The South African who built a secretive $100 billion Silicon Valley empire

South African entrepreneur Divesh Makan has built a secretive investment empire in Silicon Valley with many billionaires, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, as clients.

Makan was born in Durban and attended the prestigious Michaelhouse school in Pietermaritzburg. His parents were entrepreneurs.

He completed an electrical engineering degree at the University of Natal before moving to the United States, where he did an MBA at the Wharton School of Finance.

Makan served as a vice president at Goldman Sachs and an executive director at Morgan Stanley.

During this time, he built strong relationships with young entrepreneurs before they became famous.

His big break came in the early 2000s when he established relationships with the big players at Facebook.

One of his clients was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who introduced him to other influential executives, including Sheryl Sandberg and Dustin Moskovitz.

In 2011, Makan and ten of his former colleagues established Iconiq to serve as independent wealth advisors to their clients.

Iconiq functions as a hybrid family office that provides its clients with specialised financial advisory, private equity, venture capital, real estate, and philanthropic services.

The firm primarily serves ultra-high-net-worth clients in technology, high finance, and entertainment.

Most of the people Iconiq and Makan work with have at least $1 billion in assets and $250 million in liquidity.

The firm has a reputation for being secretive. Makan is notoriously publicity-shy, and it is rumoured that he required clients to sign non-disclosure agreements.

He has built a global network of billionaires, entrepreneurs, wealthy families, and foreign sovereign funds.

Makan is known for organising private functions where his wealthy clients can connect and do business.

Today, Iconiq is a big player in the investment space. It manages $80 billion for families and has $100 billion in assets under advisement.

The company has four divisions – investment management, growth investing, real estate and infrastructure, and an impact fund focussing on philanthropy.

It has a global presence with offices in London, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Singapore, and New York.

Divesh Makan interview

Divesh Makan and his family

Makan told David Rubenstein in a recent Bloomberg Wealth that he left South Africa for the United States to join Anderson Consulting as a consultant.

He was excited about helping businesses and advising them about what they should do to grow. It included working with private equity firms.

Makan quickly realized that having an MBA was important to ensure he knew the lingo associated with the private equity world.

He attended The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he excelled. However, it took hard work.

“The people at the top end of our class were astronomically smart. I had to make up with hard work to keep up,” he said.

He then moved to Goldman Sachs in the asset management division and later moved to Morgan Stanley.

In 2011, he went on his own with a strong focus on partnering with entrepreneurs and joining them on their financial journey.

From the outset, they focussed on building a community through nurturing long-term relationships.

The strategy works. Today, Iconiq has some of the largest investors in the world as clients, including sovereign funds and endowments.

Makan explained that they are very discerning about who they invite to be part of their investment family as the business is not scalable.

“For us to do things at the level of service and to find the right pockets to invest in, we have to be discerning on who we take on board,” he said.

To ensure these clients receive the required returns, Iconiq has three investment funds – data centres, growth equity, and the family office.

All their investment funds have achieved exceptionally well and are in the top sections of their respective sectors.

He is particularly upbeat about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and the money flowing into the field.

“The biggest things we are going to see in our lifetime is the picks and shovels driving AI,” Makan said.

“That is all around the data centre space. Look at how you can get exposure to hyper scalers, which we think will be the biggest winner in the AI and data storage space.”


Top JSE indices