Meet the Billionaires of Thailand's Red Bull Fortune

  • Booming segment creates $45 billion of individual net worth
  • The brand accounts for 87% of world’s energy-drink billions

Red Bull Fuels 11 Thai Billionaires

The 24-mile leap from the edge of space to the sands of New Mexico was vintage Red Bull.

With logos emblazoned across the skydiver’s spacesuit, helmet and parachute, the 844 mile-per-hour (1,358 kilometer-per-hour) freefall played out in 13 minutes of heart-stopping video streamed live on the Internet.

It was the kind of stunt that’s helped leave 11 surviving family members of reclusive Thai entrepreneur and sometime duck farmer Chaleo Yoovidhya with collective wealth of $22 billion, the world’s largest fortune from energy drinks, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Chalerm Yoovidhya

Photographer: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

While the relatives live well, “they do not brag about it,” said Yupana Wiwattanakantang, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Business School. Chaleo “set the tone being humble and modest.”

Flying Bulls

The bulk of the fortune sits in Red Bull GmbH, the Fuschl, Austria-based business that owns rights to distribute a carbonated version of Chaleo’s original recipe, as well as sports and adventure assets that include an airborne stunt team, “The Flying Bulls,” four professional soccer teams, two Formula One race teams and units that organize and promote events such as the space jump four years ago by daredevil Felix Baumgartner.

Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile leap.

Source: Red Bull Stratos via EPA

Chaleo, who died in 2012, established closely held T.C. Pharmaceutical Industries Co. in 1956 to sell antibiotics. He later pivoted to energy tonics, and in 1975 invented a drink made with caffeine, sugar, and the amino acid, taurine, that he called Krating Daeng, or “red bull” in Thai. It was sold as an inexpensive energy drink in Asia until 1987, when he teamed up with Austrian marketing whiz Dietrich Mateschitz, who discovered the drink while seeking to counteract jet lag on a business trip in the region.

Together, they built fortunes by modifying the recipe and creating a global brand around an adrenaline-fueled culture of extreme sports that catered to everyone from sleep-deprived students and truck drivers to ravers and thrill-seekers. Mateschitz, 72, controls a $12.3 billion fortune, ranking him as the 80th-richest person on the Bloomberg index.

Representatives of the family and Mateschitz, declined to comment on their wealth.

Family Fortune

Ten Yoovidhya family members share 49 percent of Red Bull GmbH while Chalerm Yoovidhya, the patriarch’s eldest son, owns another 2 percent, according to Orbis, a database of closely held companies published by Bureau van Dijk, and corporate filings from the Hong Kong Companies Registry. The remaining 49 percent is held by Mateschitz.

Dietrich Mateschitz

Photographer: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Seven members of the Yoovidhya family also own T.C. Pharmaceutical, which controls 51 percent of Red Bull China, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private holdings. 

The company began selling the original version of the drink in China in 1993 and established a manufacturing facility in Hainan province. It expanded the operation two years later and formed a joint venture with Chanchai Ruayrungruang, a Thai-Chinese entrepreneur who also goes by the Chinese name Yan Bin.

Previous wealth estimates apply full ownership of Red Bull China to Chanchai, the world’s 325th-richest person with $4.7 billion, according to the index. Mateschitz doesn’t have a stake in the Asian ventures. Reignwood Group, the company Chanchai founded, didn’t respond to requests seeking comment on his net worth.

Booming Industry

Red Bull has helped create a booming industry, with global energy-drink sales of $43 billion in 2015, according to Euromonitor, which estimates the segment will continue growing at an 11 percent compound annual rate through 2020. Red Bull has a 30.2 percent global share of the market and T.C. Pharmaceutical another 11.8 percent, according to the London-based research group.

“It’s a brand built on events,” said Rohit Deshpande, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School. “Yoovidhya is seen as the person who came up with the idea for the product, what goes inside the can. And the Austrian is seen as the guy who promotes it.”

Red Bull GmbH had 5.9 billion euros ($6.2 billion) of global revenue in 2015, according to its website. Publicly traded Monster Beverage Corp., Red Bull’s closest peer, had $2.7 billion of revenue in 2015, and its two founders, Rodney Sacks and Hilton Schlosberg, have a combined wealth of $2.2 billion. Russell Weiner, who founded Las Vegas, Nevada-based Rockstar Inc., owns 85 percent of the No. 5-selling brand and has a $3 billion net worth, according to the index. His mother, Janet, owns the balance.

Monster spokesman Roger Pondel said Schlosberg and Sacks declined to comment on their wealth. A spokesman for Weiner didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The Yoovidhyas, the only billionaires of the group who aren’t founders, have kept the no-limelight approach favored by the patriarch, a devout Buddhist who was said to prefer spending his free time running the family duck farm. In three decades at the helm of T.C. Pharmaceutical, the billionaire never gave an interview nor made any public appearances, according to a Thai daily, The Nation.

China Daily reported in January that the family is seeking to re-negotiate terms of the partnership there, with Saravoot Yoovidhya, the CEO of T.C. Pharmaceutical, quoted saying that the two sides needed to make “adjustments for the future.”

Succession at Red Bull GmbH is also a concern, according to National University of Singapore’s Yupana, where Mateschitz has led the marketing effort and the Yoovidhya heirs “haven’t shown the ability to do that so far.” Tina Deutner, the spokeswoman for Mateschitz, said the billionaire has a working relationship with the family that “is both professional and amicable.”

— With assistance by Pei Yi Mak, Jack Witzig, and Brendan Coffey

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