Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz dies aged 78
Dietrich Mateschitz, who became Austria’s richest man peddling Red Bull to the masses and harnessing the popularity of the energy drink to build a sports-marketing empire spanning Formula 1, soccer and mountain biking, has died. He was 78.
Red Bull announced his death to employees in a statement late Saturday, without providing details.
Known as Didi, Mateschitz co-founded Red Bull GmbH in 1984 with Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya after discovering that the caffeinated beverage eased his jet lag during a trip to Asia. Based in Fuschl am See, a sleepy village on the outskirts of Salzburg, the company started selling the soft drink in 1987, expanding into neighbouring countries in the following years.
By 2020, Red Bull was selling tens of millions each day of the brew that comes with a distinctive sweet flavour and is packaged in a slender can. Beside the main product, it markets a variety of Red Bull beverages, from cola to tonics to cactus-fruit infused flavours. The company reported revenue of €6.3 billion in 2020.
A pilot and skiing enthusiast, Mateschitz built a personal fortune estimated at $15 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Some employees called Mateschitz “the Yeti” in recognition of his preference for secrecy and air of mystery. He carefully controlled information about his company and himself, particularly his private life. For many years he would not entertain questions about his only child, Mark, whose mother Mateschitz dated for two years.
“I don’t believe in 50 friends. I believe in a smaller number,” Mateschitz said in a 2011 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “Nor do I care about society events. It’s the most senseless use of time. When I do go out, from time to time, it’s just to convince myself again that I’m not missing a lot.”
Red Bull, by contrast, became an omnipresent sponsor of sports worldwide, revolutionising marketing with its ownership of teams and its promotion of daredevil events like acrobatic flying and skydiving.
Its namesake car-racing team has won six Formula 1 drivers’ titles, and eponymous soccer teams compete in multiple countries. More than 8 million people watched a live video of Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s record freefall from the stratosphere in a stunt carrying Red Bull’s name in 2012.
The brand’s aggressive sponsorship lured a young following - as well as the scrutiny of regulators over its health effects. In a 2011 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned about potential adverse effects for youth consuming energy drinks. Several European countries, including France and Norway, initially banned the sale of Red Bull.
The company has rejected adverse health claims and funded studies showing its products’ positive effects, including improved attention while driving and better upper-body strength during exercise.
Origins of Red Bull
Mateschitz was born on May 20, 1944, in Sankt Marein im Muerztal, a small town in the Styria region of Austria.
He took a decade to get a degree at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, taking time off during studies to work as a ski instructor and mountain guide.
After working in marketing at Unilever Plc, Mateschitz climbed the ranks at German consumer-goods producer Blendax, the maker of blend-a-med toothpaste that was later bought by Procter Gamble & Co.
The origins of Red Bull date back to Mateschitz’s trips to Asia as a brand manager, where he discovered the tonics that had become popular across the region among university students and drivers.
During one of his trips, he was surprised to learn that a producer of energy drinks was the top corporate-tax payer in Japan, highlighting the growth potential for a product category that only had a thin presence in other parts of the world.
In 1984, he joined forces with Yoovidhya, who was already selling a non-carbonated version of the beverage in Asia under the name Krating Daeng, with plans to promote it to a global market.
It would take another three years to start selling Red Bull in Austria, including work on the company slogan that has remained a fixture of the brand’s marketing campaign: “Red Bull Gives You Wings.”
The company has never actually produced the energy drink, choosing instead to outsource the process to Austrian juice maker Rauch Fruchtsaefte GmbH & Co. Rather, Red Bull acts as a sales center with a focus on marketing: annual spending amounts to 20% of revenue, more than the cost to produce the drink.
That covers the production of extreme-sport stunts and videos under the guise of Red Bull Media House. Sponsored athletes from motor racers to cyclists and skiers sport silver-blue helmets, becoming ambassadors of the energy drink. Other media ventures included Austrian broadcaster Servus TV.
Still formally director of Red Bull, Mateschitz became less involved in day-to-day operations in recent years, spending more time in a secluded alpine valley in Styria.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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