Swiss billionaires

The richest people in Switzerland: How they became Swiss billionaires and millionaires

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How did the richest people in Switzerland become Swiss billionaires and millionaires? We take a look at Switzerland's richest – and how they made their fortunes.

More than a third of the 300 richest people in Switzerland are billionaires, according to the political magazine Bilanz. Some of the richest people in Switzerland belong to famous families whose companies are globally renowned. Almost half of the 300 richest are originally from elsewhere and have adopted Swiss nationality, wealthy Germans in particular. Since the 1980s, Switzerland's list of billionaires and millionaires has shown an increase in the number of people coming from the world of finance.

Just how did they become Swiss billionaires or millionaires? Multimillionaires with wealth stemming from a range of activities feel at home in Switzerland, as shown in this list of the richest people in Switzerland.

Pharmaceutical industry

André Hoffmann – Swiss billionaire heir and philanthropist

André Hoffmann is one of the heirs of the pharmaceutical empire Hoffmann-La Roche. Since 1996, he has served on the board of directors of the pharmaceutical giant Roche. Thanks to their inherited shares, the Hoffmann and Oeri families are each worth more than CHF 20 billion. Hoffmann became the families’ spokesman in 2004 and like his late father Lukas, he campaigns for the environment. He recently made headlines as a result of his support for the 'green economy' initiative that aims to reduce Switzerland’s use of natural resources by two thirds by 2050.

Financial services and chemicals

Christoph Blocher – from mover and shaker to man of the people

Christoph Blocher is the great-grandfather of the right-wing conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP). He was elected to the government in 2003, but voted out of office four years later. According to Bilanz, the Blocher family possesses a fortune of between CHF 7 billion and CHF 8 billion.

The Blochers are among the super rich in Switzerland whose fortunes increased considerably last year. According to media reports, the EU-sceptic politician primarily made money out of financial deals. In 1983, as an employee of EMS-Chemie, he was able to buy the industrial company very cheaply from the founding family. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote in 1987 that Blocher’s EMS-Chemie was less like a factory and more like a 'type of investment fund' with its high-stakes, stock-market speculation. It is not known how much EMS-Gruppe, which is now run by Blocher’s daughter Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, has contributed to his wealth. The group sells high performance polymers and speciality chemicals.

Polymers

Jobst Wagner – political activist with 20,000 employees

Jobst Wagner has been described as the 'reluctant anti-Blocher' because by creating the association 'Swiss Advantage' to save bilateral negotiations with the EU, he set out on a confrontation course with Blocher.

He leads the polymer-maker Rehau AG founded by his parents, and his fortune is estimated at more than CHF 800 million. A supplier to the automobile industry, the company employs around 17,000 in more than 50 countries.

Commodities trading

Ivan Glasenberg – hunter of commodities and deals

The CEO and major shareholder of Glencore learned about the commodities business in South Africa by working for the legendary commodities dealer Marc Rich, whose company later became Glencore. By 2011, the company counted about 500 core employees.

Its initial public offering made its previous owners extremely wealthy. The richest is Ivan Glasenberg, whose stake in the company was estimated at CHF 9.3 billion at the time. Glencore’s merger with the Zug mining company Xstrata turned Switzerland into one of the most important hubs of the global commodities business. The company regularly comes under fire for alleged tax tricks and abuse of human rights and the environment.

Grandfather's pictures

Marina Picasso – compensated with millions

The granddaughter of the famous artist hated her grandfather. But by selling a few pictures by the most famous painter of the 20th century, the 64-year-old has climbed up the list of the richest people in Switzerland. Among those she sold were a portrait of her grandmother Olga Khokhlova, Pablo Picasso’s first wife. The 1923 picture, Portrait de femme, has an estimated value of CHF 60 million.

The artist’s granddaughter has no qualms about parting with the artworks. As sole heir, she still has nearly 400 paintings and 7,000 drawings. However, she only has bad memories of her grandfather, which she shared in a 2001 biography. Picasso was, she said, 'an egotistical monster' who was 'incapable of loving those closest to him'. She said she suffered for years from his tyranny, from the 'stranglehold of this genius'.

Real estate

Robert Heuberger – childhood poverty, wealth in old age

He is just one of many real estate kings in Switzerland, but the 94-year-old from Winterthur is the oldest on the rich list. Heuberger is said to own about 2,000 apartments as well as hotels, shopping centres and office and administration complexes. Bilanz estimates the property developer’s fortune at between CHF 450 million and CHF 500 million.

Formula 1 racing

Sebastian Vettel – full speed to fortune

At 29, the sporting star is the youngest on the rich list. The Formula 1 racer who chose to adopt Swiss nationality has already driven at top speed to a fortune of between CHF 150 million and CHF 200 million. Four times the world champion, he is one of the best-paid racing drivers with a fixed salary of about CHF 30 million plus bonuses in 2016. Vettel invests his millions in private real-estate projects, among other things.

Sports data

Carsten Koerl – technology and sparkling ideas

Carsten Koerl is, in a sense, the cartographer of high-performance sport. The 51-year-old German engineer is one of the richest newcomers to the ranks of the wealthy Swiss. Before the dotcom bubble burst, he sold his shares in the 'Betandwin' betting platform he co-founded and became a multimillionaire. His fortune is worth between CHF 150 million and CHF 200 million. With his company Sportradar, he is still part of the international sports business. His company provides sports data to media and the betting industry.

 

© swissinfo.ch / Adapted from German by Catherine Hickley

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