Who’s The Billionaire Building A Port In The Congo?

On Friday the third-richest man in the Philippines announced plans to build a new shipping port – in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It’s the latest in a string of recent forays into Africa for billionaire shipping magnet Enrique Razon, owner of International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICT:PM) and Bloomberry Resorts Corp. (BLOOM:PM).

He recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but told Bloomberg reporters he was only there to talk to certain African businessmen – not to “save the world,” like everyone else there.

Razon, 53, has been in the shipping business for his entire life, and he isn’t a man to mince words.

Last year, he told the Wall Street Journal he isn’t inspired by major global business leaders who win awards.  

“They like to write books,” he said. “The moment a CEO starts getting all these awards, I sell the stock… they start believing that crap, you know?”

His attitude is no surprise, considering he spent his entire life working on the ground level, at ports operated by his family company. He was born in the Philippines and learned the business from his father, also named Enrique, who had been building up ICTSI since before World War II.

“I grew up hearing nothing but ports business,” the younger Razon told Channel News Asia

He was the only one of five children in the family interested in the family trade.  

“That’s all I wanted to do; I always knew that,” he added.

Starting in his teens, he spent years working at ports, loading ships and operating cranes before joining the company at age 27. In 1995, he became the chairman.

Since he took over, ICTSI has been expanding aggressively into emerging markets. Today, he spends 200 days a year traveling to check on various business ventures around the world.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for him. There was a hiccup during the Asian financial crisis, when Razon was forced to sell most of his assets to Hutchinson, the Hong Kong-based shipping giant, after the company’s debt exploded to $320 million when the Philippine peso declined.

But after that, ICTSI has been gaining ground – especially in emerging markets.  

 “We have higher growth, higher margin,” he said to Forbes in 2011. 

“If you go to the markets like Italy, France… labor cost is just too high, and even though you have a lot of volume, margin is simply too low,” he added.

Since then, the company has added facilities in Brazil, Honduras, India, Pakistan and China, to name a few. In March of 2012, he made a $225 million deal to develop a port in Lagos, Nigeria.

On Friday, he predicted that it will be one of the biggest countries for growth this year.

“They are a very powerful consumer economy,” he said to Bloomberg. “They need power, they need ports, they need many things,” he said, adding that the government is getting serious about building up infrastructure and the economy.

But of course, shipping is just one aspect of Razon’s empire. In the late 1990s, he owned and sold the publishing company responsible for the Manila Standard Today newspaper.

Last year he paid $200 million for a license to operate one of just four casinos in the Philippines’ “Entertainment City.” In March of 2013 he opened the $1.2 million Solaire Manila casino.

As of July 2013, Razon’s net worth is $4.5 billion., making him the fourth richest man in the Philippines and putting him on Forbes’ list of the world’s top billionaires

He’s known for talking about his passion for the work he does, often saying that “golf is hard work, and business is how I relax.” 

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