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RIP Petr Kellner, the greatest Czech financier ever

In the morning on Monday, millions of Czechs (starting with the likes of me) were shocked by the event that occurred on Saturday night, local time, near the Knix Glacier, 50 miles East from Anchorage, Alaska.

During heliskiing (which is skiing in which the lift is simply replaced with a somewhat more expensive helicopter), more precisely helisnowboarding, in their case (!), five people died when the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter (the same model that landed on Mt Everest in 2005) crashed, including the wealthiest Czech, Petr Kellner. Snowboard champion David Horváth (CZ), 48, was the only survivor, he is hospitalized and in stable condition. The five killed in the Saturday accident were identified as (the guide) Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; Petr Kellner, 56, and Benjamin Larochaix (France-born snowboard coach and friend paid by Kellner), 50, both of the Czech Republic, and two Alaskans, (one of the best guides here) Sean McMannany, 38, of Girdwood, and the pilot, Zachary Russel, 33, of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said Sunday. See this local video that says something about the other men and the details of the event.

Before he came to Alaska, he spent 2 weeks in the Covid quarantine in the Caribbean Sea.

Kellner has increasingly enjoyed this adrenaline sport (snowboarding in extreme conditions), the folks were his buddies, he wasn't new there – which isn't enough for me to get rid of the suspicion of some foul play. Because his routine became predictable, it could have been easier for someone to prepare the accident. Of course I won't invent any names of the possible culprits because I have no evidence for either of them whatsoever and the "natural" tragedy (due to turbulence etc.) seems totally plausible.

This is the 15th TRF blog post with Kellner's surname in it and I believe that all of them were clearly positive.

Kellner died as a man worth some $18 billion, mostly organized as 98.93% of the huge PPF Group (whose positive assets were €44 billion as of June 2020) that he already founded in 1991, as a 27-year-old young man. His PPF funds participated in the voucher privatization and so did others (Glass Union Teplice was the first well-known company that PPF "pwned"; in the early 1990s, he was also selling copy machines on behalf of Impromat Co.). But from the beginning, I knew that this guy was different. He was really skillful – and perhaps even more importantly, he was a deeply ethical guy. I just trusted him from the first moment. He wasn't a guy whose wealth is all about blackmailing, scaring, and robbing others (buying other people's assets cheaply after you bring them to some trouble or fear). He has always been a great counterexample to the anti-capitalist ordinary folks' claims that all the rich people are bad people; and a great eaxmple of the fact that good capitalism is a positive sum cooperative game. Kellner was a master of the dealmaking and he deserved every last penny that he has earned.

Most of the wealth was financial in character. The assets included the global household lender Home Credit which operates in China, Russia, and elsewhere. Like John Amos Comenius before his death, Kellner paid taxes in the Netherlands. A decade ago, he founded Air Bank in Czechia, a truly modern, light, online-regime-emphasizing bank with fun ads. I think that Air Bank has been the most aggressively growing bank in Czechia – and a big change from the 1990s when many large banks belonged to Czech owners and had to be saved by the government at the end (we switched to foreign mothers soon afterwards and it has surely looked like progress for a decade or two).

But as his empire grew, he has collected and revived lots of other assets. Under his ownership, Škoda Transportation here in Pilsen tripled or quintupled the production and exports of trams, trolley buses, and other things (Kellner also wanted to buy the famous Pilsner Urquell brewery but it didn't work). He has acquired the CME/CETV TV media enterprise (Czech, Slovak, Balkan TVs), the German "Leag" energy group. The O2 Czech telecommunication provider. CETIN, a similar thing for the infrastructure. And lots and lots of other companies doing truly diverse things: Sotio in biotechnology (some promising cancer drugs), O2 arena for sports and concerts, PPF real estate holding, PPF life insurance, Polymetal international (precious metal mining), PPF art, RAV Agro, CzechToll etc. He has also bought a $10 million horse for his daughter, a horse that Bill Gates ultimately couldn't afford to buy for his daughter!

To mention a financially small item which was important from my perspective, Kellner was also the first and (I believe) still the main sponsor of the Václav Klaus Institute. He wisely said that the Czech ex-presidents should keep a certain clout, it is a sign of a country that is more than the banana republic. Well, I do believe that he has had some nontrivial respect for Václav Klaus in person – without Klaus' policies, a rich Kellner could have been non-existent. The recent contributions were lower than 1 million dollars a year but those were still important donations because the Klaus Institute is doing lots of amazing things. He tried to keep his privacy and wasn't affecting politics in any direct way but I believe that his letters to shareholders etc. indicated that he had opinions about the bad developments in Europe and the world as your humble correspondent. Kellner also funded the Jára Cimrman Theater which is supposed to be very different politically than Klaus. While rich, he took his family to trips with tents and teepees. He financially supported poor kids' elite education, FC Chelsea, and many other things.

Impressive and self-evidently dangerous, even if their heliskiing was just 5% of the video above.

He died as an extremely hard-working man who had many opened projects on his table. In particular, he was in the middle of acquiring 28% of the Moneta Money Bank, the 4th largest bank in the country and the only one without a majority Western owner (my perception is that both sides have committed themselves to the buyout and it can't be canceled in a kosher way now; 1/3 has already been completed). His later plan was to increase those 28% above 50% by making a merger of Moneta with his Air Bank, Home Credit CZ+SK, Zonky (people lend to people) financial companies which would be bought by Moneta for newly issued stocks (the unified bank would have 60% from the old Moneta stocks; and 40% from the new stocks, bringing his share to 57%). It seems unlikely that this merger will take place – I have been a rare fan of the merger, both due to the synergies and because I thought that the Kellner leadership is a great plus for any similar enough company. Sadly, the latter argument has disappeared with his life.

RIP, Mr Kellner, and condolences to his family.

P.S.: I don't expect any immediate effects on the business projects. I think that those were signed by PPF, a non-human legal entity, and it is committed to the projects that are already running (regardless of the "change of the owner"), just like the counterparties (this view was confirmed by PPF hours after I wrote this blog post). In the longer run, however, I can't really imagine that things will evolve as well as they did with Kellner; the analogy with Apple without Jobs may be too optimistic. The new boss of PPF (currently Mr Bartoníček) is unlikely to be equally motivated, to say the least, because the assets actually belong to Kellner's widow and 4 children (unless a surprising will will emerge). I hope that those won't be robbed. At the same moment, I do think it is better if things belong to the people who understand the business and who are likely to make both competent and well-motivated decisions. Note that the most famous kid of Kellner's, international showjumper Anna Kellnerová, has been dating the billionaire Daniel Křetínský ($4 billion, 1975) for some 4 years.

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