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Who is Patrick Drahi, the new biggest shareholder of BT?

·2-min read
Patrick Drahi started out selling cable packages door to door (REUTERS)
Patrick Drahi started out selling cable packages door to door (REUTERS)

When the news flashed through the City that a company called Altice had become the biggest shareholder in BT, the response from Brits outside the industry was: who?

No more. The audacious, £2 billion, share raid on Britain’s biggest telecoms company puts Altice, and moreover, its founder-and-billionaire boss Patrick Drahi, firmly in the London spotlight.

So who is Patrick Drahi?

Despite buying Sotheby’s - the most high profile auction business in the world -the Israeli-French billionaire is extremely private.

Born in Casablanca in 1963, he has Israeli, French and Portuguese citizenships.

His parents, both maths teachers, moved the family to Montpellier in France when he was a teenager and the gifted son attended one of France’s prestigious Ecole Polytechniques - the universities which spawn the careers of most successful French businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats.

He took an engineering degree at the Ecole in Paris and went on to study optics and electronics before selling cable TV packages door-to-door.

From those humble beginnings, he began to figure out the dynamics of what would be one of the biggest, most critical infrastructure industries in the world.

Over the past 20 years, through more than 20 takeovers and investments in cable and mobile operators, he has built up one of the world’s biggest telecoms networks companies.

His first big win was when he convinced local mayors in the south of France to allow him and an American partner to lay TV cables in their towns.

The business quickly flourished and the duo sold their business to telecoms tycoon John Malone’s UPC company. Drahi was paid in UPC shares, which he sold for e40 million just before the dotcom bubble burst.

He set up Altice in 2001 as a holding company to invest in other cable ventures, rapidly rolling out fibre to homes across several countries around the world. Recent years have seen him build up a reputation for aggressive and canny leveraged dealmaking - using debt to make seemingly outlandish takeovers.

Perhaps his biggest splash in the corporate world was his 2013 purchase of SFR, France’s second biggest mobile phone and internet provider, from Vivendi.

In 2015, he went on to buy a 70% stake in US player Suddenlink Communications and Cablevision for $9 billion and $18 billion respectively.

Those businesses were spun out into a new company called Altice USA and floated on the stock market.

But it was his 2019 takeover of Sotheby’s that really brought him to the world’s attention. Paying $2.6 billion to take the 275 year old business private, he paid a reputed 61% premium to the existing share price to take it private.

Altice Europe had been listed on the Amsterdam exchange until earlier this year when Drahi took the e6.4 billion company private.

He is married with four children with his Syrian Greek Orthodox wife and has a net worth measured by Forbes of $12.2 billion.

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