For the first time in history a Slovak has made it onto the Forbes billionaires list. He is 49-year old Ivan Chrenko, a majority owner of the real estate developer HB Reavis. His fortune has been put at something in the region of $1.1 billion (bn), which places him 1,795th on Forbes’ rich list.
Even though Mr Chrenko is the richest Slovak, he does not communicate with the media about his wealth. Neither has he done so on this occasion. And, even the profile on Forbes of the Slovak-born businessman has no photo him.
Illustrating the endeavours of HB Reavis, the company was responsible for Aupark shopping centres and is currently working on the project of the bus station joined with a shopping centre, Stanica Nivy, in Bratislava, the Slovak capital. The company is active abroad too, for example in the Czech Republic, Poland and in London.
Chrenko went into the real estate business back in the early 1990s and HB Reavis developed the first business centers in Bratislava and the top shopping mall, which was later sold.
And last year, in one of the earliest big post-Brexit real-estate transactions HB Reavis sold the soon-to-be-completed site at 33 Central to U.S. bank Wells Fargo for a reported $400 million figure. In the Polish capital Warsaw it is building one of the highest buildings in Europe. The development at Varso Place in Warsaw, which is expected to be delivered between 2019 and 2020, will provide 140,000 sq m of gross leasable space.
A bundle of Czech banknotes, Czech Koruna (CZK) on white background. (Image: Shutterstock).
Meanwhile over in neighbouring Czech Republic, dubbed the ‘Land of Stories’, six men made onto the list of billionairesfor the country with one new entrant this time around. These individual's business empires span agriculture, banking and finance, coal mining, energy generation, oil and gas as well as real estate industries.
Andrej Babiš, one of them, is the nation’s Finance Minister, deputy prime minister and owner of the agrochemical firm Agrofert group, and of Slovak origin. He is cited as having a fortune of $3.4bn, which ranks him 564th. He got his start as a fertilizer trader for Petrimex, the pre-runner of Agrofert.
As a Czech conglomerateholding company headquartered in Prague founded in 1993, it operates through agriculture, chemical, construction, energy, forestry, logistics and mass media industries in the European Union and China.
Likened to the Czech Republic's version of U.S. President Donald Trump, 62-year Babišwas forced to put his agrochemical business into a trust in the early part of 2017 in order to comply with a new Czech conflict-of-interest law that is nicknamed ‘Lex Babis’ - aka the Babis Law.
He swapped day-to-day management of Agroferta.s. for politics back in 2013 and is now the leader of the political party ANO, which means ‘Yes’. Babiš has worked in Morocco where he gained experience with foreign trade and showing gastronomic good taste owns the Michelin-starred restaurant La Paloma on the French Riviera.
Daniel Křetínský, co-owner of the energy group Energetického a priemyselného holding (EPH), a significant portion of its business being in Slovakia, is also new on the list as new entrant in the latest rankings. He ended up being ranked 1,030thwith a $2bn fortune after Forbes crunched the numbers.
Around two decades ago Křetínský began working as a lawyer for Slovak investment company J&T. He comes into the billionaire ranks 1,030th helped by virtue of last year selling 31% of EPH, the biggest the biggest energy group in Central Europe, for $1.6bn to a consortium of investors led by Australian-based asset manager Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets.
EPH, which owns over fifty companies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland and Hungary employing around 25,000 employees, operates in electricity distribution and supply, gas storage and transmission.
Mr Křetínský’s business strategy has centred on discovering big players in the energy market who are struggling, set about acquiring their old coal-powered plants and mines, and then bet on rising electricity prices. The41-year oldowns 37% of EPH and having built his equity holding over a period of time he plumped to be compensated in shares rather than cash as the company expanded and grew.
While the total net worth of the world's billionaires rose in a single year by 18%, to $7.67 trillion according to Forbes, the Czech billionaires seem to have not fared badly this time round.
Petr Kellner ranks as the Czech Republic's richest man on $12.5bn by a significant margin from Babiš and comes in overall at 105th. The 52-year old got his business start in back the early 1990's selling office supplies. He borrowed $1m using that business and started an investment fund, which he utilized to acquire a controlling stake in the biggest Czech insurer during its privatization.
Mr Kellner's PFF Group, whichowned assets exceeding EUR 24.2bn as of June 30, 2016,operates today in sixteen countries across three continents. It is a substantial shareholder in Home Credit, a consumer finance firm that has operations in the Czech Republic and ten other countries besides - including China and Russia.PPF's reach spans from Europe to Russia, the U.S. and across Asia.
It was back in 2015 that Home Credit established a venture with mobile phone carrier Sprint in the U.S. to provide financing for purchasing mobile phones. His other assets include a stake in listed telecom firm O2 Czech Republic; PPF Bank; commercial real-estate holdings and an interest in Polymetal, the London-listed gold and silver miner.
Radovan Vítek, who is cited as having a net worth as of 23 March 2017 of $2.4bn also makes it on the list at 867th. In January this year the 45-year oldagreed to initiate his biggest acquisition to date when his CPI Property Group said it would acquire eleven shopping centres in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania for c.$700m from the real-estate firm CBRE Global Investors.
Vitek got his start in business in the time of Slovakia’s voucher privatization in the 1990s, subsequently moving to the Czech Republic in 1997, where he took over a cooperative and turned the headquarters into a luxury hotel and setting out on his commercial real-estate career.
As well as in Prague, the Czech capital, he owns a 260-acre estate in Surrey, England, that belonged once to ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, plus a home in the Swiss Alps, and a villa on the French-speaking Caribbean island of St. Bart’s.
Then there is Karel Komárek, ranked 939th with a net worth of $2.2bn, who built his fortune as an oil and gas investor during the period of privatization in the Czech Republic.
Last year he established the Sazka Group with fellow Czech investor Jiri Smejc. This venture quickly became the largest lottery owner in Europe, purchasing interests in profitable lottery companies in Austria, Greece, Italy and Czech lottery firm Sazka.
The 48-year oldis also involved in commercial and residential real-estate development in Prague. In 2016 he entered the American market with newly established firm U.S. Methanol, based in Charleston, West Virginia. He intends to operate a number of plants that produce methanol, a natural gas product with various uses. As well as his home in the Czech capital, Komarek has a house in Palm Beach, Florida.
Making up the pack of Czech billionaires is Pavel Tykač with a net worth of around $1.3bn, which ranks him 1,567th overall. As a coal, energy and real-estate investor, he started out as a computer distributor in the early 1990s, pumping profits into a small regional bank.
Later on the 52-year old partnered with several colleagues to establish Motoinvest, which specialized in hostile takeovers during the Czech Republic's privatization program.They acquired and later sold banking stakes. His biggest assets today are two Czech coal mining firms, which he owns through Cyprus-based Indoverse Czech Coal Investments.
The five Czechs already on the list from last year - Petr Kellner, Andrej Babiš, Radovan Vítek, Karel Komárek, Pavel Tykač - increased their combined net worth in one year by 20.8%, to $21.5bn. Only Babišand Kellnerhave been on the list ever since the latter remarked in April 2012, that corruption was worse in Czech Republic than in Russia as reported by media in Czecho.
Their combined net worth has risen 63% since then, to $15.6bn. However, when taking into account the US dollar's appreciation since then from CzKr18.85 to CzKr25.00, the rise in their combined net worth in crown terms is 116%, to an eye-popping CzKr390bn. Not bad going.