Glencore: from trading in a flat into $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 nascent 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 petrol, 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 share in fellow mining specialist 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. It is now chaired by Willy Strothotte, while South Africa-born Ivan Glasenberg is its chief executive.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Glencore continued to acquired key assets, now owning mines rich in 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 capacity to supply or distribute all over the planet allowed Glencore to reap $3.8 billion in profits last year and 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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