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The Swedish queen of Latvian television

 There is hardly anybody in Latvia who has never used the services of her Tele2 telecommunications service provider or watched any of her TV channels — TV3, LNT, TV5 etc. Yet no one can answer, who is the owner. At the same time she is very well known in Sweden. Cristina Mayville Stenbeck is the uncrowned queen of Swedish business, one of the most influential businesswomen of the planet.

How the Swedish holding took over in Latvia

The first business entity of the Stenbeck empire to penetrate Latvia was Modern Times Group (MTG). On 5 June 1998 it acquired from Parex banka 51% of the company Channel 31, the holder of the broadcasting license. In the same year the TV channel was renamed TV3, like its elder brother in Sweden. Soon the Swedes took interest also in Latvian radio broadcasting business and in 1999 purchased 40% of Radio Rīgai broadcasting station. It was renamed Easy FM, and now operates under the name of Star FM.
In 2001 MTG took up the majority of shares at Latvian TV3.
In 2003 MTG launched 3+ channel in Russian, while in April 2007 — cable and satellite channel TV6.
And finally there was the deal of the century, which was discussed all over the country, from communal flats to ministers’ offices - purchase of LNT broadcasting company, the age-old and irreconcilable rival of TV3. After longer hesitation the Competition Council gave its consent to the purchase, although subject to several conditions. And in June 2012 the Swedes took over 100% of Latvijas Neatkarīgā Televīzija JSC, which in addition to LNT owned also TV5 channel in Russian and Kanāls 2 entertainment channel.
By employing similar, rather prudent step-by-step approach Kinnevik penetrated Latvian telecommunications market. In 1998 Tele2 mobile communications service provider appeared in Estonia, in 1999 in Lithuania, and in 2000 in Latvia, where it acquired the local operator Baltkom GSM.
Tele2 immediately joined the serious race for the market share by first introducing pre-paid mobile communication services and several other novelties and step by step capturing the positions of the first Latvian operator LMT. For the time being, Tele2 has not managed to come out victor of the competitive struggle and is still known as “the second operator”. Anyway, the gap from the leader LMT over the years has narrowed considerably.

Inherited empire

Now, let us go back to Cristina Stenbeck. How did this young lady manage to become the proprietor of such enormous business empire?
The charming blonde was born in New York. Last September she turned 35. Being the daughter of one of the wealthiest people in Sweden, Jan Stenbeck, she grew up in Long Island, yet the parents never let her forget her Swedish heritage. After cosmopolitan New York she was nevertheless compelled to master the native language of her ancestors when studying at Lund University in the south of Sweden.
Since September 2005, Cristina Stenbeck has been married to the English businessman Alexander Fitzgibbons; the couple moved to London and has three daughters.
Yet the most important event that drastically changed her life occurred three years earlier, in 2002. At the age of 59 from the heart attach died her father, and despite the fact that he had one more daughter and two sons, management of Jan Stenbeck’s business empire fell to the lot of Cristina.
Cristina Stenbeck inherited Investment AB Kinnevik Investment Company, which managed her father’s business affairs. He not only established the well-known in Europe Tele2 telecommunications concern, but also was the founder of another giant within the industry — Vodafone Group, the world’s biggest company of the segment.
Another important part of Stenbeck’s empire is the free Metro newspaper, which comes out in some twenty countries and is daily read by up to 17 million people.
And in addition to that also Modern Times Group (MTG) — media holding with variety of broadcasting channels throughout Europe.
And now imagine: 24 year-old female is told that she is to take over the entire concern. Hardly anyone back then had any doubts about fast collapse of Jan Stenbeck’s empire.

The grip turned out to be cast-iron

Yet all skeptics were convinced soon enough, and the Swedish press named the newly-fledged business lady the «queen Cristina», while the British newspaper The Financial Times ranked her 11th among the most influential businesswoman in Europe.
In addition to the lack of experience Cristina had other problems, yet the principal problem was the company itself. Actually, two companies, as by then the assets of Stenbeck were managed not only by Kinnevik, but also by another entity — Invik. Both companies, in turn, comprised a great number of smallish and less than transparent entities.
The young industrialist simplified structure of the business group, whose operational ratios did not seem too great. The restructuring impressed the markets. The company’s share prices that had meanwhile reached their nadir, not only regained their precedent level, but even managed to surpass it.
Cristina has proved that a daughter not necessarily has to emulate the business manners of her father. The analysts assume that her business tactics are grounded on the willingness to offer to the market the most desirable thing at the moment.
Furthermore, she is certainly not lacking in her father’s customary aggressiveness. Let’s say, do you know many foreign companies which have succeeded in purchase of shares in Russian television channels? Cristina has managed to beat her way to the insiders’ territory. Under her command MTG has become the majority stakeholder at Russian STS-media group. Last year Cristina Stenbeck attended the meeting of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with the representatives of the National Media Group, the owner of considerable interest at broadcasting companies (First Channel, REN-TV, Channel Five), radio broadcasting stations, Russian New Service group, Izvestia newspaper etc.
And who will deny that Tele2 communications service provider conducts its business in Latvia not only in energetic, but also rather belligerent manner - remember the false meteorite campaign, do you? MTG also is not falling behind, which is evidenced by the recent purchase of the biggest television channel LNT. As the result of this much-talked-of deal the Swedes have taken over nearly a half of the entire broadcasting market in Latvia.

Gennady Andrejev

09-11-2012
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