A self-made billionaire whom most Americans probably haven’t heard of died in a helicopter crash this weekend, along with four other people, and he’s being remembered not just for his accomplishments–which we’ll get to below–but also for being “humble” and “generous.”
It’s a tragedy. And it’s OK to admit as you read this that you likely had never heard of him. For reasons that will soon become apparent, that’s quite understandable.
But I’ll bet that after learning his story, you’ll be thinking about him for the rest of the day.
5,000 to 1 odds
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, was from Thailand. He was the founder and owner of King Power, a duty-free conglomerate that he built from a single store in Bangkok that he established in 1989, at the age of 31.
But he was much better known for what he did after he amassed his fortune–buying an English soccer team and propelling it from basement dweller to champion, in one of the greatest upsets in professional athletic history, anywhere in the world.
I like soccer, but obviously it’s not as popular in the United States. However, there’s really no equivalent in American sports for what Srivaddhanaprabha’s team, Leicester City, did when it overcame 5,000 to 1 odds and won the Premier League in 2016.
Imagine if a minor league baseball team somehow won the World Series.
Or if the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who lost all of their games last year, came back to an undefeated season this year and won the Super Bowl.
$1.8 billion a year
For Leicester City to win the Premier League was an absurd accomplishment.
Oh, and by the way, Leicester is a pretty small city, with roughly the same population as Riverside, California. You can imagine what the win did for the city’s fans and its civic pride.
But even if you’re into soccer, it wasn’t hard not to know much about Srivaddhanaprabha, for the simple reason that he was intensely private, an enigma who largely shunned the media.
Quietly, he embraced the small city where his team played. A few million pounds for a new children’s hospital, a million for the city university’s medical department.
He’d done something similar in Thailand, apparently. His surname, Srivaddhanaprabha, was an honorific granted by the king of Thailand, in honor of his company’s success and charitable work.
He was one of his country’s richest people, and he leaves the company he built as a conglomerate. The most recent numbers I could find were that it made $1.8 billion in 2014, and had employed 6,000 people as of 2010.
‘So humble and lovely’
Srivaddhanaprabha was one of five people who died after their helicopter crashed Saturday. Witnesses say its tail rotor apparently malfunctioned moments after takeoff from center field at King Power Stadium, where Leicester City plays.
Srivaddhanaprabha was apparently known for flying to Leicester from London for home games.
Fortunately nobody on the ground was hurt. People are calling the deceased pilot, Eric Swaffer, a hero for having managing to crash the doomed helicopter in a vacant field where nobody else would be hurt.
We celebrate entrepreneurs and self-made men and women, and rightly so. Besides his professional success, Srivaddhanaprabha left behind a large family involved in his business, including a son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, known as Top, who was already chief executive officer of King Power and vice chairman of Leicester City.
Now, for all his success on earth, Srivaddhanaprabha’s story is also a reminder that fame and fortune are always fleeting.
And while that day will eventually come for all of us, at least Srivaddhanaprabha is being remembered the way I think many of us would like to be, regardless of our wealth or accomplishments.
“He was a billionaire–a very wealthy and successful man,” the BBC quoted one person who knew him after he bought the soccer team. “But also so humble and lovely.”