Glencore: from trading in a flat to $60 billion giant

14th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Originally operating from a small apartment in central Switzerland's Zug canton, commodities specialist Glencore has evolved over 37 years into a giant of the sector valued at around $60 billion.

In April 1974, trader Marc Rich, along with several colleagues, founded a company called Marc Rich + Co. They based it in Zug, lured there by the canton's tax incentives.

The early years of the company were humble, with the associates working from a four-room apartment. To send any telex they had to go to the post office, Rich's biographer Daniel Ammann said.

But if the office appeared modest, the profits were not. In its first year of operations, the company made $28 million from oil, metal and mineral trading. That figure almost doubled to $50 million the following year.

The company continued its extraordinary ascent in the 1980s, boosted by the acquisition of shares in mining and agricultural assets.

In 1990, the company made a key purchase, taking a stake in Xstrata. Glencore now holds 34.5 percent of the Anglo-Swiss mining giant.

But the rise of the firm was stalked by legal troubles dogging its founder Rich, who was hunted by US justice and accused of illegal trading with Iran as well as tax evasion.

After he lost $172 million in a contract in 1993, Rich was forced to sell his shares in the company he founded, and booted out.

New management renamed the firm Glencore and moved it to the neighbouring village of Baar. South Africa-born Ivan Glasenberg is its chief executive, while its current chairman Willy Strothotte will soon make way for Simon Murray, whose appointment was announced Thursday.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Glencore continued to acquire key assets, and now owns mines for zinc, copper, iron, aluminium, oil and coal.

It also supplies to 7,000 sub-contractors and owns or rents storage as well as a fleet of ships to deliver its products across the world.

This global capacity allowed Glencore to reap $3.8 billion in profits last year on revenues of $145 billion.

On Thursday, the group marked another milestone when it announced its plans to enter the London and Hong Kong stock markets to raise up to $11 billion, a move that values the world's biggest commodities trader by revenues at up to $60 billion.

© 2011 AFP

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