May 4, 2011 / 5:56 PM / 9 years ago

Ivan Glasenberg's long walk to Glencore billions

LONDON (Reuters) - As head of the world’s largest commodity trader, Ivan Glasenberg knows everything has a price, even his own closely guarded privacy. That figure is a startling $10 billion.

The prospectus for Glencore’s eagerly awaited initial public offering (IPO), published on Wednesday, ends years of secrecy and puts the publicity-shy 54-year-old fully in the limelight, revealing he holds 18.1 percent of the company.

That will drop to 15.8 percent after the London and Hong Kong flotation later this month, but Glasenberg and several colleagues will become paper billionaires several times over.

Glasenberg will rank among the world’s 100 richest people, Forbes data suggests, ahead of Nicky Oppenheimer, the $7 billion diamond tycoon Forbes considers South Africa’s richest man.

But it’s not just the obvious lure of a $60-billion company valuation that drives Glasenberg. He recognizes how a private partnership is limited in making big acquisitions, and the need to avoid big capital outflows if partners leave.

Glasenberg has enjoyed life as a relative unknown in Switzerland and took pride in the fact that some of his former schoolmates were unaware he had money.

But resigned to entering the limelight, the former South Africa and Israel champion race walker knew he would have to “cross the Rubicon” once the company went public.

One outsider who has worked closely with senior Glencore officials says becoming a public figure is Glasenberg’s “biggest concern” about a flotation.

New Chairman Simon Murray may be able to share some of the limelight — although one of his first interviews in the role provoked an outcry over sexism.


Glasenberg, who grew up in South Africa during apartheid, worked his way to the top over a quarter of a century, helping build Glencore into one of the world’s biggest private firms.

After earning an MBA at the University of Southern California in 1983, Glasenberg was hired as a coal trader in South Africa, rising to become chief executive at the company’s Swiss HQ in 2002, via jobs in Australia, Hong Kong and Beijing.

A strict regime of a daily run or swim keeps him lean, while a mean side sometimes surfaces in the form of a fiery temper.

But he is also known for his charm, with a sharp memory for details about people and an ability to engage with them.

“The thing about Ivan, he can fly in and meet presidents of countries but he also talks to the guy on the trading floor,” said Jim Cochrane, chief commercial officer and executive director of the Kazakh mining group ENRC.


Glasenberg embodies the shrewd, hard-hitting qualities that have taken Glencore to the pinnacle of the commodities world. Under his leadership, Glencore has stuck to a culture encouraged by founder Marc Rich, building a tightly knit firm that reminds some outsiders of Goldman Sachs before it went public.

“Ivan is very central to the culture,” said a second person who has worked closely with senior Glencore officials, adding that as with Goldman, that ethos involves “real allegiance to the organization and an incredible identification culturally.”

It also involves Stakhanovite amounts of work and travel.

“The key people, Ivan included, are on a plane, at mines, meeting trading partners, probably 70-80 percent of the time. If they are in Zug more than one day a week I think they get a rollicking email saying, ‘Why the hell aren’t you out?’,” the first outsider said.

The detail-focused Glasenberg mixes lucrative financial rewards and competitive pressure to get the best out of employees, while maintaining a flat management structure.

His competitive streak is illustrated by his sporting achievements.

He only missed competing in the 1984 Olympics because of a technicality relating to his Israeli nationality, according to an interview he gave to the magazine of the University of Southern California’s Marshall business school.

Glasenberg, who is married with a son and daughter, became intrigued with commodities trading when studying accountancy in South Africa, the magazine said. The interview was one of the very few he ever granted before Glencore decided to list.

“I observed a man sourcing candle wax from South America and selling it to Japan. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable. Talking on the phone in his office, that man made money moving candle wax from one country to another.’ It really interested me.”

That interest now looks set to be repaid many times over as Glasenberg’s business acumen lands him the gold that eluded him on the track.

additional reporting by Michael Stott; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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