Originally, this story was about Ivan Chrenko, a Slovak billionaire and real-estate mogul.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing on the Internet about Chrenko.
Neither he nor his company speak to the media, and there are only a few pictures of him online.
So I decided to switch and talk about Radovan Vitek, a Czech…real-estate mogul, and owner of CPI Property Group.
Unfortunately…it’s the same thing. Details about his life and how he made his fortune are scarce, if not contradictory.
For example, Radovan Vitek owns 94% of CPI, which owns a real-estate portfolio worth around €11.2 billion.
And yet, Forbes estimates his real-time wealth at…$4.6 billion, which doesn’t make any sense (even if we discount the debt, Vitek should be worth around $6 billion).
As a result, while I suspect that the broad lines of this article reflect objective reality, the details about Radovan Vitek’s dealings are probably not entirely true.
Don’t believe 100% of what I have written, as there was no way for me to corroborate everything.
As always, what matters in these stories is to look for the broad principles and mindset that enabled these people to make so much money.
Radovan Vitek was born in 1971 in the lovely 10 000 people town of Nové Město na Moravě, in what was still at the time Czechoslovakia (and today, Slovakia).
He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen.
Ivan’s story is remarkably similar to the story of Donald Trump.
He started his career in 1989 by importing blankets from Germany, then food and other goods from Italy (he seems to have a special bond with the country since his kids speak Italian).
In 1991, at the age of 20, he created with a few friends an investment company whose name is unclear.
Some sources said it was called Boleslavsko Investment and Privatization Fund (which became CPI in 1998) while others speak of a company called Istrokapital.
In any way, they used the company(ies?) to buy widely undervalued assets sold by the government after the fall of communism (side note: most billionaires in former Soviet republics became rich this way).
These companies were U. S. Steel Košice, a steel production company; Slovnaft, an oil refinery; and the Restitution Investment Fund.
That enabled Radovan to build the base of his fortune.
Six years later, in 1997, Vitek moved to the Czech Republic and bought a cooperative named Včela in a hostile takeover.
Včela was established in 1905. At first, it was owned by the socialists, then by the communists with the advent of the regime.
Včela had taken on several roles throughout its history, the most recent being a food cooperative.
Its lifelong establishment had enabled the cooperative to acquire an impressive portfolio of real estate properties, which interested Radovan.
He saw the portfolio as a good base on which to develop a real estate empire.
There was just one problem. Since Včela was a cooperative and not a company, he could not simply buy it out.
So he recruited 3000 people to join the cooperative, and vote in his favor.
They did, and Vitek changed the status of Včela from a cooperative to a proper company.
The members of Včela subsequently sued Vitek for 13 years for his hostile takeover which they judged illegal.
Several courts rendered different judgments, and Vitek eventually won.
In 2009, he transferred the assets of Včela to CPI, and Včela ceased all operations.
He subsequently built a luxury hotel in the former headquarters of Včela.
A strong signal in the face of a former communist entity!
Real Estate and Other Businesses
In 1999, Vitek started buying apartments regularly until 2003.
To finance his takeover, he issued bonds in 2002.
The story doesn’t say it, but I strongly suspect Vitek found out about the real estate bubble building up in the US and Europe pretty early on since he didn’t buy anything after 2003.
Furthermore, he seemed to have built up massive cash reserves with which he aggressively bought undervalued properties no one had money for during the 2008 crisis.
This move made him most of the money he owns today.
In 2010, Vitek bought the national lottery company Sazka’s debt from banks, in an attempt to take it over as well.
Sazka eventually defaulted on its debt, and Vitek filed a complaint.
After another judiciary saga and the refusal from Sazka to become propriety of Vitek, Vitek sold the debt to Petr Kellner, another Czech billionaire.
Vitek stayed away from companies outside of real estate since then.
In 2013, CPI bought ABLON, a real estate company with a portfolio of properties in Europe.
In 2014, they bought ORCO, another real-estate company, whose move ended up in a lawsuit in New York.
In 2017, CPI bought 11 shopping centers (mainly in the Czech Republic) from CBRE. That same year, they issued new bonds to buy new proprieties.
In 2019, they bought more offices in Warsaw. One year later, CPI became the biggest shareholder in Globalworth, a company that owns office properties in Poland and Romania.
In 2021, they became the majority shareholder of Globalworth and now own 51% of the company.
Today, CPI Group is absolutely massive.
It is the first office owner in Prague, the biggest retail space owner, and the second residential owner in the Czech Republic with more than 12 000 apartments.
They’re also the largest office space owner with more than 1 million square meters in Berlin.
The rest of their portfolio is made up of convention centers and hotels (mainly in the Czech Republic), and they even bought a shopping mall in Rome, where they plan to expand (and are currently being sued by an Italian real-estate group).
Radovan Vitek is not without controversies.
First, he spent 52 days in prison in 2004 for proxenetism.
However, no one really knows what actually happened since the court dismissed all of the charges.
That same year, his first wife asked for a divorce and sought to take everything he owned (his ex-wife mainly spent their marriage shopping in Paris, working out, doing esthetic surgery, and having sex with her husband’s employees).
Radovan Vitek transferred all of his possession to his mother during that time, and his ex-wife only got a few million as a result.
While this money could have easily enabled her to live without working for the rest of her life, she got a job…at the police.
In 2019, two hedge-funds from New York that used to own ORCO sued CPI, as we said above.
They accused the company to take control of ORCO (a Luxembourg-based real-estate company) through a system of shell companies facilitated by the Rothschild.
Doing so, Vitek would have sold ORCO’s most important assets to CPI for an undervalued price, defrauding the rest of the shareholders.
The lawsuit was dismissed by the court.
Other scandals concern the fact that CPI is based in Luxembourg and owned by a Cypriot company itself owned by Vitek, which enables him to minimize his taxes.
His name also appeared in the Pandora papers, where it was revealed that Vitek worked with French lawyers to purchase real estate in the south of France without paying taxes.
But what stroke me as the weirdest is one of Vitek’s declarations to the magazine Ekonom.
When asked about corruption and power in the Czech Republic, Vitek said “of course I see what’s going on. But I live my life with my family and let others live their lives. I don’t poke anyone in their business and I’m glad it doesn’t happen to me either”.
Radovan Vitek made me think of two people: Donald Trump, and Warren Buffett.
Like Trump, Vitek does not hesitate. He fights to acquire what he wants.
But, he is also patient and smart.
His purchase of stocks in the 90s and the takeover of real-estate assets during the 2008 economic crisis was a skilled move that reminded me of Warren Buffett’s strategy.
His issuance of bonds to buy rapidly-increasing real-estate assets is another proof he understands what he’s doing and can use the tools at his disposal.
The US business podcast My First Million once said that real estate was the easiest sector to become a millionaire or billionaire in.
It doesn’t take many brain cells to understand, it’s unlikely to ever be killed by “innovation” like a tech business, and unless you buy mortgages you can’t afford from a predatory bank with changing interests rates, you will rarely make any mistakes.
The only problem is that it doesn’t scale easily, and often includes a massive amount of debt and a lot of employees.
Other lessons I have learned in this story concern not getting married without a prenup, not buying anything at the top of the bubble (whichever it is), and getting as much leverage as possible.
CPI may be a $10-billion company, 40% of that is debts contracted to buy properties.
Vitek isn’t the first billionaire to use debt as leverage to buy businesses. Provided the business you’re buying is “safe”, debt can be a fantastic tool to become rich fast.
It’s just not very innovative, original, creative, or remarkable.
But the purpose isn’t to be any of that.
It’s to become rich.
For more billionaire stories, head to auresnotes.com.
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