Red Bull founder

Giving Truth Wings

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Dietrich Mateschitz has been an outspoken critic of Austria and Germany’s refugee policies and often courts controversy.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Mateschitz co-founded the Red Bull energy drink company in 1984.
    • Its huge popularity has seen the firm move heavily into sports marketing.
    • The 72-year-old is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth €13.4 billion ($14.2 billion).
  • Audio

    Audio

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Red Bull Ring in Spielberg
Red Bull's empire includes the Spielberg grand prix circuit in Austria. Source: DPA

His firm’s energy drink sells around the world and its sponsorship of sports, both mainstream and extreme, knows no bounds. Now it seems Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz wants to take over the world, à la Donald Trump.

The Austrian billionaire, whose empire extends from drinks to soccer clubs to air races, is a big fan of the U.S. president and appears to share his skepticism regarding the mainstream media.

He plans to set up a multimedia platform called “Näher an die Wahrheit,” (“Closer to the Truth”) that will be accessible to everyone and will, he said, be independent of Red Bull and his own TV station Servus TV.  It will be financed by his private foundation “Quo Vadis Veritas” (“Where is The Truth Going?”)

The flamboyant tycoon, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth €13.4 billion ($14.2 billion), explained his reasoning in a rare media interview with Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

Even the Austrian government won’t pick a fight with him.

The country’s authorities, he said, wanted the public to be scared and uncritical. An outspoken critic of Austria and Germany’s refugee policy, the 72-year-old said the politicians who presided over the influx of more than a million asylum-seekers in 2015 were hypocrites.

“I’m saying that none of the people who called out ‘Welcome’ or ‘We’ll manage it’ made their guest room available or had a tent in their garden where five emigrants can live,” he said.

Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers, more than 1 percent of its population, in 2015 and 890,000 arrived in Germany that year. “We’ll manage it” was the controversial rallying cry of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She has since dropped it, but has refused to abandon her open-door refugee policy.

“I am someone who fundamentally opposes being told what to think,” Mr. Mateschitz told the newspaper. “Even if one immediately makes oneself suspicious in all directions: in America you’re branded a communist, in Europe as a conspiracy theorist or a right-wing populist.”

He has recruited the former spokesman of Austria’s liberal party NEOS, Niko Alm, to run the media project. Mr. Alm resigned as a member of the Austrian parliament at the end of March.

Mr. Mateschitz is regarded as a pioneer of content marketing and built up a media empire to advertise the Red Bull energy drink, developed in the 1980s and based on a Thai recipe. He owns the Formula 1 racing team Red Bull, the German top-division soccer club RB Leipzig, magazine and book publishers, as well as palaces, castles, villas and a Formula 1 race track, not to mention a Pacific island.

He runs his company like a feudal lord. When the workforce of Servus TV planned to set up an employee council last year he threatened to shut it down. The staff backed down.

Formel 1 – GP Österreich
Dietrich Mateschitz is a powerful voice in Austrian society. Source: Picture Alliance/DPA

Even the Austrian government won’t pick a fight with him. Chancellor Christian Kern has declined to respond to the entrepreneur’s criticism, presumably because he doesn’t want to provoke him into forming a populist movement.

It has happened before in the country. Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, the rags-to-riches founder of the Magna auto parts company, managed to win seats in the Austrian parliament in 2013 with his party Team Stronach.

But Mr. Stronach’s party has since sidelined itself with infighting, and Mr. Mateschitz, it appears, doesn’t want to go down that route. He has made a point of backing Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, the young leader of the right-wing populist arm of the conservative Austrian People’s Party and its likely next chancellor candidate.

“It’s noticeable with Kurz that he makes a very intelligent, courageous and charismatic impression,” said Mr. Mateschitz. “One can largely share his views.”

Mr. Mateschitz, “Didi” to his friends, sees himself as a benefactor of his Austrian homeland. He once likened himself to Archduke John of Austria, a 19th-century field marshal and member of the royal Habsburg dynasty who promoted industry, culture and education in the country.

But, like the Habsburgs, Mr. Mateschitz appears to see criticism as lèse-majesté. “Some say we’re lucky to have him, others say we’ve totally sold out to him,” said one insider in the tycoon’s home region of Murtal in Styria.

 

Hans-Peter Siebenhaar is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Vienna. To contact the author: siebenhaar@handelsblatt.com

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