Suhail Rizvi, New Twitter Billionaire
By Chidanand Rajghatta
(A 15.6% stake in Twitterâ€¦)
The Twitter logo is displayed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
WASHINGTON: The newly-minted billionaire of Indian origin who has raked in a fortune from his investment in Twitter is so private and secretive that he is said to employ a person just to erase his photos and other personal information that come up on Internet searches.
But a 15.6% stake in Twitter that was worth $3.8 billion at the end of trading on Thursday when the social media company debuted on NYSE has pitchforked India-born Suhail Rizvi into the limelight and into the headlines.
Everything that is known about Rizvi can probably be squeezed into 140 words, if not characters, and for what it is worth, hereâ€™s the skinny: He was born in India and moved with his parents to the United States in 1971 when he was only five. His father Raza Rizvi taught psychology at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls (population 5,200), where Suhail and his brother Ashraf, who is a hedge fund manager, went to school.
Suhail Rizvi graduated from the University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Wharton Business School (whereAnil Ambani, Aditya Mittal, Sachin Pilot among other Indians got their MBA), working as areal estate analyst even when he was studying. He is said to have started and sold a telecom company soon after, and with the proceeds financed the buy-out of an electronic manufacturing business of a Puerto Rico phone company whose annual revenue he boosted from $10 million to $450 million by focusing on higher end products.
But it wasnâ€™t until the early 2000s that he hit big time, first taking control of the talent agency International Creative Management (ICM), representing some of the top performers in movies, television, entertainment and publishing, and helped taking Playboy private for Hugh Heffner. He also bought stakes in Summit Entertainment, which owned the rights to cash-cranking Twilight series franchise.
Lionsgate purchase of Summit last year for $400 million generated yet another bonanza for Rizvi, which he immediately parlayed into Twitter. In the meantime, his investment firm Rizvi Traverse also added Facebook, Square, and Flipboard among other tech companies to its portfolio.
The scuttlebutt is that Rizvi began acquiring Twitter shares from early investors and vested employees such as co-founder Evan Williams through his friend, former Google executive and Silicon Valley angel investor Chris Sacca. They succeeded in getting around traditional Silicon Valley VCs, who typically have first dibs on tech companies, by cleverly camouflaging their buying, outmaneuvering such storied firms such as Kleiner Perkins to become the largest outside shareholder of Twitter.
Beneficiaries besides his company Rizvi Traverse included wealthy clients such as Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and JP Morgan Chase, all of whom raked in hundreds of millions on Thursday.
But from all accounts, no one made out better than Rizvi Traverse and its principal, who pulled in more than what even the founders and CEOs (Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey) and initial investors (Spark Capital, Benchmark Capital etc.,) made.