The Riddle Of Alexander Vik
A Norwegian who was raised in Sweden and schooled in the Canary Islands, Vik attended Harvard, where he won the Ivy League golf championship-twice.
brought up his
children in an eight-bedroom Greenwich, Conn. mansion that once belonged to a Rockefeller heir, but he
claims residence in Monaco.
And while he
does not drink often, when he
prefers Christiania Vodka, made from a 400-year-old recipe that originated in the court of Norway's King Christian IV.
"Alex was a super risk taker, and sometimes these guys can worm out of things," says Stephen Greenberg, a former general counsel at one of Vik's insurance companies, who later clashed with his boss in court.
With a tendency to operate through offshore companies, Vik
has bought and sold everything from insurance companies to penny stocks and even once tried to break up French media giant Vivendi.
biggest ventures and bets ultimately failed, yet Vik
almost always seemed to come out on top, emerging unscathed and often richer, even as those who invested alongside him were burned.
HARVARD ITSELF MAY be something of a club, but current and former athletes there have cleaved off their own, the Harvard Varsity Club
Among them is Alexander Vik
, who came to America for the first time as a member of the Class
There is a page devoted to him on the club's website, featuring a photo of Vik
, ready to drive a golf ball, long locks of curly blond hair falling below his
"In business, 'brand' is very much in vogue," Vik notes below it, "and Harvard
has the greatest global educational brand and we have to continue to nurture it."
Vik's business brand started on Wall Street, where he worked as a broker at firms like Kidder, Peabody during the day and converted Manhattan rentals into condos at night.
big break, though, came courtesy of his
wealthy dad, who bought a controlling interest in the Scandinavia Fund
and put Vik
in charge, with younger brother Gustav riding along as treasurer.
On paper it was a value play.
The Scandinavia Fund traded
at a discount to its net asset value during a time, the late 1980s, when some closed-end country funds were selling at unjustifiable premiums to their underlying holdings.
But in reality, investors claimed Vik
tried to turn it into a piggy bank.
Under Vik Scandinavia Fund
went into cash just before equities in countries like Norway soared.
The fund also tried to buy real estate loans from a financial firm that had loaned the Viks money to buy shares of France Fund, another closed-end country vehicle.
As the closed-end-fund bubble deflated, minority shareholders sued in 1989 for not fully disclosing the connection between Vik
and the other financial firm and for breaching fiduciary duties by going into cash.
denied wrongdoing, and Scandinavia Fund ended up settling the lawsuits, reportedly for less than $700,000.
Insurance soon piqued Vik's
Hurricane Andrew, which leveled South Florida, had pummeled underwriters, and the Viks bought up insurance assets in a rapid series of acquisitions.
They set up shop in Lawrenceville, N.J., and Vik
Brothers Insurance was soon writing $300 million of property and casualty insurance premiums, mostly on the East Coast, when Vik sold it in 1997 to Highlands Insurance for $100 million.
timing was good: By 2002 Highlands filed for bankruptcy, though Vik Brothers Insurance was not the cause.
In another insurance move Vik teamed up with two big insurers from Sweden and Finland and bought Home Insurance Co.
, based in Manhattan's financial district, for $800 million.
The insurance companies bought out Vik's
minority stake soon after.
Again, good timing.
In 1998 Home Insurance
It's unclear how much money Vik
family made from their adventures in closed-end funds and insurance, but Vik emerged unscathed, at worst.
still controlled Scandinavia Fund-his family owned 73%-which he
had converted into an operating company.
Since it still traded on the American Stock Exchange, he
now had a public vehicle for dealmaking.
And because he
based it in the Cayman Islands, his
company could operate with more opacity at that time, delaying financial filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission
At first Vik
used the firm to run a resort in his
old stomping grounds, the Canary Islands.
But then came the Internet bubble, and he
as CEO, Scandinavia Co.
became Xcelera.com and in 1999 purchased a majority stake in Mirror Image Internet
, an Internet-caching company in Woburn, Mass. Scandinavia also began scooping up minority stakes in a grab bag of companies-Active ISP, deo.com and e-game-that had good stories, even if they had neither revenues nor paying customers.
Press releases and press appearances floated the stock.
would personally craft the wording late into the night, sweating the details of each promotional outburst.
"Relatively speaking, there's very little competition.
This is a brand-new field that didn't exist a year and a half ago.
People are projecting it to be $14 billion by the year 2003," Vik
said in one interview.
now defunct financial channel he
answered a question about Xcelera's "voodoo" by likening it, in theory, to Akamai Technologies
, a comparison that drove Akamai executives crazy.
The stock collapsed soon thereafter but not before Vik
family, through a company they controlled, sold $250 million of Xcelera stock, according to a class action filed by shareholders against Vik
denied the allegations.
For more than a decade Vik faced Xcelera-related lawsuits, and for more than a decade he
"We spent years on the case, and you don't do that unless you think you have something," says Peter Pease, the frustrated plaintiff lawyer who spearheaded a major class action. (A federal judge disagreed: She
tossed the case on the first day of trial, citing a lack of evidence that insufficient disclosure caused damages.) Minority shareholders of Mirror Image sued Vik
in Delaware state court and also lost.
After Xcelera's stock was delisted, Vik
launched a successful tender offer to buy the remaining shares for 25 cents each without disclosing any financial information about the company, according to a shareholder class action that accused Vik
of insider trading and market manipulation.
denied the allegations.
And again, Vik
prevailed and held on to the remaining assets of Xcelera.
Still, even people who felt cheated by Vik
charm tough to resist.
Greenwich mansion was like entering a Scandinavian version of the Louvre, packed with works by the region's top artists.
also keeps prized art possessions in New York in a two-bedroom apartment on the 67th floor of the Time Warner Center
bought for $4 million in 2004 and later transferred to his
travels constantly (sometimes chartering a private jet) to visit his
vineyard in Chile, homes in France and Monaco and hotels in Uruguay.
"Up on the Estancia it's like Marlboro country," Vik
in 2011 about his
"Romantic and rustic, with gauchos.
But on the beach it's like Saint-Tropez in the summer, with parties and dancing and beautiful people."
works all the time, say former colleagues, but maintains a Scandinavian reserve, always contemplating his
next move, never getting outwardly angry.
WALKING AWAY FROM the dot-com refuse, Vik
spied the next big fortune-creating trend: derivatives trading.
set up something called Sebastian Holdings
, which was incorporated in Turks and Caicos but largely operated out of his
Connecticut house, which is also owned by his
wife (his official residence remains Monaco).
employed two Wall Street
traders, Klaus Said and Michael Kluger.
Together they took big positions in everything from shipping stocks to foreign currencies and futures contracts.
Armed with a margin account provided by Deutsche Bank
even bought a sizable stake in Vivendi
and drew headlines in 2006 by trying to force the French company to sell assets.