Daniel Křetínský has made a fortune snapping up leftovers from the old economy. The Czech billionaire owns a clutch of coal companies, and in recent years he has made waves with investments in pillars of the old economy such as high street retailers, supermarkets and newspapers.
Křetínský holds his cards so close to his chest that he gained the moniker of the “Czech Sphinx” from a Polish magazine. The nickname has stuck, but the businessman’s profile outside his homeland has grown after a spree of acquisitions.
That has included football clubs – the surest way for a wealthy businessman to be noticed – starting with Sparta Prague in 2004 and followed by West Ham last week. The West Ham stake, reportedly worth between £180m and £200m for 27%, has already roused hopes from the club’s supporters of big-money signings, although neither Křetínský nor the club have revealed any details of their plans.
On the stock market, Křetínský has also gone for household names, building up big positions in Sainsbury’s and Royal Mail, whose executives confirmed that he has discussed strategy with them.
His bets on both appear to have paid off handsomely already: 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, giving paper gains of well over £100m. Royal Mail’s share price has almost tripled since Vesa first bought in. 星期四, Royal Mail delivered a £200m dividend, from which Vesa should garner about £38m, based on a 19% shareholding that is now worth more than £900m.
Křetínský declined to be interviewed. A spokesperson said that “he is not afraid to go against the tide – when others sell, he buys and vice versa”. Vesa considers itself to be a strategic, long-term investor, the spokesperson added.
In the US, Křetínský has bought stakes in the department store Macy’s and the trainer retailer Foot Locker, while in Europe he holds positions in the German retailer turned wholesaler Metro and France’s Le Monde newspaper.
The latter purchase was perhaps his most controversial, 和 journalists at one of France’s newspapers of record alarmed at what a Czech investor who made his money in coal and gas pipelines in eastern Europe could want to do with a title that reports prominently on the climate crisis and on Russia’s increasingly authoritarian leader, 弗拉基米尔普京.
Yet the paper’s reporters have not found any evidence to back up those fears. In a rare interview in 2019 with the New York Times, Křetínský insisted he was happy to remain a minority shareholder at Le Monde, and that he had fallen in love with France while watching films from the country as a child.
The son of a computing professor and a senior judge, Křetínský studied political science and then law to doctorate level at Masaryk University in Brno. He joined J&T bank in 1999, becoming an equity partner and entering the world of dealmakers such as Patrik Tkáč, a J&T founder who also co-owns Vesa, and Petr Kellner, who died as the Czech Republic’s richest man in a helicopter accident in March. Kretinsky’s long-term partner, Anna Kellnerova, is Kellner’s daughter.
When Energetický a průmyslový holding (Energy and Industrial Holding, or EPH) was spun out of the bank in 2009, he became a shareholder. He and Tkáč bought out the other partners in 2014, and Křetínský now holds 50%, while Tkáč holds 44%. The company bought a series 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 about upgrading them. EPH demolished the coal plant at Eggborough in North Yorkshire to build a new gas version, and converted Lynemouth in Northumberland to run on biomass instead. 在 2017 it bought two gas power plants from Centrica: one at Langage in Devon and another at South Humber Bank in Lincolnshire.
Křetínský has also garnered other hallmarks of the billionaire class: his name appeared in the Panama Papers leak of offshore files, in connection with a British Virgin Islands company called Wonderful Yacht Holdings Limited. Křetínský’s spokesperson said the company was used to transfer ownership of a catamaran that is kept mostly in the Caribbean. There has been no tax evasion or concealment of ownership, the spokesperson said.