“I love working for a company that embraces change and innovation,” says Gary Segal, the new CEO of Cheli & Peacock. “I’m excited about the challenge of blending even newer ideas into an established and well-respected company.
Gary assumed leadership of the esteemed East African safari company last May, as founders Stefano Cheli and Liz Peacock took a step back from the day-to-day running of a business known for pioneering new safari camps, lodges and adventures.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, but also an exciting new chapter for my family — living in Nairobi and getting to know Kenya and Tanzania as well as we know many of the other parts of Africa.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Gary discovered from an early age that he was much more comfortable in the African bush than the urban jungle of Johannesburg. “Even at a young age, I never felt settled in a big-city environment. Any opportunity I had, I tried to escape to the bush.”
Gary also showed an early aptitude for cooking. Encouraged by friends and family, he studied and then launched into a career as a chef. “So I went into the insane world of cooking. Hot kitchens weren’t for me ultimately… but I am still really passionate about cooking. It has stood me in good stead over the years… I have gotten stuck into many a lodge kitchen struggling to keep up with an event”
Leaving Joburg behind, he headed for the wide open spaces and a new career managing wildlife areas and safari camps.
He worked his way up the ranks, from senior ranger at Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, lodge manager at Kwetsani Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and general manager of three Imbali lodges in Kruger National Park.
“Even though I was managing a private concession in Kruger, it gave me the chance to work alongside the people who were developing of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park — a massive new conservation area that includes Kruger and parks across the border in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
There was a strong focus on community development in the transfrontier region, a skill that Gary took with him to his next job — launching and managing Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Bwindi for Wild Places Africa in Uganda.
“I call it the ‘eat, pray, love’ chapter of my life,” he laughs. “Before the lodge was finished, my wife and I were living out of a tent.
“Because the local community had full ownership, we were able to help people understand the positive impact that tourism can have. When we first arrived in Bwindi, the poaching rate was very high. But due to vast effort, training and implementation of agricultural projects, it reduced by 95%.”
Gary went to Mozambique to open and run the exclusive White Pearl Resort, Ponta Mamoli, and then moved back to Uganda as group general manager for Wildplaces Africa and The Uganda Safari Company in Kampala, the post he held for 5 years before coming over to Cheli & Peacock in mid-2017.
“This is the real deal,” Gary says of East Africa. “The authentic safari experience. Especially the ones offered by Cheli & Peacock and Elewana, which already have a strong infrastructure and all systems in place before my arrival.”
He says his primary task, at least in the beginning, is helping Cheli & Peacock evolve their DMC role and work closely with overseas agents… building and deepening relationships. “Educating the trade, helping them plan trips and discover new things in East Africa. Those are the broad spectrum goals for what I’m trying to do over the next few years.” That, and raising a family in Nairobi.
“I definitely pride myself on being a true tourism all-rounder,” Segal explains. “I’m a believer in being able to do a job myself before expecting others to do it. Having gone through ‘the university of life’ I have a practical mindset in how things should work in the safari business. My ironing may not be too hot,” he laughs, “but I am pretty good at just about everything else.”