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Milestones in the life of the richest Czech

In 57 years, he has achieved more than most people in a lifetime. Billionaire Petr Kellner would have celebrated his 57th birthday today

Kristina Vacková
20.May 2021
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7 minutes to read
Petr Kellner

The tragic event of March 27, when a helicopter with Petr Kellner on board crashed in Alaska, ended the financier’s life before he could celebrate his 57th birthday. The star of the richest Czech went out prematurely, but he still left enormous achievements and an indelible mark behind! Let's look at the milestones of his life as an entrepreneur.

The whole nation was in shock over the helicopter accident in which Petr Kellner died. The event kept appearing in all forms of media, including social networks, for several days.

Petr Kellner was one of the few rich, or more precisely the richest men, for whom people were willing to put aside their envy and collectively mourn the premature loss of a man whose face was a mystery for most, while his successes were widely known.

Although he started his business during the "Czech capitalism" era, Kellner the brains of an investor and a financier, and he knew how to listen. He had firm principles throughout his life. With all those elements combined, only the sky was the limit for him - yet, unfortunately, he quite literally crashed from there at the end of March.

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Mnoho snímků Petra Kellnera neexistuje. Na veřejnosti se neukazoval. Zde na dostizích.
Mnoho snímků Petra Kellnera neexistuje. Na veřejnosti se neukazoval. Zde na dostizích.Source: PETR TOPIČ " / MAFRA / Profimedia

His death was remembered by people in all corners of the world. A great mourning procession was even held in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. The Billionaire used to come here every year, providing financial help to the Virgin Gorda Island in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.

A phantom in the shadows

Petr Kellner stood strong in the web of business and politics. Although he has rarely shown up in the public in recent years, protecting the privacy of his family and guarding his reputation, he has been developing and supporting many philanthropic projects, as befits a rich man. Examples are the Jára Cimrman Theater, the renovation of the Josef Sudek Studio and many other projects.

His billion-dollar investments brought him more billions in profits. As an entrepreneur, he preferred 100% control over cooperation with other shareholders.

"The basis of business is an enterprise, which garners a permanent flow of small amounts from clients, which together amount to a large sum of money,"

such was the strategy of Peter Kellner. Crown to crown, thousand to thousand, million to million - and finally billion to billion. Naturally, he backed it up with good political relations.

Year after year, billion after billion

Petr Kellner was a graduate of the University of Economics in Prague (1986), but his first job was in the late 1980s in Barrandov, where he worked as a production assistant. His life changed thanks to working at Impromat. The beginnings of Kellner's empire date back to the time of savage capitalism, which was reflected in the building of his enterprise in many ways.

In 1990, Petr Kellner met Milan Maděryč while selling copiers at Impromat.

Luxusní byt na prodej Praha - 320m
Luxusní byt na prodej Praha - 320m, Praha 5

1991 – establishment of the investment fund Wika, later PPF

In 1991, practically with zero funds, the then dealer founded Wika in cooperation with Milan Vinkler, whom he had met while working for Impromat. The company later received permission to establish an investment fund, later PPF, and started the first wave of coupon privatization.

The owner of Teplice-based glass giant Sklo Union Štěpán Popovič and Milan Maděryč, the head of Impromat, who’d originally steered away from the whole enterprise, eventually joined the duo.

"It became clear to us that this was the only way to participate in the huge redistribution of property that coupon privatization was to become,"

Vinkler told Lidové noviny in 2001.

200 for five billion

1993 - The group of funds received 1.4 percentage points in the first round of coupon privatization and in 1993 took over two hundred companies worth five billion.

1993/94 also marks Petr Kellner’s first attempt to enter the Russian market, where the group established the privatization funds of Peter the Great, which, however, ceased to exist in the late 1990s.

Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m
Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m, Praha 1

The "big game" begins

The second wave of coupon privatization ended in the mid-1990s. The head of the republic was Václav Klaus, himself a big fan of privatization. The president had a very good relationship with Viktor Kožený, Pavel Tykač, Milan Šrejber and Petr Kellner. At that time, certain funds were transformed into non-investment companies, so they were no longer under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Finance.

Petr Kellner wished to gain a decisive influence in a large bank, but PPF eventually evaluated Česká pojišťovna as the best strategic target investment instead. Its assets amounted to approximately 60 billion crowns, and at the same time, it had a relatively low share capital - less than two billion crowns.

It was then, in 1995, that the big financial-political game began.

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Profimedia
ProfimediaSource: Iveta Lhotská / MAFRA / Profimedia

Lobbying: Kellner shows up in the media

Since 1996, PPF has held a roughly one-fifth stake in an almost monopoly insurance entity, but even Česká pojišťovna was hit hard by the banking crisis. At that time, PPF sought and acquired ownership shares in Investiční a Poštovní banka (IPB). 6

That's when Petr Kellner understood that lobbying was the way to go. It was also a time when he often appeared in the media and his face became very popular. The relationship with Václav Klaus helped Kellner a lot. At that time, Kellner's assets were estimated at 2.5 billion crowns.

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Petr Kellner na Žofíně při návštěvě čínského prezidenta v Česku
Petr Kellner na Žofíně při návštěvě čínského prezidenta v ČeskuSource: MAFRA PETR TOPIČ / iDNES.cz / Profimedia

Consumer loans open the way to Russia

In 1997, PPF founded the instalment company Home Credit, which became the company’s gold mine. Home Credit focused on consumer loans, entirely in the spirit of Kellner's motto, and soon became the second jewel in the PPF empire and also the gateway to the Russian market.

PPF majority owner

In January 2000, the PPF Group reached an almost one-fifth stake held by IPB worth CZK 1.6 billion, for which it didn’t have to pay anything. Also thanks to Ivan Kočárník, the former Minister of Finance, the company gained managerial control over the declining insurance company PPF and IPB. They promised to buy a 14% stake in ČSOB if the insurance company got out of the red. At that time, the assets managed by the companies of the PPF Group were already estimated at around one hundred billion crowns. Petr Kellner stated that he was the majority owner of PPF and his partners had only minority shares.

In 2001, Petr Kellner became the ultimate owner of Česká pojišťovna, as the remaining two-fifths were sold to him by the state - Miloš Zeman’s government - and Komerční banka. At that time, Kellner openly identified himself as PPF’s sole shareholder. According to the annual report for that year, Petr Kellner’s group managed assets amounting to 130 billion crowns.

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Smuteční vlajka na budově PPF v Praze
Smuteční vlajka na budově PPF v PrazeSource: MICHAL ŠULA / MAFRA / Profimedia

TV Nova: A little kickback

At the same time, there was an ongoing case concerning TV Nova. In 1999, former TV Nova director Vladimír Železný stopped cooperating with Ronald Lauder and his CME and agreed on financing the television together with Jiří Šmejc and his company MEF Holding. In 2000, however, IPB, which financed a large part of Železný’s Nova, went bankrupt. PPF took advantage of that and entered the year 2002 with a hostile takeover, which included paying off Železný's debts.

In 2003, Kellner announced that he was the 100% owner of the group and the first dollar billionaire in the Czech Republic. Its assets were estimated at 50 billion crowns.

Jiří Šmejc resisted Kellner at first, only to join him later. Železný was finished and in 2004, the two new owners sold Nova back to CME with a profit estimated at ten billion crowns. That was when Jiří Šmejc, PPF's long-term number two, was rewarded by entering the company, in which he had a 5% share back then. The total value of assets under PPF’s management was 200 billion crowns at the time.

A spot in the Forbes ranking

In 2006, Kellner was included in Forbes magazine's list of the world's billionaires, ranking 224thwith $ 3 billion (72 billion crowns) in assets. Two years later, he made it to the Top 100, ranking 91st with assets amounting to $ 9.3 billion.

Since 2007, Petr Kellner has been valuing his business in world currencies - estimated at 10 billion euros. It is also when he sold 51 percent of Česká pojišťovna to an Italian insurance company, or more precisely, they founded a company together, where PPF had a minority share, and obtained a billion euros.

Russia and a Boeing in exchange for a jet plane

In 2008, PPF bought a division in Polymetal, a mining company, in Russia.

A year later, the world was hit by a financial crisis, the group's assets stopped growing and Kellner's capital dropped to $ 6 billion, but PPF continued to expand and established the Energy and Industry Holding (EPH).

In 2010, Kellner exchanged the Gulfstream jet for a personal Boeing 737 adapted for private clients.

After Russia, China became a priority market for Kellner. Thanks to its know-how, PPF was licensed to provide consumer loans in China, despite being a foreign company. Initially, the company operated only in one province, but before 2013 it managed to expand into the entire billion-dollar market. Thanks to his Chinese expansion, Kellner's assets were valued at $ 7.6 billion.

The year 2011 was marked by the fight for Sazka. Kellner sold Karel Komárek’s stake in KKCG and earned another 4 billion crowns.

"M" changes to "B" - from millions to billions

At the end of the coming year, an agreement was reached between PPF and Generali and the joint venture was dissolved.The investment, however, returned tenfold and the group's assets reached 21.5 billion euros, i.e. over half a trillion crowns.

In the same year, the Sotio group became a part of PPF, thanks to which the company also ventured into the field of biotechnological research. The group was working on the development of medications for oncological diseases. It employed more than 300 professionals, was based in Prague, but also operated in other European countries, the USA, China and Russia.

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Petr Kellner zahynul 27. března 2021, když se helikoptéra zřítila na Aljašce
Petr Kellner zahynul 27. března 2021, když se helikoptéra zřítila na AljašceSource: Profimedia

2013: No phone calls without Kellner

The year 2013 marked another milestone - Petr Kellner bought a 65% stake in the Czech division of Telefonica for 64 billion crowns. PPF thus acquired a two-thirds share in the Czech division of Telefónica, meaning that five million Czechs were using "his" services at that time. PPF thus received regular monthly payments from all these people, as well as a monopoly on landlines.

In the same year, the cooperation between J&T and EPH ended and PPF gained another 30 billion!

Climbing up the ladder

In 2014, Forbes estimated Kellner's assets at $ 11.2 billion. The milestones that followed were mainly about the exploitation of previously accumulated assets and small ups and downs: in 2015, Kellner ranked 137th on the Forbes list with his assets estimated at $ 9.2 billion (2015), and in August 2016, he ranked 102nd with 11, $ 4 billion. That was when he officially became the richest man in the Czech Republic.

In 2018, Kellner made it to 88th place with $ 15.5 billion, and last year he ascended even higher: he ranked 68th with $ 14.9 billion. In October 2020, Forbes listed him as the richest man in the Czech Republic with a net worth of CZK 293 billion (about USD 13 billion at that time).

Unfinished projects

One of Kellner’s last completed large transactions in our country was the operation of a toll system in the Czech Republic. It was acquired by a consortium of CzechToll companies (owned by PPF) and the Slovak toll operator SkyToll. The original system operator, Kapsch, made an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the victory.

At the time of the tragic death of the richest Czech, the PPF Group had a number of significant transactions ongoing, such as the merger with Moneta Money Bank through the listing of CETIN.

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Po Kellnerové smrti vzniklo v PPF pietní místo
Po Kellnerové smrti vzniklo v PPF pietní místoSource: Profimedia

Legacy

It’s obvious that this very abbreviated overview of milestones could fill several human lives. Unfortunately, success doesn’t automatically generate immortality and happiness. However, Petr Kellner allowed himself to experience everything he wished for during his life.

Petr Kellner won’t be able to keep an eye on the further development of PPF's investments, but his way of thinking and his spirit will never leave the group. Kellner surrounded himself with people with whom he had worked for a long time. His business success, therefore, didn’t go out together with the light of his soul.

Mr. Kellner we wish you a wonderful 57th birthday up there in the clouds!

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