Despite obtaining three disctinctions, he could not afford full time tertiary education destroying his hopes of becoming a chemical engineer. Instead, he started working for Kessel Feinstein and qualified as an accountant
Donald Gordon is perhaps best known for Liberty Life, the life assurance company he started in 1958 with R100,000 when he was only 27 years old. By the end of the 1958 it had a total of 83 policies on its books. From the day of its inception, Liberty had followed the guidelines Donald established in 1955 - cash flow (insurance) linked to the compounding effect of property investments.
From this base, Liberty grew and in 1962 listed on the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) with first year earnings (after listing) of R32,000. His stated long-term property investment target in 1970, was to have R100m in property in 1980. In 1980, it was in fact R228m and due to strong inflation it was R630m in 1982. In 1985 Liberty's UK property investment arm, Capital & Counties Plc, was used to form Liberty International.
In 1999 he retired as chairman of Liberty Life, by then the third largest insurer in South Africa, and 'retired' to London. He continued working on expanding Liberty International's portfolio of regional shopping centres to a portfolio worth around R72 billion (6b pounds). He chaired his last board meeting of Liberty International on 24 June 2005. His family's shareholding in Liberty International still makes him the third richest South African (he now has dual citizenship in the UK and South Africa) after Nicky Oppenheimer and Johan Rupert.
Donald Gordon's legacy is one of more than just the building of two corporate giants in two countries, but its also a legacy of philanthropy. His charitable donations, through the Donald Gordon Foundation (DGF), include R1m to his old school, King Edward VII; funding a new boarding house at this school; 20m pounds to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Wales Millenium Centre; R100m for the Wits University Hospital; R30m for the Gordon Institute of Business at Wits.