Glencore International CEO Ivan Glasenberg (Sergei, Getty Images)

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Ivan Glasenberg is planning to retire in the next three to five years.

This surprised the market, as Glasenberg has earned a reputation as an aggressive workaholic who lives for dealmaking.

The 61-year old is CEO of the world’s biggest commodity trading firm. Glencore buys and sells coal and other commodities, and also owns a number of mines. It is one of the top coal exporters in South Africa.

According to Forbes, Glasenberg is number 309 on the world billionaire list. He’s currently worth $5.4 billion (R78 billion) – compared to Richemont’s Johann Rupert ($5.6 billion), Nicky Oppenheimer ($7.7 billion) and Patrice Motsepe ($1.9 billion).

His career has been tumultuous - here’s how it unfolded:

He was not a teacher’s pet

One of four children, he grew up in Illovo in Johannesburg. His Lithuanian father was a manufacturer and importer of luggage. His mother was South African and grew up in Springs. He matriculated from Hyde Park High School in 1974.  His geography teacher Kathy Caselli-Thomson told the Sunday Times that her student was "not a terribly shy person and did not always accept that the teacher was correct". 

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

He made an important connection at Wits – who ended up with a knife in his back

Glasenberg studied accountancy at the University of Witwatersrand.

Here he befriended Mick Davis, who was a lecturer at the time.

Davis would eventually become CEO of the resources group Xstrata. Six years ago, Davis and Glasenberg announced that they would merge their companies, and Davis was promised the CEO position of the new entity.

But as the merger unfolded, a ruthless Glasenberg shoved Davis aside and assumed the CEO position. Davis left the company.

He became interested in commodities trading due to candle wax

After Wits, he did his articles at the Joburg firm Nexia Levitt Kirson. During this time, he became interested in commodity trading.

"I observed a man sourcing candle wax from South America and selling it to Japan,” he said in an article. "I thought, 'That's unbelievable. Talking on the phone in his office, that man made money moving candle wax from one country to another.' It really interested me."

[Source: Telegraph] 

His first boss was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list

In 1983, after getting an MBA from the University of Southern California he went to work for the commodity trader Marc Rich in New York. Glasenberg quickly climbed the ranks. Rich sent him back to South Africa to work on coal deals.

In the nineties, it emerged that Rich illegally traded with Iran - he appeared on the FBI's Most Wanted list alongside Osama bin Laden. Rich, who also evaded tax, was later pardoned by then-president Bill Clinton.

Glasenberg became CEO in 2002 and, with his colleagues, bought Rich’s stake in the company. They established a renamed firm called Glencore. 

He almost competed in the 1984 Olympics

Glasenberg is a keen race-walker and wanted to take part in the 1984 Olympics under Israel’s flag. In the end, he didn’t – either due to his South African nationality, according to some reports, or because his time wasn’t good enough.  

[Source: Bloomberg] 

He lowered his neighbourhood’s taxes

Glasenberg married Elana Orelowitz, who came from Germiston. They have two children. The couple live in a chalet in Switzerland's wealthy Ruschlikon municipality. Glencore’s head office is nearby.

After Glencore was listed in 2011, Glasenberg earned a massive windfall. A part of the tax on his earnings went to his neighbourhood, and the amount was so large that they could lower their municipal taxes by 7%.

But not all the residents were happy – some objected, given his company’s involvement in African mines.

He’s a close associate of president Cyril Ramaphosa

Bloomberg reports that they have known each other for about 30 years. In 2005, Glencore chose Ramaphosa to be its black economic empowerment partner on the Shanduka Coal project. They also invested together in the Optimum coal mine.

Three years ago, Glencore was reportedly under pressure to sell the Optimum coal mine to a company associated with the Guptas. According to Bloomberg reports, Glencore is now considering buying Optimum back. Glencore also recently got approval to buy Chevron’s oil refining and fuel service stations in South Africa for $1 billion (about R14 billion).

In February, Glasenberg said Ramaphosa would be "a very good president".

[Source: Bloomberg]  

Like Ramaphosa, he’s a member of the 5am club

He starts the day at 05:00 with running, cycling or swimming before he clocks in at the office at 07:00.

[Source: Daily Mail]  

Read: Cyril Ramaphosa wakes up before 5am — and experts think you should too

He paid former UK premier Tony Blair over R14 million for a couple of hours’ work

Glasenberg called in Blair, a friend, to act as mediator for a day when Glencore and Xstrate negotiated their merger. Blair was paid $1 million for a couple of hours.

[Source: Daily Mail]  

His company almost went bust

In 2015, the Chinese economy cooled down and commodity prices near imploded. Traders took massive bets against Glencore, which lost a large chunk of its value. The company had to raise emergency cash to stay afloat. Since then, the company has taken drastic action to recover, selling many of its assets and cutting costs. 

Glasenberg’s dealings in Africa have raised suspicions

Glencore’s association with the controversial Israeli commodities tycoon Dan Gertler, who is involved in mining in the DRC, is currently facing scrutiny in the US. Gertler is on the US sanction list for his alleged “opaque corrupt mining and oil deals”. Glencore apparently made payments to Gertler, which are now under US investigation.

He is intensely private

Glasenberg has only given one media interview – with the University of Southern California’s magazine. And then he asked them to delete it from their website.

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