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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

While tragedy surrounds some billionaires, others are breaking new ground

From a missing billionaire to a death and the latest achievements from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, here's what the world's ultra wealthy have been up to

Karl-Erivan Haub, head of the Tengelmann group, went missing in the Alps earlier this month. Roland Weihrauch/dpa via AP
Karl-Erivan Haub, head of the Tengelmann group, went missing in the Alps earlier this month. Roland Weihrauch/dpa via AP

Karl-Erivan Haub

The younger brother of German billionaire Karl-Erivan Haub, presumed dead after going missing on a ski trip, will take over the sole leadership of the family's Tengelmann retail group, the company said this week.

Christian Haub and his brother, who belong to one of Germany's wealthiest families, had been co-CEOs since 2000.

The 150-year-old group owns a number of chains, including the Kik low-cost clothing stores and OBI home improvement outlets.

Karl-Erivan Haub vanished during a ski outing in the Swiss Alps on April 7, and family members said last week they had given up hope of finding the 58-year-old alive despite a huge multi-national search effort.

"The loss of our brother is a tragedy for our family. But it does not endanger the continued existence of our family business," Christian Haub. 53, said in a statement.

"Our common goal was always to pass on a strong company to the next generation. I plan to stick to that goal and will do my utmost to achieve it."

According to Swiss media, Karl-Erivan was last seen taking the ski lift at the Klein Matterhorn on April 7 at around 8:30am and setting off at an altitude of 3,800 metres on the glacier-covered mountain - the highest in Europe reachable by cable car.

He was training for the Patrouille des Glaciers, a gruelling race across the Alps organised every two years by the Swiss army.

He had participated twice in the competition that combines skiing and climbing.

But rescuers believe he had an accident during his solo practice run.

Mr Haub's disappearance came just a month after the death of his father Erivan Karl Matthias Haub, 85, who ran the company from 1969 to 2000.

The Tengelmann Group employs around 80,000 people worldwide. It said its revenues for the financial year of 2016 reached 9 billion euros ($11bn).

Its success has lifted the family into 265th place on Forbes magazine's global rich list, and 20th place in Germany.

US Billionaire Matthew Mellon died this week in London. Scott Barbour/Getty Images
US Billionaire Matthew Mellon died this week in London. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Matthew Mellon

Billionaire banking heir Matthew Mellon died this week at the age of 54.

His cousin Peter Stephaich confirmed Mr Mellon's death but declined to provide any details. He had struggled with drug addiction, and reports said he died at a rehabilitation center in Cancun, Mexico.

Mr Mellon comes from the Mellon and Drexel families of Bank of New York Mellon and Drexel Burnham Lambert.

According to Mr Mellon's LinkedIn account and documents of the Securities and Exchange Commission, he attended the Wharton School and later worked in fashion, telecommunications and finance, most recently as an adviser for the digital currency company Ripple Labs.

Mr Mellon is survived by his first wife, fashion designer Tamara, his second wife, fashion designer Nicole Hanley, and three children.

Testifying at a trial where Mr Mellon was acquitted of hiring a private detective to snoop into Tamara Mellon's finances, the co-founder of Jimmy Choo shoes said she and her husband had met at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous when both were recovering from addiction.

The two married in 1999 at Blenheim Palace, one of England's grandest homes, with friends Elizabeth Hurley and actor Hugh Grant among the guests. They divorced several years later.

Chief executive of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. Jason Redmond / AFP
Chief executive of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. Jason Redmond / AFP

Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos said the e-commerce giant has exceeded 100 million paid Prime subscribers and will continue to invest to meet “ever-rising” customer expectations.

Mr Bezos noted the milestone in his annual shareholder letter, published Wednesday. The letter is the founder’s opportunity to underline his long-term strategy for investors, seeking to bolster their confidence as he continues to plough Amazon’s money into expanding internationally, building a brick-and-mortar presence, and inventing new products like Echo speakers and the Alexa voice-activated digital assistant.

Prime subscribers pay monthly or annual fees in exchange for quick delivery of online orders, music and video streaming and free online photo storage. The memberships encourage consumers to shop more with Amazon to get their money’s worth, similar to warehouse clubs like Costco Wholesale. Amazon took its memberships a step further with additional digital perks, and sells add-ons like a more robust music catalog for an additional monthly fee.

Amazon has kept its Prime subscriber number a closely held secret, forcing analysts to estimate the figure based on shopper surveys. Mr Bezos’s comments show that Seattle-based company is selling Prime memberships overseas, demonstrating it can replicate its USsuccess abroad, says RJ Hottovy, an analyst at Morningstar. Amazon is losing money with its international expansion, but investors will be patient if the company is gaining Prime subscribers, he said.

“What we’re seeing in Europe and other markets is similar to what we saw in the US between 2010 and 2014,” Mr Hottovy said. “People see value in Prime memberships in terms of shipping speed and content. It’s important to investors because membership retention rates are north of 90 percent.”

Mr Bezos said that in 2017 Amazon shipped more than 5 billion items with Prime worldwide and more new members joined Prime than in any previous year. He added that 2017 was best year for hardware sales and that the company will continue to invest aggressively to expand its customer base, brand and infrastructure.

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates. Hannah McKay / Reuters
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates. Hannah McKay / Reuters

Bill Gates

When it comes to making an impact on the future of medicine, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is looking to new vaccine technology and research on the bacteria that inhabit your gut.

Vaccines that use a mirror image of DNA to halt the growth of bacteria and viruses appear capable of speeding development of the prevention tools dramatically, Mr Gates said. The vaccines, based on a genetic messenger called mRNA, are under development by companies including Moderna Therapeutics nd CureVac GmbH.

“Even if a new pandemic broke out of something you’d never seen before, you might be able to get a new vaccine developed in months,” as opposed to years, he said on the sidelines of a meeting on malaria in London.

Rapid advances are also taking place in the study of the microbiome - the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the human digestive tract - helping researchers explore the cause of malnutrition, said Mr Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft. More than 100 startups are looking at the field, “leading to lots of insights for many different diseases,” he said.

Investors ranging from venture capitalists Seventure Partners and Flagship Pioneering to pharma giants Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson have pledged at least $125 million to startups exploring the use of the microbiome to fight cancer in recent years.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is leading an effort to battle malaria, unveiling an additional $1bn in investment Wednesday. The foundation, the world’s largest private charity, provided $4.6bn in 2016 grant support and focuses on areas such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, according to its website.

Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. Photo: Bloomberg
Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. Photo: Bloomberg

Steve Cohen

Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen is bringing his passion for tech startups to Asia, along with his checkbook.

Point72 Ventures, which invests mostly the billionaire’s money in early-stage companies, is starting to evaluate prospects on the continent after putting millions of dollars into startups in the Americas and Europe.

Asia presents a chance to “swing big” because it’s unburdened by technological infrastructure, particularly in financial services, said Matthew Granade, who oversees investments at the venture-capital arm of Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management. Many parts of the developed world, such as the US, spent decades to build such infrastructure, making it harder for them to adapt, he said.

“Here, when suddenly you have a huge population moving into the middle class that was never served before and no technologies that were available to support them, you could just build from scratch and leapfrog,” Pete Casella, who leads the venture capital firm’s investments in financial services technologies.

Mr Granade manages a 10-person team in the US, where Point72 Ventures has done most of its deals so far, along with a few in Europe and Latin America. Asia is the next frontier, he said.

Acorns Grow, which offers an investing and savings app for people with limited disposable income, is one of the more than two dozen investments that Point72 Ventures has made over the past two years. Others include HANetf, a London-based firm that helps launch exchange-traded funds, and Extend Enterprises, a New York startup that allows business cardholders to securely share their credit cards with employees and freelancers.

While Granade said deal sizes range from $250,000 to $10m, it’s not just about the money for Mr Cohen, who’s worth $12.1bn according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 richest people. Mr Cohen has a “soft spot” for those entrepreneurs with a passion to excel and shares almost a kinship with them, Mr Granade said.

“These are not huge checks we are writing,” Mr Granade said. “But Steve is involved in everyone of them. He meets with almost every company we invest in. He enjoys spending time with them."

Point72 Ventures is not open to investors apart from Cohen and some eligible employees. While it is a wholly separate entity from Point72 Asset Management, the bigger investment firm can come in at a later stage of a portfolio company’s life cycle and inject larger sums of money if needed, Mr Casella said.