Since 1902

Billionaire's world in 'Little Italy'

Inside a billionaire’s world in ‘Little Italy’

Kileken leaned on the metallic post supporting the intriguing signpost: Billionaire Resort and Retreat. His eyes were trained on the waves lapping the sandy beach below the sign. He had a sling in his hand and with it, he warded off the pesky Indian house crows that have a habit of interrupting diners at the nearby restaurant.

“Kajiado kumenyesha?” Kileken may be working at what is probably the most luxurious establishment along Kenya’s coast but all he wanted to know was whether the cows in his upcountry home will have enough fodder.

I answer in the affirmative. He just nods and flaps the catapult again. Some crows scatter away in a frenzy. Just another day in the office for Kileken.

It has been close to five years since I visited Malindi, and like many urban centres in Kenya, the town’s first impressions were poor.

Hawkers, boda bodas, the works. Back then, an acquaintance suggested I try the ‘Italian side’ of Malindi — the rich enclave south of Malindi running parallel to the Indian Ocean and dotted with magnificent villas, most of them owned by well-heeled Italians.

None of these though, have a rich history as Falvio Briatore’s creation that began with his private home at the Lion in the Sun which, together with luxury villas, forms the Billionaire Resort and Retreat.

Briatore loves the fine things in life and the name he chose for this exclusive set of hospitality and entertainment segments epitomises this spirit.

“Even if a bit arrogant… it is a name you do not forget,” he once said of the brand name, Billionaire.

The Malindi resort joins his other masterpieces among them the Billionaire Dubai, whose famous patrons include international celebrities such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather, and where Will and Jaden Smith have performed in the past.

I have never had the privilege of meeting the Italian billionaire. My friend Kileken, he of the Indian crows and the slingshot, is a man of few words and only said the boss is a “good man”.

Flavio Briatore, like many successful business people, had a humble beginning. He was not a child of privilege. His parents in Verzuolo near Cuneo, Italy, were elementary school teachers.

After a high school diploma in surveying, he started to work as an insurance agent before moving to Cuneo in 1974 where he worked as an executive for Conafi, a subsidiary of the Italian Stock Exchange.

The budding entrepreneur took up a real estate project in Sardinia, the Isola Rossa, a holiday resort complex that he sold a year later to a local entrepreneur.

The following year, Briatore became a partner and founder of Cuneo Leasing, which became the biggest leasing company in Italy before it was acquired by the De Benedetti Group.

Two years later, Briatore was appointed managing director of paints leader Paramatti, becoming the youngest person to hold such a post for a non-family-owned Italian, listed company.

Later, in Milan, Briatore met entrepreneur Luciano Benetton, who would later play a key role in Briatore’s career.

Inside a billionaire’s world in ‘Little Italy’

In the late 1980s, Briatore attended his first Formula One race at the Australian Grand Prix. For his love of the sport, Briatore was appointed by Benetton as commercial director of his England-based F1 team, Benetton Formula.

As managing director, he set about turning Benetton Formula into a competitive team by bringing a unique and innovative management style.

He believed F1 was not only a sport but also a spectacle and a business, concentrating on marketing and communication as key elements to attract and secure wealthy sponsors and prestigious partners.

It was Briatore who snatched young driver Michael Schumacher from the Jordan team and built up the team around the talented German, who then won the driver’s championship in 1994. In 1995, the team achieved a double success, with Schumacher claiming the World Drivers’ Championship and Benetton Formula winning the World Constructors’ Championship.

The Italian’s love for sports was also demonstrated in 2006 when he, together with Bernie Ecclestone, bought the English soccer team Queens Park Rangers.

The pair later sold the club in 2011, after the first three matches in the Premier League, to Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandez.

In 1998, Briatore opened a nightclub in Costa Smeralda, the forerunner to the Billionaire brand. It was hailed as the favourite nightspot for the moneyed and became a renowned international brand synonymous with glamour and quality entertainment.

Today, the outfit is a global luxury services company that includes nightclubs, restaurants, beach clubs, hotels and resorts, with Malindi flying the brand’s flag in the region.

Here, the rich and famous, the inconspicuous and introverts sample life on the high street. And here, Kileken continues to swing his sling. He no longer worries about the rains in Kajiado.