Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner of Leicester City football club, died in a tragic helicopter crash on Saturday night after watching his club play in England.
The founder of the duty-free giant King Power Group in Thailand, he leaves behind a shopping empire valued at around $4.9 billion by Forbes, built on political connections and shrewd business decisions.
AFP looks at five key moments of Vichai’s life.
* Shopkeeper to tycoon
Vichai launched King Power in 1989 with one duty-free store in downtown Bangkok.
That single store mushroomed into a massive duty-free empire, with his company holding concessions in major Thai airports in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai – locations that serve as major tourist attractions.
His business crossed borders, gaining a licence in the 90s to operate a shop at the Great Wall of China and a duty-free shop in Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport.
* Duty-free monopoly
Vichai’s big break came in 2006, when King Power was awarded an exclusive concession to manage duty-free zones in four major airports, including Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok.
The monopoly generated huge sums of money for Vichai’s group, allowing it to invest in its flagship headquarters, which includes offices and a duty-free mall geared towards Chinese tourists on prime Bangkok real estate.
* Football club owner
Vichai, a polo fan and high-level player, realised his ambition of owning an English football club in 2010, when he bought Leicester City, a struggling second-tier team from the Midlands, for around £39 million.
Thai billionaires were no strangers to English football; former premier Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City and sold it just a year later for a profit.
But Vichai vowed he was in for the long haul. “I’ve never had an idea to work with the team for a short period and then sell it,” he told AFP in 2010.
Vichai showed his ruthless streak, sacking a stream of managers, including former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson and later Nigel Pearson.
While an unpopular move at the time, he was vindicated just a year later when his team won the Premier League.
* Premier League champs
In one of sport’s great underdog triumphs, lowly Leicester City won the English Premier League in 2016.
The unexpected victory earned Vichai plaudits across the world as football fans marvelled at his clear investment strategy and shrewd signings.
Thais were equally thrilled to see their country thrown into the spotlight by Leicester’s win.
But months later the fairytale soured, as Leicester slumped into the league relegation places, prompting Vichai to sack the much-loved title-winning coach Claudio Ranieri.
Leicester’s form promptly picked up and they ended the season mid-table, while reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
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Struggling to find the right words.but to me you are legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club. Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you.... may you rest in peace...#theboss
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* A tragic end
Vichai boarded a helicopter along with four others after watching his side draw 1-1 with West Ham at the King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018.
Moments after take-off, the chopper crashed into a car park outside the stadium and burst into flames, bringing a tragic end to the Thai billionaire’s life.
Vichai leaves behind a wife, two sons and two daughters – all on the King Power executive board.AFP