Royal Mail: Meet Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský who wants to buy Britain’s postal service

Royal Mail: Meet Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský who wants to buy Britain’s postal service
Royal Mail: Meet Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský who wants to buy Britain’s postal service


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Royal Mail dates back to the Tudors. It has been operating a postal service in England since the reign of Henry VIII.

Now this most British of institutions is on the brink of being sold to a Czech billionaire, Daniel Křetínský, raising fears about the fate of thousands of workers and a key national service.

British logistics company International Distribution Services (IDS), which owns the loss-making postal service, said Wednesday that it was “minded to recommend” to its shareholders a £3.70-per-share ($4.69) takeover offer from Křetínský’s EP Group.

EP Group has until May 29 to convert its £3.5 billion ($4.4 billion) non-biding offer into a formal bid for IDS.

The likely sale would come after a difficult few years for Royal Mail, which was privatized in 2013. It has suffered a sharp drop in demand for its services, and losses have ballooned. Appeals to the government to be released from its obligation to deliver letters six days a week have fallen on deaf ears.

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Business and Trade told CNN that it had “no current plans” to change Royal Mail’s legally binding service obligations.

“Any future changes to Royal Mail’s operation will need to take into account the impacts on businesses and vulnerable consumers who rely on this vital service,” the spokesperson said.

So who is the white knight ready to take on a company that, during the last financial year, was losing £8 million ($10 million) a week?

Křetínský is a Czech national who has made his fortune through a sprawling empire of European energy companies, retailers and football clubs. He is worth an estimated $7.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The 49-year-old tycoon began his career as a lawyer, before moving to a Czech investment bank, where he became a partner in 2003, according to EP Group’s website.

A few years later, Křetínský co-founded Energetický a průmyslový holding, or EPH, which owns European gas- and coal-fired power plants, commodities trading firms and freight companies, its website shows.

In 2016, the billionaire founded EP Group with business partner Patrik Tkáč. Through its investment arm Vesa Equity Investment, Křetínský has acquired stakes in big-name brands such as Foot Locker (FL) in the United States, FNAC in France, and supermarket Sainsbury’s in the United Kingdom.

He has come to be known as a mysterious personality given his reluctance to speak publicly about his business dealings. So elusive, in fact, that the Polish version of Newsweek magazine dubbed him the “Czech Sphinx” in 2019.

The Sphinx, a mythical creature originating in Greek mythology, requires travelers to solve a riddle before allowing them to pass.

But some fans of British soccer will already know his name.

Three years ago, the businessman bought a 27% stake in West Ham United Football Club through another of his investment firms. That makes Křetínský the club’s second-biggest shareholder, according to its website.

The potential buyout of Royal Mail has stirred anxieties about the consequences of the iconic British institution coming under foreign ownership.

Reuters reported Thursday, citing a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, that UK business minister Kemi Badenoch was expected to meet with IDS to discuss the takeover bid.

Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, which represents about 110,000 Royal Mail workers, said the potential takeover by Křetínský’s investment firm posed a “threat” to the future of postal services in the UK.

He asked that EP Group “immediately demonstrate” a commitment to working with the CWU and rule out any potential break-up of Royal Mail or diminution of its workers’ pension pots.

“It cannot be right that a key part of national infrastructure is allowed to be owned by individuals or companies who have no vision for the future and no clear plan to put the workforce at the heart of turning Royal Mail around,” Ward said in a statement Wednesday.

Jonathan Reynolds, business spokesperson for the UK’s opposition Labor Party, urged EP Group in a letter to provide “cast-iron guarantees” that it would keep Royal Mail’s headquarters in the UK, and would work closely with its labor union.

“Royal Mail is as British as it gets, and Labor will take the necessary steps to safeguard its undeniable identity and place in public life,” he wrote in the letter, which he https://twitter.com/jreynoldsMP/status/1790748557139468557/photo/1.

In a statement last month, EP Group said it was “a committed long-term investor in the UK” and believed that private investment in Royal Mail was “crucial” as the service faced escalating competition with multinational companies in the UK postal market.

“Royal Mail is an important national asset that would benefit from being able to take a longer-term view,” the firm said. “(EP Group) is prepared to support this iconic business as it transforms and rebuilds into a modern postal operator delivering high-quality service to its customers, stability to its workforce and sustainable financial performance.”

Ivana Kottasová contributed reporting.

 
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