The new Karstadt owner: René Benko, the golden boy from Tyrol

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René Benko has a flair for the business. He has become rich with real estate. The Tyrolean does not even have a high school diploma. At the age of 17, the son of a community official and an educator dropped out of school to build dusty attics into luxury apartments. In 1999, at the beginning of 20, he founded his first company called Immofina. A year later he bought his first objects: two attics in Vienna. This then became the company group Signa with a real estate assets of 6.5 billion euros. His projects include, among others, the “Golden Quarter”, for which Benko in Vienna built some streets in the city center into a Nobel shopping mall with luxury apartments.

“It’s not just talent, but also the consequence of working hard, not giving up, not leaving the path and moving and doing more than others want to do,” Benko said three years ago when he spoke with the Austrian Caesar was named Real Estate Manager of the Year. He does not only rely on his own strength, but also knows how to engage the right people. He has, for example, brought the former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, the management consultant Roland Berger and former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking onto the advisory board of his Signa Group.

His 37-year-old’s success is due not only to his flair for luxurious apartments, but also to his talent for convincing wealthy and influential people, such as the Greek shipowner George Economou, whom he met in 2008 and the 50 percent of Signa stops (see page 8). Gladly shows Benko with celebrities from politics, business, sports and entertainment, it can be seen on the Signa website with Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and in a video on Youtube with Tina Turner. Benko has long been a star himself.

But the success of the golden boy, as he called “time Austria”, also has a dark side. His good contacts did not prevent him from being sentenced to a one-year probation sentence in a corruption trial: he was accused of using his tax adviser to bribe politicians who should intervene in favor of Signa in a tax matter. The Supreme Court in Vienna confirmed the judgment recently.