DAniel Křetínský has made a fortune buying the leftovers of the old economy. The Czech billionaire owns a handful of coal companies, and in recent years has made waves with investments in pillars of the old economy, such as retailers, supermarkets and newspapers.
Křetínský holds his letters so close to his chest that he earned the nickname the “Czech Sphinx” from a Polish magazine. The moniker has stuck, but the profile of the businessman outside his homeland has grown after a series of acquisitions.
That has included football clubs, the surest way for a wealthy businessman to get noticed, starting with Sparta Prague in 2004 and followed by West Ham last week. West Ham’s stake, reportedly valued at between £ 180 million and £ 200 million by 27%, has already raised the hopes of the club’s supporters for big signings, although neither Křetínský nor the club have revealed any details of their plans.
In the stock market, Křetínský has also gone for household names, racking up large positions at Sainsbury’s and Royal Mail, whose executives confirmed that he has discussed strategy with them.
His bets on both appear to have paid off: Since his investment vehicle Vesa Equity Investment increased its stake in Sainsbury’s to 9.9% in April, the supermarket’s share price has risen by a fifth, generating profits. on paper over 100 million pounds. Royal Mail’s share price has nearly tripled since Vesa first bought it. On Thursday, Royal Mail delivered a £ 200 million dividend, of which Vesa should get around £ 38 million, based on a 19% stake that is now worth more than £ 900 million.
Křetínský declined to be interviewed. A spokesman said that “he is not afraid to go against the current, when others sell, he buys and vice versa.” Vesa is considered a long-term strategic investor, the spokesperson added.
In the US, Křetínský has bought stakes in Macy’s department store and trainers retailer Foot Locker, while in Europe he holds positions in German retailer-turned-wholesaler Metro and French newspaper Le Monde.
This latest purchase was perhaps the most controversial, as journalists at one of France’s official newspapers were alarmed by what a Czech investor who made his money on gas and gas pipelines in Eastern Europe might want to do with a headline that reports on prominently on the climate crisis. and on Russia’s increasingly authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin.
However, the newspaper’s reporters have found no evidence to back up those fears. In a rare 2019 interview with the New York Times, Křetínský insisted that he was happy to remain a minority shareholder in Le Monde, and that he had fallen in love with France while watching films from the country as a child.
The son of a computer science professor and a senior judge, Křetínský studied political science and then law at the doctoral level at Masaryk University in Brno. He joined the J&T bank in 1999, becoming an equity partner and entering the world of negotiators. like Patrik Tkáč, a J&T founder who is also a co-owner of Vesa, and Petr Kellner, who died as the richest man in the Czech Republic in a helicopter crash in March. . Kretinsky’s longtime partner, Anna Kellnerova, is Kellner’s daughter.
When Energetický a průmyslový holding (Energy and Industrial Holding, or EPH) parted ways with the bank in 2009, it became a shareholder. He and Tkáč bought the other partners in 2014, and Křetínský now has 50%, while Tkáč has 44%. The company bought a number of coal plants and gas assets, including pipelines and storage, and claims to employ more than 24,000 people across Europe.
EPH has bought four power plants in the UK and, to the surprise of some observers, has set out to upgrade them. EPH demolished the Eggborough coal plant in North Yorkshire to build a new gas version and converted Lynemouth in Northumberland to run on biomass. In 2017, it purchased two gas power plants from Centrica: one at Langage in Devon and one at South Humber Bank in Lincolnshire.
Křetínský has also garnered other hallmarks of the billionaire class – his name appeared on the Filtration of Panama Papers of offshore archives, in relation to a British Virgin Islands company called Wonderful Yacht Holdings Limited. Křetínský’s spokesman said the company was used to transfer ownership of a catamaran that is mainly kept in the Caribbean. There has been no tax evasion or concealment of the property, the spokesperson said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism