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Late Czech billionaire’s family taps longtime partner Smejc to run PPF

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PRAGUE (Reuters) -PPF Group will install investor Jiri Smejc as its new chief executive from June 15, turning to the longtime investment partner of the Czech company’s late billionaire founder to help navigate the vast business empire through new challenges.

PPF has assets worth around 40 billion euros ($42.2 billion)spanning continents and sectors like telecoms, financial services, media, real estate and biotechnology.

Its founder, Petr Kellner, died in a helicopter crash in March 2021 while on a skiing trip to Alaska. The 56-year old was the richest Czech businessman at the time of his death.

Smejc, 50, will replace Ladislav Bartonicek who has led the group in the last year.

Smejc had a nearly two-decade business partnership with Kellner and also founded the EMMA investment group in 2012 that later won a tender for the privatization of a 33% stake in the Greek state monopoly gaming corporation OPAP.

“From 2005 to 2012, (Jiri Smejc) played a key role at PPF, often discussing the group’s business activities with Petr in great detail. He understood Petr’s way of thinking,” Kellner’s widow, Renata Kellnerova, said in a statement.

“I wish him much success in building on Petr’s legacy and further developing PPF.”

Smejc, who held a 5% stake in PPF between 2005-2012, has remained a key figure in PPF’s consumer lender Home Credit, which has been facing challenges in its businesses in Russia and China.

PPF is also looking to complete the sale of its Air Bank group of Czech and Slovak lenders to bigger rival MONETA Money Bank as it hopes to gain a bigger stake in MONETA.

Smejc will receive stock options for up to 10% of PPF shares under the terms of his appointment and will not take a salary, PPF said.

Besides the change at the helm, an advisory board is formed to give counsel on strategic development of PPF to Kellnerova, who holds the majority stake in the group.

Bartonicek and Smejc are members of the advisory board together with Daniel Kretinsky, founder of Energeticky a prumyslovy holding (EPH), and another long-term business associate of Kellner.

Bartonicek also remains as a minority stake holder of PPF, alongside Jean-Pascal Duvieusart.

($1 = 0.9472 euros)

Late Czech billionaire’s family taps longtime partner Smejc to run PPF

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