Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, owner of Leicester City Football Club, is the fourth richest man in Thailand. But his generosity extends beyond borders.
The duty-free billionaire behind Leicester City’s Premier League title is a hit with fans and royalty alike – and he now stands to cash in on one of football’s greatest fairytales.
Polo-loving Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 58, rubs shoulders with celebrities and his surname, meaning “light of progressive glory" was bestowed by Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
But the bespectacled Thai tycoon also displays an unerring common touch, dishing out free beer and doughnuts at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, where he lands his helicopter in the centre circle.
Despite his popularity, Vichai remains enigmatic as he rarely gives interviews, preferring to let his son, Aiyawatt, known as “Top", act as the family frontman.
“He’s (Vichai) a successful businessman and he tried to challenge himself to get something done," Top, Leicester’s vice-chairman, told AFP in Bangkok last month.
“He said, I think two or three years before, that he wants the team to be a success in the Premier League, and now we are."
The avuncular Vichai has carefully navigated Thailand’s treacherous political waters of recent years, while taking his King Power empire from strength to strength.
He has built an estimated fortune of $2.9 billion since establishing King Power in 1989 – starting with a single shop in Bangkok.
With the company name emblazoned across the Leicester shirt and stadium, Vichai is now well placed to leverage football success into global recognition for his brand.
And as Premier League champions, Leicester’s share of next season’s $7.4 billion TV deal will be several times more than Vichai first paid for the club.
Leicester supporters quickly warmed to Vichai after he bought the then Championship strugglers for an estimated 40 million pounds ($58 million) in 2010.
The devout Buddhist is a firm believer in the power of karma, flying in Thai monks to bless Leicester’s pitch and give their players lucky amulets.
And while pumping tens of millions of pounds into the team, club debt and infrastructure, Vichai has spent judiciously.
Leicester’s success has been crafted from teamwork and endeavour, and the astute leadership of manager Claudio Ranieri, rather than an expensive squad of stars.
“The success of Leicester city, it’s because of Mr. Vichai," said Thai FA chief Somyot Poompanmoung, who has known the billionaire for more than 30 years. “He takes care, or he looks after his players, or his team, like a father looking after his children. He is very close to the players."
Vichai rose from relative obscurity, flourishing during the last decade of political upheaval in Thailand, a country where big contracts follow political loyalties.
King Power hit the jackpot in 2006 when it won the duty-free concession at Bangkok’s cavernous new Suvarnabhumi airport, and with it a captive market of tens of millions of travellers.
In 2007, a year after ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Manchester City’s former owner, was dumped from office in a coup, Vichai saw off legal moves to break his duty-free monopoly.
In a kingdom where connections count, Vichai now firmly belongs to the royalist establishment that turfed out Thaksin. His family received its royal surname in 2013.
“On the political side, any business that could win long-term government concessions in Thailand would not lack for political know-how," said Pavida Pananond, an academic at Thammasat University’s Business School in Bangkok.
“The fact that Khun Vichai is often seen with celebrities and royalties, Thai and international, confirms that his contacts list is hard to match," she said, using his Thai honorific.
Before football, Vichai’s first sporting love was polo,the pursuit beloved of the international elite, and both he and Top are accomplished players.
Vichai boasts a lifetime membership at London’s Ham Polo club, frequented by the British royals, and has a stable of horses and players on retainer in Bangkok.
“Khun Vichai is very smart," said Sak, a Thai employee at the cavernous King Power mall in downtown Bangkok. “He is making Thailand very proud."
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is arguably the coolest and definitely the most generous football club owner on the block. Ever since his club, Leicester City did the impossible and won the English Premier League, the boss himself has been on a winning spree. He just won £2.5 million at a casino in Leicester the other day and the timing was perfect since he spent quite a bit buying all his players Mercedes cars, besides other lavish treats.
Sharing perks of his fortune is something that Srivaddhanaprabha is excellent at. He famously flew his private jet (which he bought from Bernie Eccelstone) to Rome to celebrate his mum’s 96th birthday. People at Leicester too are at the receiving end of his generosity as he buys fans of his club beer and food all the time.
It is no surprise then that Srivaddhanaparbha, simply known as Vichai to friends is lavish with his lifestyle too. He always commutes by chopper when he has to go to the stadium to see his team play- often landing in the middle of the field.
After buying Leicester City in 2010, it is said that he would often be seen entertaining powerful friends — mostly politicians and dignitaries in the stadium. It was also not uncommon to see him over-ordering expensive wine for friends and leaving bottles unfinished.
And he is extremely superstitious too as Buddhist monks always bless the pitch before kick-off. It has been reported in the English press that the Leicester boss doesn’t let any female employees near the monks —to avoid temptation. It’s also speculated that some staff were unhappy with him because of the tone he used, but many say it’s a cultural difference and he has no intentions of being deliberately rude.
Ranked by Forbes as Thailand’s fourth richest man, Srivaddhanaprabha, 58 is worth $3.2 billion and his fortune comes from a duty-free empire. He reportedly enjoys a monopoly in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports and enjoys extremely close ties to the royals and the politicians in Thailand and that has paved the way for his business empire, King Power, to grow.
He is also very generous with his donations when it comes to supporting charities that have the royal family as their patrons. A huge celebrity in his country, he likes to be seen as a brand ambassador for Thailand. That last name, Srivaddhanaprabha, is actually a title that was bestowed upon him by the king of Thailand. It name means, ‘light of progressive glory’. The title was later officially converted into a surname.
A father of four, he certainly loves the English way of life as three of his children were schooled in England and he has a home in Berkshire. While he loves to watch his team play soccer, he also loves playing polo, owns dozens of ponies and also sponsors the All Asia Cup.