Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

The billionaire that stores a Dh127m painting on his luxury yacht

In our latest round-up on the super-rich, UK tycoon Joe Lewis festoons his $257m boat with a Francis Bacon piece and we find out more about the man taking Elon Musk's rocket to the moon

British businessman Joe Lewi s Photo: Reuters
British businessman Joe Lewi s Photo: Reuters

Joe Lewis

How do you decorate a superyacht’s interior? If you’re anything like London-born billionaire Joe Lewis, you might start with the works of one of your country’s most famous painters.

Mr Lewis’s 98-metre yacht, Aviva, has captivated the public in the UK after anchoring earlier this month in the tourist-teeming docklands beside London’s Tower Bridge. While some passersby have asked who owns the vessel and ogled its gleaming exterior, those more familiar with Britain’s 20th century artists may have noticed what appears to be Francis Bacon’s “Triptych 1974 - 1977” hanging on its lower deck in golden frames.

“People put their art on yachts all the time, but usually it’s not their most valuable pieces,” Katja Zigerlig, vice president of art, wine and collectibles at insurance company Berkley One. ”From a conservation standpoint, it’s not ideal,” and is akin to “taking your newborn on a safari trip to Africa".

Mr Lewis, 81, bought the work - Bacon’s last triptych focused on the loss of his lover George Dyer, who committed suicide in 1971 - a decade ago for £26.3 million (Dh127.03m). The piece is now worth about $70m, according to a person with knowledge of the asset. The vessel it graces is estimated at $257m, according to VesselsValue.

The panels, each almost 2.1m tall and 1.52m wide, more recently formed part of an exhibition celebrating UK painters of the human form at London art gallery Tate Britain. An online guide for the exhibition, which closed last month, identifies “The Lewis Collection” as the owner of the three paintings.

Bacon, an untrained painter and master of the macabre, died in 1992 at the age 82. In the central panel of “Triptych 1974 -1977,” Dyer’s disfigured body kneels on a blue-skied beach beside a black void. For the setting, Tate Britain said Bacon was “indebted” to Edgar Degas’s 1876 “Beach Scene.”

The piece is “a kind of landmark” for Bacon because of its beach backdrop, the artist’s biographer, Michael Peppiatt, told Christie’s in 2008. Bacon usually “has everything happening within four walls, and then for some mysterious reason, and I won’t pretend to know why, this takes place outside,” he said.

Mr Lewis owns Tavistock Group, a Bahamas holding company that has stakes in more than 200 businesses worldwide. His investments include real estate, resorts and restaurants. The billionaire, who made his first fortune through currency trades during the 1990s, also owns North London soccer team Tottenham Hotspur. He’s the world’s 297th-richest person with an estimated $5.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He now spends most of his time in the Bahamas. On top of works from Bacon, his art collection includes pieces by Picasso, Freud, Klimt and Degas. Tavistock Group’s website describes his trove as “one of the largest private art collections in the world.”

Jeff Bezos is the founder and chief executive of Amazon. Photo: Getty Images
Jeff Bezos is the founder and chief executive of Amazon. Photo: Getty Images

Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, is creating a philanthropic fund to help homeless families and launch preschools in low-income communities, committing an initial $2 billion.

Mr Bezos made the announcement on Twitter earlier this month, a year after asking for ideas on how he could use his personal fortune - now estimated at more than $160bn - for charitable efforts.

The "Bezos Day One Fund" created by Mr Bezos and his wife MacKenzie will focus on two areas: helping "existing nonprofits that help homeless families" and funding "a network of new, nonprofit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities," he wrote.

Later, Mr Bezos told a Washington gathering that the $2bn was only a start and that he would likely expand his philanthropic efforts.

"I've seen small things get big and it's part of this 'day one' mentality," Mr Bezos told an Economic Club of Washington dinner.

"The Day One foundation is going to be like that," he added, noting that the mission could evolve. "We'll wander a bit, too."

For the homeless, grants will be given to organisations "doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the needs of young families," Mr Bezos said on Twitter.

The fund will also seek to launch and operate "a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities," he wrote.

Mr Bezos said early childhood education is a critical area and that "the money spent there is going to pay gigantic dividends for decades."

He said the schools would "use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon" and that "the child will be the customer."

The $2bn initiative, while significant, is far less than the philanthropic efforts of other billionaires including Microsoft's Bill Gates, who has donated tens of billions to his foundation, and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who has pledged to donate 99 per cent of his shares in the social media giant to an organisation focused on public good.

Thomas Peterffy is the chief executive of Interactive Brokers. Photo: Bloomberg
Thomas Peterffy is the chief executive of Interactive Brokers. Photo: Bloomberg

Thomas Peterffy

Thomas Peterffy helped launch the electronic-trading revolution that transformed the US stock market. And while the billionaire has not soured on automation, he’s taking a lead role fighting back against the speediest traders.

Interactive Brokers Group announced earlier this month that it will list its shares on an exchange run by IEX Group, which was made famous by Michael Lewis in “Flash Boys.” The 2014 book documented the market’s efforts to use a 350-microsecond speed bump to eliminate advantages IEX believed the fastest traders had in US stocks. When shares of Interactive Brokers move over from Nasdaq, it will be IEX’s first win in its delayed plan to list corporations.

“Our investors are likely to receive better executions when they trade our stock, or for that matter any other stock, on IEX,” Mr Peterffy, Interactive Brokers’ chairman, said last week.

Mr Peterffy, 73, was instrumental in getting computers to trade stocks. Three decades ago, to bypass a Nasdaq rule requiring all orders to be entered on a keyboard, his team built a robot to do it.

“On active trading days, the robot typed so fast it sounded like a machine gun,” National Public Radio reported in 2012.

Eventually, traders were allowed to plug directly into exchanges like Nasdaq’s, eliminating the need for such workarounds. The pace of trading accelerated dramatically, and some order times are now measured in nanoseconds.

Mr Peterffy, a native of Hungary also known for buying political ads supporting Republicans, is the world’s 49th-richest person with an $18.5bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He still remains a fan of computers. “Automation is fantastic!!!!” he said in his email. “Front-running has always existed. Now at higher speeds it is less visible.”

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. Photo: AFP
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. Photo: AFP

Yusaku Maezawa

In a country known for conformity, Yusaku Maezawa has always sought to stand out.

He skipped college, moved to California to play in a rock band and started his own e-commerce company. After making it big, the 42-year-old started dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on artwork. Now the billionaire founder of Start Today is set to become the first paying passenger to the moon on a SpaceX rocket scheduled to blast off in 2023. It’s the latest headline-grabbing project by Maezawa, whose Twitter handle is @yousuck2020.

While Maezawa is relatively unknown outside the archipelago and the art world, he’s guaranteed to become more famous with his plan to fly to Earth’s biggest satellite with a cabal of artists. A self-professed art lover, the Japanese entrepreneur intends to take a combination of painters, musicians, dancers, photographers, film directors, fashion designers and architects on a week-long lunar loop, where he’ll get to watch as they get inspired and create art along the way.

“I thought long and hard about how valuable it would be to be the first passenger to the moon,” Mr Maezawa said at an announcement at Space Exploration Technologies’ headquarters in Hawthorne, California, sitting next to the rocket company’s chief executive, Elon Musk. “I choose to go to the moon with artists.”

The flight around the moon is a marriage of Mr Maezawa’s diverse interests: to be a visionary, to support art and to promote his company. Taking the enormous personal risk of orbiting the moon as the first private citizen would cement him in history books. Mr Maezawa said he hopes the art created during the trip will inspire more interest and support for artists. Mr Maezawa and Musk declined to say how much the lunar trip would cost.

“This is not us choosing him,” Mr Musk said. “He chose us. He is a very brave person to do this.”

Mr Maezawa made a name and fortune for himself by defying the norms of Japanese society. A former drummer in a rock band, he built shopping website Zozotown, a popular destination for younger consumers, from a mail-order music album business.

With a net worth of $2.3bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Maezawa made a splash in the art world in 2017 when he spent $110.5m on a single Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at a Sotheby’s auction, setting a record for an American artist’s work at the time.

Updated: September 23, 2018 08:15 AM