I don’t get too excited by money but I am interested in business. So here’s a question, who is the wealthiest man in cycling?
In looking for the answers, we can see some clues into yesterday’s Tour de France team selections.
I can almost hear people saying Lance Armstrong. Good guess, no doubt the richest rider in the bunch thanks to a lengthy career and some massive endorsement deals. But no, he’s almost poor compared to others in the sport.
Look instead to HTC-Columbia’s Bob Stapleton. The American was one of five founders of Seattle’s Western Wireless, the US mobile/cellular operator that grew into Voicestream Wireless before it was acquired by T-Mobile for a whopping $35 billion during the tech boom. Back then Stapleton held about 7% of the company, so his stake was worth around $2.5 billion at the time of the offer. Stapleton’s involvement with T-Mobile after the takeover saw him overseeing the T-Mobile women’s cycling team and this was his entry into the sport, in time he moved to the men’s team and then took over the squad once T-Mobile backed out. If he gained a great job, like many in the tech sector Stapleton probably lost out when the dotcom bubble popped. Note that shares in Deutsche Telekom took a dive, they were close to €120 at the takeover, today they trade under €10.
So maybe here’s the wealthiest man in the sport, Andreas “Andy” Rihs, the man behind Team BMC. As well as owning BMC bikes, his main job is none other than Chairman of the Board of Sonova, a company previously known as Phonak. Sonova is a Swiss business that makes hearing aids and this is a surprisingly big business.
Rihs himself started the business in the 1960s with his brother and a colleague, and today the company is listed on the Swiss stock exchange with a market capitalisation of around $9 billion, of which Rihs owns 10.9%, a holding equivalent to a billion dollars and that’s before you think of the dividends he’s banked and the other business interests he enjoys, from real estate to his hobby, BMC bicycles.
Who is the wealthier? I don’t care. Stapleton and Rihs are fantastically wealthy, there’s no little to be gained comparing their personal balance sheets. Indeed, they have plenty in common, both men started companies that become billion dollar success stories and now they spend a lot of their time in the sport. Instead their business backgrounds can in part explain how their teams work.
Bob Stapleton’s role at HTC-Columbia is clear. The team, under the guise of T-Mobile, was dogged by doping tales and Stapleton was an outsider with no connections to Fuentes, Pevenage and other shady characters. He was a new broom. Plus his background in telecoms goes a long way to explaining why HTC are on board as the lead sponsor for 2010. Today HTC-Columbia are one of the slickest teams in the sport, a very well-disciplined machine.
Rihs is more hands off when it comes to the management but he funds the team with his deep pockets, for if the team exists to sell BMC bikes, not enough of these Swiss frames are sold to fund a team with the likes of Evans, Hincapie, Burghardt, Ballan and Kroon on the roster. Rihs is clearly in love with the sport: he said he’d never return after Phonak imploded in the wake of the Landis scandals but he’s back already.
Rihs’s wealth goes someway to explaining why BMC took that last spot in the Tour de France. Team BMC had been building up the squad but when a dissatisfied Cadel Evans appeared on the market, everything changed. Rihs was able to buy Evans and this ensured BMC’s berth in the Tour de France.