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

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?"

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".

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.

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.

Recommended

A Europe-focused investment trust that’s back on form
Investment trusts

A Europe-focused investment trust that’s back on form

Alex Darwall’s European Opportunities investment trust deserves another look after a difficult spell, says Max King.
28 Jun 2022
Vitalik Buterin: the man who changed cryptocurrencies
People

Vitalik Buterin: the man who changed cryptocurrencies

Maths prodigy Vitalik Buterin became fascinated by bitcoin as a teenager. Now 28, he is worshipped as a near deity by crypto-enthusiasts.
26 Jun 2022
Chris Xu: the retailer with a cult following
People

Chris Xu: the retailer with a cult following

Chris Xu was born to poor farmers in the Shandong province of China. Today he leads a mysterious upstart that is unnerving established fast-fashion re…
21 Jun 2022
Hock Tan: the tech sector’s supreme dealmaker
People

Hock Tan: the tech sector’s supreme dealmaker

Broadcom’s boss Hock Tan has acquired a reputation as the industry’s prime dealmaker – a renown that suffered a blow under Donald Trump. Now he has an…
13 Jun 2022

Most Popular

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?
Stockmarkets

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?

For a little while, markets looked like they were about to embark on a full-on crash. And that could still happen, says Dominic Frisby. Today, he look…
27 Jun 2022
Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market
Savings

Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market

With inflation at more than 9%, your savings are not going to keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which yo…
24 Jun 2022
Why a recession will do us good
UK Economy

Why a recession will do us good

A period of slimming down is always painful, but it leaves us healthier for the long run, says Matthew Lynn.
26 Jun 2022