While some billionaires revel in the spotlight, Patrick Drahi cultivates discretion. His investment track record, however, speaks for itself and has seen the kid from Casablanca build one of the world’s biggest media and telecommunications empires.
Patrick Drahi arrived in France at the age of fifteen, and quickly caught up and overtook his classmates – graduating high school a full two years early. Following a stint at the Paris Polytechnic, he went on to study at the city’s National School of Telecommunications.
Early signs of promise
It was as a salaried employee at Philips that he began his journey to the top. Assigned to head up the satellite television systems division, his two years in charge saw turnover rise from ten million to one billion francs (from $1.7m to $173m, at today’s exchange rates). After a stint at Swedish telecoms group Kinnevik, Drahi went into business for himself.
In 1993, he began consulting and founded Sud Cable Service and Médiaréseaux. This was an opportunity for him to interact and work with elected officials; who would prove useful to him in the years to follow. In 1999, he joined the American cable television giant UPC, to direct its western and southern European activity. He sold his stake in UPC in 2001, at the height of the .com bubble.
In the space of a few years Altice holding seized 99% of the French market, notably taking control of Noos and NC Numericable. In January 2014, Altice entered the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Patrick Drahi could finally play in the big leagues.
Yet Drahi remained a relative unknown to the general public. But that was about to change. After an epic battle against Bouygues Telecom, in which the political class got involved, Altice took control of French telecoms giant SFR for $15 billion. Drahi acquired Portugal Telecom for $7.4 billion in November 2014, before leaving to conquer the new world. In May 2015, he spent $9 billion on a 70% stake in Suddenlink, the number seven US cable operator. Then came the blockbuster deal: the acquisition of Cablevision for $17.7 billion in June 2016.
With the rise of Altice, Patrick Drahi was now being mentioned in the same breath as Martin Bouygues and Xavier Niel, his main rivals in France. The difference, though, was they both possessed media empires. He wanted the same. In 2013, he launched Israeli TV channel i24news, designed to show the world “the true face of Israel" by broadcasting in English, Hebrew, Arabic and French. But it was his investments in France that really cemented his position as a media mogul, saving the French daily Liberation from closure then buying L'Express newspaper in quick succession. In July 2015, it was the turn of Next Radio Group, whose channels include BFMTV, a rolling news network, and RMC Sport, broadcasters of the Champions League in France.
Penny-pinching and philanthropy
When it comes to cutting costs, Drahi leaves no stone unturned. He has introduced rationalisation plans and voluntary redundancy programs at SFR and L'Express. Shortly after his arrival at SFR, employees started complaining about the lack of paper in photocopiers and a shortage of toilet paper in the restrooms. Keen Drahi watchers would not have been surprised, after all this is the man who designed the first Altice logo himself to avoid having to pay a graphic designer.
Although he seldom talks about the subject, Patrick Drahi is a true philanthropist. Since 2014, the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation has spent millions on education. In addition to funding scholarships for deserving students, a Franco-Israeli high school and a brain research institute in Jerusalem, the tycoon has not forgotten his alma maters. In 2014, he donated ten million euros to L’Institut Mines Telecom. A year later, the Paris Polytechnique received seven million to support entrepreneurship among its students.
The Israeli aspect
The businessman splits his time between France, Switzerland and Israel, and when in Israel he stays at Tel Aviv’s chic Rothschild tower. Drahi describes himself as a liberal Jew. His wife Lina is a Syrian Christian who converted to Judaism. But if he resides in Tel Aviv for part of the year, it has more to do with business than his cultural heritage or the beach. Aside from i24news, his interests there include the cable operator Hot and the telephone company Mirs.