Death of Petr Kellner opens debate on his legacy and future of PPF business empire

PPF headquarters in Prague, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The death of Petr Kellner, a reclusive Czech billionaire and the head of PPF group, came as a big shock in the Czech Republic on Monday morning. As further details of his death in a helicopter crash in Alaska emerge, Czechs are looking back at the billionaire’s legacy and what his death means for the future of PPF Group.

Alaska police officer Austin McDaniel told Czech Radio that the search was launched when reports came in about a delayed helicopter and debris seen in the mountains on Saturday night. The search party found and rescued one survivor - snowboarding champion David Horváth. The next day, the Alaska rescue service found the remains of five bodies, among them was Petr Kellner. An investigation into what caused the crash is currently underway.

Petr Kellner,  photo: archive of PPF

The editor-in-chief of the leading Czech business daily, Hospodářské noviny Jaroslav Mašek, told Czech Radio’s Lenka Kabrhelová that the death of Petr Kellner is a big loss for the Czech Republic.

“I think few people realise that Petr Kellner really was one of the most important Czechs. Whether one likes it or not, the achievements he made in business surpassed those of all others in the history of the Czech Republic and even further back.”

Mr. Kellner was known for his preference not to speak to the media directly and remained a largely ambiguous figure, even amid allegations that his company Home Credit sought to influence Czech society to the benefit of Communist China.

However Mr. Mašek says that Petr Kellner could be reached informally. The two last met in 2020 at the Olympic Games show jumping qualifier in Velka Chuchle, where Kellner’s daughter, Anna Kellnerová, competed.

“He was very nice when you met him personally. One could see that he was extremely intelligent, but he just did not like to comment on things publicly. In fact the only exception he made in this respect was his opening statement in the annual reports.”

Asked about what the death of Petr Kellner could mean for the future of the diverse PPF Group business empire, Mr. Mašek said that a certain shake up is possible.

“The company has tens of thousands of employees and capable managers, who will, for a time, be able to operate on autopilot. On the other hand, Mr. Kellner was a clear leader, who was really active in [PPFs] management. He lived in Prague, took daily trips to PPF Gate to work. He will soon be missed when it comes to strategic decisions.”

Alaska Army National Guard helicopter at the scene of a helicopter crash near Knik Glacier in Alaska,  March 28,  2021,  photo: ČTK/AP/Lance Flint

What those future big decisions may be, Mr. Mašek does not know. He told Czech Radio that he sees two possibilities. If PPF Group secures a capable new leader and Kellner’s family is involved in management, the company could remain in family hands as a private company.

“The alternative is that individual divisions of PPF Group will start to get sold. This will not be a question of weeks. Rather, we are talking about the timespan of two to three years, when the future of PPF becomes clear.”

Ladislav Bartoníček, the former head of insurer Ceska Pojistovna, who is also a shareholder in PPF Group and was involved in the business’ expansion from the early beginnings, has since been named as the new person in charge of PPF Group. The group’s spokeswoman, Jitka Tkadlecová, said that PPF Group will continue in its investment projects along the plans and vision which were established by Petr Kellner and his team.