Jun 22 2009

Glasenberg: SA’s richest emigrant?

Published by at 9:43 am under Companies,Top Stories

Ninety-nine percent of South Africans have never heard of Ivan Glasenberg – even though he is the most powerful and perhaps richest South African businessman in the history of the country. Richer than the Oppenheimers, the Ruperts and the Motsepes. Last year his company had a turnover of €150 billion – more than either Daimler, or Siemens.

South Africans don’t know him, because he lives in Switzerland with an Australian passport, has kept his company unlisted and has (in the past) conducted business in the grey zone between legal and “not so legal”, to put it gently.

So, one can’t really refer to him as a “South African businessman”. At best, one could call him a “half-South African”, as defined by me here.

Commodities trader Ivan Glasenberg was born in South Africa in 1957 and went to Rhodes University. In the 80′s he sold South African coal to anyone willing to break the international trade embargo against South Africa’s apartheid govenment, wrote the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) this morning.

Already then he worked for Marc Rich. You’ll remember Marc Rich (70) as one of the guys who got pardoned by Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001. This is how the US magazine Business Week described Marc Rich in 2005: “Marc Rich was the most-wanted white-collar criminal in US history, until his controversial pardon on president Bill Clinton’s last day in office in 2001″. (Read the uncredible story of Marc Rich and his “Rich Boys”, of which Glasenberg is one, in the Business Week of 18 July 2005.)

Glasenberg worked himself up in the Rich empire and finally took over as chief executive officer in 2002. Since then he has built Glencore into a global resources firm, consisting of mines, resource-processing firms, tankers and store facilities. Always behind closed doors.

According to FTD Glencore’s profit can be up to €6 billion “in a good year”. The spoils of the unlisted company are shared between Glasenberg and twelve top managers.

Glasenberg will become a (more) familiar name in South African households in coming months, for two reasons. Firstly, because the Swiss-based company Glencore, in which he holds the majority share, has a 34.5% stake in the mining giant Xstrata (more about Xstrata below), which made a €68 billion offer to swallow British-SA mining conglomerate Anglo American last week.

Secondly, because it was reported in Financial Times last week that Glasenberg had decided to list Glencore (assumedly in Switzerland). That will bring him into the open and (among others) enable photographers to take pictures of him (FTD only has a single photo of him dating back to 2006).

Reading the article in today’s FTD, the abovementioned Business Week article and the Wikipedia entries about Rich and Glasenberg, one can’t help but get a bit uncomfortable at the thought that these people may soon also own Anglo American, making them even more powerful in the global economy, and strengthening the arguments of “reborn socialists” everywhere that the current system is corrupt and in line for a “make-over”.

** Xstrata is the world’s fourth biggest mining conglomerate per turnover, after BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto and Vale. Anglo American’s turnover was just fractionally lower than Xstrata’s in 2008, making it the fifth biggest. Together Xstrata and Anglo American would be the world’s second biggest mining group (€38 billion turnover in 2008), after BHP Billiton (€40 billion) and just ahead of Rio Tinto (€37 billion).

Like Glencore, Xstrata has its head office in the small canton of Zug in Switzerland. Xstrata has a substantial marketshare in seven major commodity markets, namely copper, coking coal, thermal coal, ferrochrome, nickel, vanadium and zinc. It also has a growing platinum group metals business, exposure to gold, cobalt, lead and silver, recycling facilities and a suite of global technology products. The Group operates in 19 countries.

One response so far

One Response to “Glasenberg: SA’s richest emigrant?”

  1. adminon 24 Jun 2009 at 9:09 am

    Although no-one has said anything yet, I’ve been sceptical about Glasenberg’s listing plans ever since the FTD first mentioned them last week.

    For a number of reasons. Most obvious one: His timing. Just days before Xstrata approached Anglo American with “the offer”. That’s a touch too transparent for a cynical journalist like me.

    A listing will bring him out of the shadows into the open. The real motive: To make him more “acceptable” to Anglo and give Xstrata’s offer a better chance in Anglo’s boardroom.

    Now it seems as if Xstrata’s offer will come to nothing. Bet you, that was also the last we heard of Glasenberg’s listing plans!


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