Val de Vie estate, created by Martin as a safe place for families to grow, was named top residential estate in South Africa last year

The Val de Vie Foundation? The foundation’s a natural continuation of that vision of growth in the valley. The wellbeing of the people in the entire valley is important, not just the wellbeing of the people living at Val de Vie. I believe God gave to me, and many other individuals, this vision to transform the valley. The foundation works closely with non-governmental and Christian organisations, as well as with the Hanneli Rupert Trust in the areas of job creation, discipleship, education and social upliftment.

Its central aim? To ensure a sustainable, economically viable legacy that’s structured to go on even if the current management is no longer involved. A true legacy can function without you.

Your role in it? Overseeing strategy and mentoring young entrepreneurs. For me, the spiritual element is the most important aspect of this. I firmly believe that central to who you are, is where you find your identity. If you find it in the world, it’s a mess, there’s no future in that. If you find your identity in Christ, you’ve got a life, whatever you do.

But, on earth, you must give a guy a job. We invest in entrepreneurs who start businesses that lead to job creation. People find dignity by creating their own sustainable businesses, not by getting something for free.

One young man mentored by Martin is Cheslin Grobbler, manager of the Fleet Coffee Company in Paarl. ‘My heart is now to train guys to become successful, positive influences in the community,’ says Cheslin

Your strengths? I’m a strategist and a deal maker and can structure business transactions to benefit all parties, allowing everyone involved to accomplish their goals.

Dislikes? I get the shivers when I walk into a business meeting and the guy wants to open in prayer because he knows I’m a Christian. People aren’t always humble enough to recognise the fact that we don’t always hear God’s guiding through the Holy Spirit correctly but we must recognise that. I don’t think God always intends us to know exactly what to do because we’re not robots. He wants us to discover certain things and assess certain situations. In my view, that’s how we grow and mature spiritually.

So you believe God guides you? Yes. I firmly believe it’s all about your relationship with the Holy Spirit. The more sensitive you are to his guidance, the fewer mistakes you will make. We’ll always make mistakes – we’re human.  The real question is: am I humble enough to accept the will of God, and to search for that constantly, especially for my longer-term goals?

Role models? It’s good to read biographies about successful people but always remember that same person has many flaws. So know your own vision, then jump the hurdles and solve problems of feasibility and business relevance for yourself.

Martin with England’s Prince Harry at Val de Vie, which hosted Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup to raise money for HIV-affected communities in Lesotho

Tough times? I believe perseverance is important, and that God walks a path with each individual human being. Your calling is unique, unlike anyone else’s, so you’re not in competition with anyone. Minimise your risk as far as possible. Businesses can fail because people ignore risks or take them unnecessarily.

Core principles? It’s important to seek understanding, to be humble and teachable and learn from others. I enjoy gathering knowledge and greater understanding from people, mentors and consultants, but I still make the final decision. And so I must also take responsibility for the consequences of my own decisions, whether business or personal.

Val de Vie’s wire steeds for those craving more horses | Photo: Nicky Elliot

Click here to read about the transformation of Martin’s mentee, Cheslin, pictured above

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