Advertisement

Daniel Kretinsky: the “Czech sphinx” buying up Europe

Few people outside central Europe had heard of Daniel Kretinsky a decade ago. Now he is one of the continent’s top dealmakers with an eye for helpful connections and cheap assets.

Daniel Kretinsky © TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

When rumours surfaced last autumn that a Czech billionaire named Daniel Kretinsky had taken a stake in Le Monde, "the news sent a tremor through the newsroom of that august national publication", says The New York Times. Journalists noted that he'd built his fortune on power plants and coal mines, while he also owns part of a pipeline bringing Russian gas to the West. Why, they wondered, "would an international energy magnate be interested in an anti-Kremlin newspaper that had invested heavily in covering climate change?"

Advertisement - Article continues below

By muscling in on such "a pillar of the French establishment", Kretinsky became an object of suspicion, says the Financial Times. Concerns about links to Russian president Vladimir Putin apparently ungrounded forced one of his friends to deny that he was "a Moscow agent". Kretinsky's motive for buying into the prestigious French daily was simply that he loves France thanks to the French films he saw on Czech TV as a child and is "dedicated to "strengthening a professional press in Europe".

A buying spree

Dubbed the "Czech sphinx" by one Polish magazine for his inscrutability, Kretinsky, 43, was little known a decade ago. But over the past ten years a buying spree stretching from UK power plants to the football club Sparta Prague has turned him "into one of Europe's most prominent dealmakers".

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

His latest gambit is his biggest yet. Last month, EP Global Commerce, the investment vehicle he controls with his Slovak business partner Patrik Tkac, tabled an €5.8bn takeover offer for German retail behemoth Metro.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Born in Brno in 1975, the son of an informatics professor and a constitutional court judge, Kretinsky studied law, eventually joining J&T, a bank founded by Tkac, in 1999 where he began moving among a "small circle of powerful businessmen". In 2009, when J&T spun off its energy assets into a new group, EPH, Kretinsky bought out his partners to take full control of the group. He initially got rich "buying unloved power plants that few wanted amid the drive for renewable energy", says the FT. He built a local media empire an almost compulsory exercise in the Czech Republic where nearly all newspapers are in the hands of local billionaires, notes The New York Times. Then he started pushing west.

Why Metro?

What does he want with a struggling Teutonic shopping conglomerate, asks The Economist. The answer lies in Kretinsky's opportunistic soul. "He's a transactions guy primarily. He buys cheap with external finance, that's the nature of his game," observes Jozef Kotrba, chairman of Deloitte in the Czech Republic. He wants to diversify his investments and, in Metro, he has spotted an opportunity to grab an international retailer "in the process of transformation" on the cheap (Metro is shedding businesses to concentrate on food wholesale). Hence his initial "stingy bid".

Kretinsky's emollient personality may help him win the day. And he has an eye for connections: he is currently dating the daughter of the country's richest man, Petr Kellner another longstanding business partner. Indeed, it might be argued that Kretinsky owes much of his "rapid rise" to his early mentors Kellner and Tkac, says The New York Times. In his game, you couldn't ask for a better education. He learned his craft "under the tutelage of two of the most successful privatisation barons" in post-communist eastern Europe.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Sharon White: the economist shaking up John Lewis
People

Sharon White: the economist shaking up John Lewis

Dame Sharon White had no experience of retail when she took the top job at the nation’s favourite department store. Can she turn around an ailing indu…
10 Aug 2020
Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival
People

Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival

Around 5,000 people paid Billy McFarland up to $100,000 each to attend the lavish Fyre Festival on a Caribbean island. They arrived to find accommodat…
5 Aug 2020
Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting
People

Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting

A lifelong obsession with gambling helped make Stuart Wheeler his fortune. By using that to back the Brexit campaign, he changed the face of British p…
2 Aug 2020
Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading
People

Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading

Joe Nacchio, CEO of telecoms firm Qwest, was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading in 2007 and served four years in prison.
30 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag
Toys and gadgets

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag

Jaguar’s classic E-type sports car has been reinvented for the modern age. The result – the Eagle Lightweight GT – is a thing of beauty.
7 Aug 2020
Should you take advantage of the UK’s new breed of domestic holidaymakers?
Buy to let

Should you take advantage of the UK’s new breed of domestic holidaymakers?

With Britons choosing to holiday in the UK this year, the owners of the country’s holiday cottages are cleaning up. Should you buy in, too? Merryn? So…
10 Aug 2020
The pound has been trending higher against the dollar – will it last?
Sponsored

The pound has been trending higher against the dollar – will it last?

Sterling has been rising against the dollar. Dominic Frisby sets his trend lines in the charts to see where the pound is heading next.
10 Aug 2020