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Thor Bjorgolfsson speaker [Official]

Thor Bjorgolfsson

speaker location icon London, UK

The first Icelander to join Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people in 2005

Inspirational speaker about the power of positive thinking, and learning from failure

Author, "Billions To Bust – And Back" (2014)

Thor Bjorgolfsson is a self-styled “adventure capitalist”, whose eye for a deal saw him rise to become Iceland’s first billionaire. Despite being ranked as the 249th-richest person in the world by Forbes magazine in 2007, his world came crashing down as the global financial crisis tore through Iceland.

Thor made his first fortune in the wild east of post-Soviet Russia with Bravo Brewery, battling off local thugs and corrupt politicians before selling the company for $100m to Heineken. Over the next six years he multiplied it 40-fold by investing in telecoms (mostly in eastern Europe), building up Actavis (a generic drugs company), and becoming the biggest investor, (along with his father) in one of Iceland’s three largest banks, Landsbanki.

After eight turbulent months of the financial meltdown and the collapse of Landsbanki, Thor lost 99% of his accumulated wealth; in 2010 appeared on the front-page of Iceland’s biggest newspaper apologising for his role in the crisis. Facing crippling debts, he refused to give in to bankruptcy, instead settling with his creditors and slowly re-building his business empire. By 2014, through the various strategic investments of his private equity fund Novator Partners LLP (the London-based alternative investment firm he founded), Thor had become a billionaire once more.

Thor’s autobiography, “Billions to Bust—and Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, And What I Learned on the Way” (2014), is his personal perspective of what it felt like to be in the eye of the storm. In the book he argues that the most important thing an entrepreneur can do is to think positively. Historian Niall Ferguson has recommended “anyone who wants to understand the animal spirits that propelled the world economy all the way underwater in 2008 – and then slowly raised it back to the surface again – will relish Billions to Bust and Back”; whilst serial entrepreneur Brent Hoberman has said that Thor’s story “has much to tell about entrepreneurship, dogged ambition and the brutal might of global markets.”

Thor continues to be an active investor in the emerging economies of Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, with particular interest in telecommunications companies. He is Chairman of Novator, sits on several boards, and maintains a shareholding in companies including 1% of Actavis (which has a market capitalisation of $77.87 billion USD), Play a Polish telecoms firm, and CCP an Icelandic computer games company.

Our Comment

"Thor Bjorgolfsson has a remarkable story to tell. After losing a billion dollar empire and rebuilding it again, he shares some of the lessons he learnt. He argues that riches that can be achieved with risk, but also warns against exuberance and over ambition. More than anything, he believes in the importance of positive thinking, and in the value of learning from failure."

Billions to Bust and Back: How I made, lost and rebuilt a fortune, and what I learned on the way

Thor Bjorgolfsson is a self-styled adventure capitalist with an addiction to debt and an insatiable appetite for business deals who became Iceland’s first billionaire. After 10 years establishing his financial empire with alco-pops and beer in the lawless ‘Wild East’ of newly-capitalist Russia in the 1990s, he moved on to merging, floating, spinning off and privatising businesses from Finland to Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and the Czech Republic. On his 40th birthday, and worth $3.5 billion, he was sitting on top of the world; only 250 people in it were richer than him. His most spectacular triumph was the takeover of Iceland’s second-largest bank, Landsbanki – he had expected his investment’s value to double or treble in four years, and instead it rose ten-fold.


But when financial meltdown hit Iceland in October 2008, Landsbanki crashed and burned, taking Bjorgolfsson with it. Within 12 months he had lost 3.3 billion euros – 98.5% of his wealth – and was treated as a scapegoat in his native country for supposedly bringing about the disaster. Faced with appalling debts, Bjorgolfsson has made good on his promises to repay his creditors, and at the age of 47 is now a billionaire once again.

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