Eike Batista: the Class A Brazilian eccentric

Former speed-boat racing champion Eike Batista made his fortune in water, power and mining. Now head of Brazil's second-largest oil firm, he aims to be the country's richest man by next year.

The more one reads about Eike Batista, the more he emerges as a Class A eccentric. There's the shiny silver sports car he keeps parked in his Rio living room, and his obsession with the number 63. And then there's his habit of conducting meetings while hooked up to an intravenous drip containing a cocktail of anti-ageing vitamins. It hangs from the pole of the large, Brazilian flag that dominates his office, and Batista is nothing if not patriotic. "I want to make Brazil No 1," he says. "I want to surpass Bill Gates in five years." He's off to a good start: his empire is currently worth something between $6.6 and $17bn.

A former speed-boat racing champion, Batista, 51, made his first fortune from a bag of derring-do investments in water, power and mining. But the "golden boy of the Brazilian bourse" says he's had it with such small fry ventures. "Oil and gas is so much bigger," he told the International Herald Tribune. Hence the formation of OGX Petroleo, which he has just partially floated.

It says something about Batista's bravado that the initial public offering, which raised $3.6bn (implying a total value of some $20bn), has established OGX as Brazil's second-largest oil firm after the national giant Petrobras even though it has yet to start drilling.

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The stock flew because Batista cheekily hitched a ride on the coat-tails of Petrobras' recent big find in the Tupi offshore oil field (the largest find in the Americas since 1976). He heard something was up last autumn and spent around $1bn at auction snapping up 21 offshore oil blocks nearby. All his bids ended in 63 cents, his lucky number.

Some entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to escape poverty; others by the impetus to outdo a successful parent. Eike Fuhrken Batista falls squarely into the latter camp. Half German, he claims to have lived under the shadow of his father, Eliezer Batista, a charismatic former Brazilian minister and boss of the mining group, Vale. Batista made matters worse for himself by marrying Luma de Oliveira, a Playboy cover girl and Carnival Queen with whom he has two sons. They eloped, sensationally, a week before his scheduled wedding to an upper-crust Brazilian socialite.

But Luma, renowned for partying in a dog-collar bearing her beloved's name, had a tendency to steal the headlines. "Until four years ago, I was referred to as the husband of Luma de Oliveira and son of Eliezer Batista," says Batista. "I decided that had to change." Around the same time, Luma left him for a fireman.

Even so, as Batista points out, "my life before then cannot be thrown into the dust-bin". Indeed not. After studying metallurgy at Aachen University, he bought his first goldmine in the Amazon at 24. "The mine was so rich that it was almost idiot-proof" and it made him $6m in the first year. Still, he needed grit to deal with the wildcat gold panners, says Bloomberg, and once "had a bodyguard kill a man who drew a gun during a money dispute".

Batista expanded into Chile, Canada and Russia (until kicked out by the mafia) and made a killing when he sold his stake in Canadian miner TVX Gold for $1bn in 2000. Henceforth, he made sure that all his new ventures from iron-ore mining specialist MMX, to logistics and ports operator TXX ended with the letter X, "because it symbolises multiple wealth".

Superstitious he may be, but the luck of Brazil's buccaneering billionaire has so far held good. His current ambition? "I'll be Brazil's richest man next year,"' he says.

Eike Batista: the benefits of a multi-tasking mindset

Eike Batista's storming success would not have been possible without the extraordinary revitalisation of Brazil under Lula da Silva, nor yet the global commodities boom, says The Economist. "It's a paradise here," he says. "They are taking care of government accounts and letting the private sector do its thing."

Even so, Batista makes the most of opportunity. Whether or not OGX produces oil, he's likely to cash-in big time: the mere confirmation of reserves could attract a major buyer. Indeed, he may be following the blueprint established with his mining company MMX, which he partially floated before selling half to Anglo American for $5.5bn, "before it had produced much ore".

You can't fault his pragmatism, agrees Bloomberg. But it's Batista's multi-tasking skills that really stand out. He is a whirlwind. A typical twenty minutes in his company might involve him picking a colour scheme for his yacht's upholstery (pink and white), ordering an aide to sell $200m of unidentified shares and getting a phone briefing on the upscale Chinese restaurant he owns in Rio. No detail is too small for his attention. Favouring dark suits and pink ties, he's an engaging man who peppers his Portuguese with the odd English phrase ("win-win situation" is a favourite).

His philosophy is based on the rules he learnt as a miner. "You go to some crazy place, set up camp, and start looking...this way you can build anything. That's the mind-set. That's my life. That's how I learnt to build things from zero."