Ivan Glasenberg: 'obscure billionaire no more'

Daily Maverick's Mandy de Waal has an in-depth profile of Ivan Glasenberg, titled Obscure billionaire no more where she pulls together everything – which is not all that much – that is known about the intensely private CEO of Glencore International.

Glasenberg, 55, holds more than a 15% stake worth $6.5 billion in the Swiss-based company that went public in a $37 billion listing in May 2011.

The IPO turned South Africa-born Glasenberg and at least three of his colleagues into multi-billionaires, but also meant that Glasenberg and the business practices of Glencore would come under increasing scrutiny.

Glencore has always been a controversial company – it was founded by Marc Rich, a fugitive businessman controversially pardoned by Bill Clinton shortly before leaving office in 2001 but you wouldn't know that from Glencore's press releases – given its scale and global reach.

But today Glasenberg's name is increasingly popping up in more and more unflattering news stories.

There are allegations of tax evasion and pollution in Zambia, child labour in the Congo and market manipulation in coal and copper worldwide.

Even Glasenberg's  impact on Swiss village life is attracting attention, something that may have played a role when anti-globalization protesters exploded a small device in the post box at this home in Rüschlikon while he was attending Davos:

Another very public problem is the debate about the wealth he’s been bringing into the small Swiss municipality of Rüschlikon, which nestles on the shores of Lake Zurich. Even though Switzerland is a tax haven, the Glencore listing saw Rüschlikon's tax repository swell by some 360m Swiss francs, thanks to Glasenberg. Now the village, one of the richest in the country, has a problem. It has more money than it knows what to do with, and is contemplating tax cuts – but locals object because they view the Glasenberg’s money as ‘tainted’.

To add fuel to this fire, the BBC recently aired a documentary on Glasenberg, Glencore and the tax quandary Rüschlikon is dealing with. The film opens with a black screen on which the question is written: “How much profit is fair?” This is followed with footage of the idyllic village with its pristine streets, houses and waterways.

“Rüschlikon, a tiny village on the outskirts of Zurich and one of the richest communities in Switzerland.”

“Real estate prices are booming, unemployment is virtually non-existent, and social problems are few and rare,” the voice continues. The documentary tells the story of how one of Rüschlikon’s five thousand or so inhabitants gave it a massive tax windfall. “However, Glencore's copper mines in Zambia don't generate similar tax windfalls for Zambians,” the makers of the film state. “The country has the third largest copper reserves in the world, but 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 80% are unemployed.”

De Waal says you can expect many more revelations about Glasenberg:

Lawyers’ letters be damned, Glasenberg’s future will include nosy reporters burrowing deep into his past, phone calls to his Alma mater, and investigative journalists trying to find out if he had anything to do with those Apartheid oil deals, digging up whatever dirt they can find.

[…]

The Glencore CEO is hurtling along a trajectory that appears to merge the apex of his success with proper spotlight, and detractors are starting to get angry.

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