The ‘Fat Cats’ of Europe

When it comes to the world’s richest people, I assume you’ve read or heard several times already, that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is on top of the list – and this for quite some time now.

But I assume as well, that you’d have difficulties to name the richest people in Europe. That’s why I introduce to you the ‘fattest cats’ in 15 different european countries in alphabetical order:

Austria – Dietrich Mateschitz (13,2 billion USD).

  • The now 72-year old co-founder of ‘Red Bull’ holds 49% of the company’s shares. Mateschitz’s first job was at Unilever in the marketing department for detergents. He then moved to Blendax, a German cosmetics company, to market toothpaste. During a 1982-business-trip for Blendax to southeast Asia, Mateschitz discovered the energy-drink ‘Krating Daeng’ (that’s ‘red bull’ in thai), and founded ‘Red Bull Ltd’ 1984 with Thai partners. Last year, Red Bull booked sales of over 5 billion EUR and employed more than 10’000 people. The brand ‘Red Bull’ is currently valued at 6,2 billion USD, making it the number 3 worldwide in beverages only behind Pepsi and Coke. Mateschitz has business activities in media and sports (Formula One, Football) and a passion for flying.

Belgium – Albert Frere (4,9 billion USD)

  • The 90-year old investor had to leave school at 17 to take care of the family-business, when his father died. At 30, Frere started investing in Belgian steel factories and by the end of the 1970s he controlled the whole steel industry in the Charleroi-region. He then anticipated the demise of steel in Europe in a timely fashion and sold his enterprises to the Belgian state. With the cash from the sale, Frere built an investment empire with stakes in sectors like banking, insurance, oil, telecom and media, bundled in his (swiss based) holding company Pargesa.

Czech Republic – Petr Kellner (10,6 billion USD)

  • The 51-year old began his career 1986 at Czech company Impromat, an importer and seller of Ricoh photocopiers. In 1991, after the Czechoslovak voucher privatization, he co-founded the investment fund PPF with a focus on the insurance business. Centerpiece was PPF’s joint-venture with Assicurazioni Generali’s corporations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. In 2013, Kellner sold his stake to Generali for 2,5 billion EUR.

Denmark – Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen (13,1 billion USD)

  • The 69-year old industrial manager was longtime CEO and President of Lego, founded by his grandfather Ole Kirk Kristiansen in 1932. The word ‘lego’ is derived from the Danish words ‘leg godt’, meaning ‘play well’. In 2015, Lego became the world’s largest toy company by revenue with sales of 2,1,billion USD surpassing Mattel (‘Barbie’) which had sales of 1,9 billion USD.

France – Liliane Bettencourt (36,1 billion USD)

  • The 93-year old is the heiress of a 27,5% stake in cosmertic giant L’Oreal, founded by her father Eugene Schueller in 1909. Some 26,4% of L’Oreal (77’000 employees, annual revenue of 22,5 billion EUR) are held by swiss food company Nestle, the rest is traded freely via stock market.

Greece – Philip Niarchos (2,5 billion USD)

  • The 62-year old is the eldest son of the Greek shipping magnate Stavrios Niarchos. He is a worldwide respected art collector and has made plenty of additions to his father’s legacy. Niarchos was suspected as being the anonymous buyer of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait’ at a auction at Christie’s for 71.5 million USD and is a member of the Board of Trustees at the New York ‘Museum of Modern Art’ and an International Council Member of the ‘Tate Gallery’ in London.

Iceland – Thor Björgólfsson (1,6 billion USD)

  • The 49-year old investor/entrepreneur called ‘Bjöggi’ in his homeland, became the first billionaire of Iceland, but it’s best to describe him as a ‘comeback kid’. He made his first fortune in the wild east of post-Soviet Russia in the 90’s with Bravo Brewery in Saint Petersburg, followed by successful investments in eastern european Telecoms. After this rise abroad, the fall came at home. Two of his companies, Landsbanki and Straumur, left the Icelandic people with several billions of USD in debt when they went bankrupt following the financial crisis from 2008 to 2011.Björgólfsson issued a public apology in a newspaper in which he requested ‘forgiveness from all Icelanders for my role in the asset- and debt-bubble that led to the collapse of the Icelandic banking system. Today, Björgólfsson leads Novator Partners, a London-based investment firm, sits on several boards and holds shares in companies including Actavis, a Swiss drugmaker, and CCP, an Icelandic computer games company.

Italy – Maria Franca Fissolo (22,1 billion USD)

  • The 99-year old is the widow of Michele Ferrero and the owner of Ferrero SpA, headquatered in Alba in northern Italy’s Piedmont. Europe’s second largest confectionery company (25’000 employees) makes annual sales of 8,5 billion EUR, mainly with brands as Mon Cherie, Rocher, Kinder or Nutella. The success of Nutella started in 1946, when real chocolate was rare and expensive in post-war Italy. But exactly the used chocolate-substitute – hazelnuts from the hills surrounding Alba – together with sugar, little cocoa and palm-oil gave Nutella its distinctive taste that kids (and many grown-up’s) love all over the world.

Netherlands – Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken (12,3 billion USD)

  • The 62-year old is the owner of a 25% controlling interest in the world’s third-largest brewer, Heineken International, founded 1864 in Amsterdam. The daughter of Freddy Heineken is much more than ‘just’ a heiress, de Carvalho was a housewife with five kids and no formal business education when she inherited the control of Heineken in 2002. She studied law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and, although she was an intern at Heineken, was never really serious about joining the business. At the grave of her father and on a proposition by her husband, british financer Michel de Carvalho, she took the challenge ‘as a wake up call’ and involved herself in the company where she today acts as an executive director.

Romania – Ion Tiriac (1,0 billion USD)

  • The 77-year old businessman started low, at the assembly-line of a truck-company in his hometown Brasov in Transylvania. But the first real money he made was in sport, after he switched from ice-hockey to professional tennis. Upon his retirement from the courts, he acted as coach and manager, most notably for countryman Ilie Nastase and then Boris Becker. In parallel, Tiriac became a businessman in Germany and after the collapse of communism in his homeland 1989, he took the first available plane to Bucharest and started numerous businesses and investments in Romania. Among them Banca Țiriac, the first private bank in Romania and several other enterprises in retail, insurance, auto leasing, auto dealerships or airlines. The former worker at the assembly-line is still a key-figure in Romania’s economy.

Russia – Leonid Mikhelson (14,4 billion USD)

  • The 61-year old is CEO, chairman and major shareholder of Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer and public company with shares traded on the London and Moscow stock exchanges. In addition, Mikhelson – who began his career as an engineer in 1977 working as a foreman at a construction and assembling company in Siberia – holds a the position of Chairman of the Board at Sibur, a gas processing and petrochemicals company headquartered in Moscow that operates 26 production sites all over Russia.

Spain – Amancio Ortega Goana (67 billion USD)

  • This easter-weekend, the founding chairman of the Inditex fashion group, best known for its ‘Zara’-stores, celebrates his 80th birthday. The self-made businessman left school at the age of 14 and took a job at a shirts maker in La Coruña in north-western Spain. The store were Ortega learned to make shirts by hand is called Gala and still exists on the same corner in downtown La Coruña. After 12 years of work as a textile-maker, he opened – together with his wife Rosalía Mera Goyenechea the first store in 1975 and they named it Zara, because the preferred name ‘Zorba’ was already taken. Today, Zara is the flagship of Inditex (Industrias de Diseño Textil Sociedad Anónima), of which Ortega owns about 60%. Aside from Zara, the group’s over 6’000 stores includes brands like Pull and Bear, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius or Bershka. With over 150’000 employees, Inditex reached net sales of almost 21 billion EUR in 2015 and this made founder Amancio Ortega Goana the richest man in Europe and (behind Bill Gates) the second richest man on earth.

Sweden – Stefan Persson (20,8 billion USD)

  • The 69-year old is the chairman and main shareholder in fashion company H&M, founded by his father Erling Persson in 1947, the year Stefan Persson was born. The first shop in Västerås in central Sweden, called ‘Hennes’, sold exclusively women’s clothing. ‘Hennes’ in Swedish and means ‘her’s’. Erling Persson acquired the hunting apparel retailer Mauritz Widforss in 1968, which led to the addition of a menswear collection in the product range and a name change to Hennes & Mauritz or H&M. Stefan Persson took over the company from his father in 1982 and served as its manager until 1998. Today, H&M operates 3’700 stores worldwide and employees over 130’000 people. The current CEO is 41-year old Karl-Johan Persson, son of Chairman Stefan Persson and grandson of founder Erling Person.

Switzerland – Ernesto Bertarelli (8,6 billion USD)

  • The 51-year old was born in Rome, his family moved to Switzerland in 1977, cause the italian terrorist group ‘Brigate Rosse’ threatened rich families with kidnapping. And the Bertarellis were rich, Ernesto’s grandfather founded pharmaceutical- and biotech company Serono with activities in the fields of Reproductive Health, Multiple Sclerosis and the infertility market. Ernesto Bertarelli became CEO of Serono in 1996 and sold the company to Merck of Germany in 2007 for 13 billion USD. Bertarelli is a prominent figure primarly outside the business world. Not because he married a former ‘Miss UK’, but mainly because in 2000, he founded and financed the Geneva-based yachting team ‘Alinghi’ which won the prestigious ‘America’s Cup’ – the Champions League in sailing – in 2003 with Bertarelli on board as navigator. It was the first time in the 150-year-old history of the Cup, that a team from Europe won the trophy.

United Kingdom – Srichand Hinduja (14,5 billion USD)

  • The Hinduja Group was founded in 1914 in India, later the headquarter was moved to Persia (today’s Iran) where it remained until 1979, when the Islamic Revolution forced the company to move to Europe and they settled in London. Since then, the Hinduja Group has become one of the largest diversified groups in the world with a wide range of activities in sectors like automotive, oil and gas, media, telecom, IT, real estate, energy, chemicals, financial services or Business process outsourcing. The conglomerate employs over 70’000 people and is led by 80-year old Srichand Hinduja, the patriarch of India’s ‘fab four’ Hinduja-brothers. He and Gopichand Hinduja develop the export business from London, Prakash Hinduja manages the group’s finances out of Geneva, Switzerland and the youngest brother, Ashok, oversees the Indian interests. All four are devout Hindu and dress in similar ways. In 2014, Srichand Hinduja emerged for the first time as the richest man in Great-Britain and his house –  in London’s Carlton Terrace close to Buckingham Palace – is valued at half a billion USD, making it the 3th most expensive private home in the world.


Zara founder Amancio Ortega Goana has a fortune of 67 billion USD making him Europe’s richest person.

zara store

One comment

  1. Wow, great article post. Really Great.

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