Indonesian billionaire Erick Thohir's speciality is buying businesses having money problems and turning them around. – AFP Photo
JAKARTA: Indonesian billionaire Erick Thohir, the new owner of the Inter Milan football club, is a sports-loving media mogul with a track record of turning around ventures struggling financially.
The 43-year-old, who keeps a low profile, caused a global buzz Tuesday when his International Sports Capital investment company acquired a 70% stake in one of Italy’s top clubs.
Thohir and his two partners – Rosan Roeslani and Handy Soetedjo – join a growing group of Asian business tycoons who have bought into British and European clubs, but the three are the first Asians to acquire an Italian Serie A club.
“I am an entrepreneur, but first of all I am a supporter and a sports lover. I cannot wait to put our passion and international experience at the service of this fantastic club and its supporters,” he said after signing the deal, according to a statement on Inter’s website.
Those in Indonesia’s sporting world who know Thohir, however, say he is a businessman first, with the savvy to turn Inter around financially after the club dipped 19% in value to an estimated US$401mil (RM1.27bil) and reached a debt level 16% of its value, according to Forbes.
“His speciality is buying up businesses that are having money problems and then using his management and financial acumen to bring them back to the top,” Indonesian football commentator Ari Junaedi told AFP.
“Businesses in bad shape simply need Erick’s touch.”
But his training in the game of turning failure into success was in a different field. The media mogul’s Mahaka Group acquired Indonesian newspaper Republika on the brink of bankruptcy in 2001. Today it is still in daily print and widely circulated.
Thohir has not explained what his role will be at Inter and whether club president Massimo Moratti will stay on as president, though he told Indonesia’s Metro TV before the deal that “Moratti understands the players and the training”.
“Perhaps we will support from a different side – marketing, financial discipline, sharing management. I won’t be there, I’ll be in Indonesia,” he said.
The deal to acquire Inter will mean a cash injection for the club and may mean a stadium for Inter, which is sharing a home ground with AC Milan.
Thohir, president of the South-East Asia Basketball Association, is celebrated in Indonesia for bringing basketball team Satria Muda Britama Jakarta from the doldrums to winning several championships.
Thohir is no stranger to the international arena, having bought into Major League soccer club DC United and the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, both of which showed marked improvements in performance since his involvement.
Former national football team manager Habil Marathi, who has observed Thohir’s career, said he was likely eyeing star players to give Inter a boost.
Inter failed to qualify for European competition in the 2012-13 season, finishing in ninth place in the Serie A side.
Thohir’s strategy is also likely to link the club with Indonesia, and perhaps the region, Marathi said.
“He knows football now is big industry in Indonesia. It’s a lucrative market. He’s going to make a lot of money in the long term. There’s a captive market where he can sell merchandise to,” Marathi said.
Moratti has also said also wants the club to take advantage of ripe markets in Asia which English Premier League giants like Manchester United have exploited. – AFP