Who is Patrick Drahi, the billionaire who has become BT’s biggest investor?
Moroccan-born telecoms mogul and art lover has surprised investors with £2.2bn swoop on BT
Last modified on Thu 10 Jun 2021 11.57 EDT
Patrick Drahi has built a $12bn fortune making shrewd bets in telecoms, his latest being the surprise move to become BT’s biggest shareholder. But it was the art lover’s deal to take over Sotheby’s that put him in the media spotlight.
Drahi, the owner of works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, paid an eye-watering $3.7bn in 2019 for the underperforming auction house, explaining the purchase as an “investment for my family”.
The surprise move away from decades of deals in the telecoms and media sector, which many felt was part of his plan to build a legacy, prompted the entrepreneur to remark that he remained “100% committed” to his core business. The 57-year-old’s unexpected £2.2bn share swoop on BT, opportunistically timed as the company’s stock is viewed by many to be good value with a 5G and full fibre-broadband future in sight, is proof of that.
Born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1963 to two maths teachers, Drahi moved to France as a teenager and holds Israeli, French and Portuguese citizenships. He lives in Switzerland, where he has homes in Geneva and the ski resort of Zermatt.
Drahi attended the École Polytechnique in Paris, the French university famed for turning out the country’s most successful business leaders and politicians. After working for a number of cable and satellite TV companies he co-founded two of his own in the south of France in the mid-1990s. The businesses did well enough to catch the eye of the “cable cowboy”, John Malone’s UPC, now the Virgin Media-owner Liberty Global, in a share deal buyout from which Drahi eventually made €40m.
In 2001 he set up Altice, which has grown aggressively with debt-fuelled acquisitions to build operations spanning France, the US, Portugal and Israel. Notable deals include SFR, France’s second-largest mobile and internet provider, from Vivendi in 2013. Earlier this year the Amsterdam-listed Altice Europe, home to SFR and Drahi’s other operations on the continent, was taken private.
Drahi also spent $27bn on the US cable companies Suddenlink Communications and Cablevision in 2015. The businesses have been spun off into a new company, Altice USA, which also includes media assets such as Cheddar, the digital-first millennial news site acquired in 2019 for $200m.
Drahi, whose hobbies include the arts, painting, classical music, skiing, cycling and walking, has four children with his Syrian Greek Orthodox wife. Forbes estimates his net worth at $12.2bn.
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