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 just being “humble” and “generous,”.
It’s a tragedy. And, it’s okay to admit as you read this that you likely had no idea who he was. For reasons 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.
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 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 one 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 literally all of their games last year, came back to an undefeated season this year and won the Super Bowl.
For Leicester City to win the Premier League was an absurd accomplishment.
Oh, and by the way, Leicester is a pretty small city to begin with, roughly the same population as Riverside, California. You can imagine what it did for their fans and their 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 known for being intensely private, an enigma, and largely shunning 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 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.
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, rightly so. Now, for all his success on earth, Srivaddhanaprabha’s story is also a reminder that fame and fortune are always fleeting.
And if that day is eventually going to come for all of us, at least Srivaddhanaprabha is being remembered the way I think many of us would like to, regardless of our wealth an accomplishments.
“He was a billionaire – a very wealthy and successful man,” a BBC journalist who’d reported on him said in an article about the tragedy. “But also so humble and lovely.”