Hans Rausing: Heir to a fortune who turned his back on the business
Jul 24, 2012
For proof that money doesn’t buy happiness, look no further than the Rausings. Last week, the saga of one of Britain’s richest couples came to a tragic conclusion when police found Eva Rausing dead in their £70m Chelsea home. Her husband, Hans Kristian Rausing, was arrested on suspicion of her murder, then charged with preventing the lawful burial of her body.
Hans, now 49, was heir to the Tetra Pak fortune (see below). But it was clear from a young age that he was not cut out to take over from his father, says John Bingham in The Daily Telegraph. “Mr Rausing senior attempted to involve his son in his businesses, but with little visible success. It is claimed that at board meetings the younger man said little, if anything.”
In his early 20s, Hans left an expensive American education behind and headed to India. “There he is said to have taken the well-trodden hippy trail, living rough and making his way to Kathmandu, where he appears to have first developed his problem with drugs.” By 1990, Hans’ addiction was severe enough to warrant rehabilitation. It was at a rehab clinic that he met his future wife, Eva, in 1990. By then his father had moved the Rausing family to London to escape Sweden’s punitive tax regime.
Hans’ two older sisters always seemed to cope better with their wealth, says Tom Lamont in The Observer. “Lisbet and Sigrid, now in their 50s, are philanthropists and academics: Lisbet a cultural benefactor and historian of science, Sigrid the founder of a charity devoted to human rights and the figurehead of two publishers, Granta and Portobello Books.”
For much of the last 20 years Hans and Eva lived a normal enough life. They raised four children and gave heavily to charities. Hans even financed Mentor, an international charity that helps guide young people away from drug use. His efforts were recognised by Prince Charles, who called him “one very special philanthropist”. But in 2008 Eva was caught smuggling small amounts of heroin and crack cocaine into a party at the American Embassy. Police raided the couple’s home, where Hans was arrested after they found 50g of cocaine.
The bust shone an unwelcome media spotlight on the couple, especially as some of the drugs found (heroin and crack cocaine) tend to be associated with council estates rather than mansions, says William Langley in The Daily Telegraph. Hans – a near recluse – loathed the attention. After the arrest in 2008, Eva Rausing conceded that, “I have made a grave error and consider myself to have taken a wrong turn in the course of my life.”
The Rausings join a list, including the Gettys, the Guinnesses, the Rothschilds, the Kennedys and the Hiltons, “of fabulous dynasties pursued by misfortune”, says Langley. It’s a salutary reminder that “wealth and breeding offer little defence” against “human weakness”.
How the Rausings made their billions
The roots of the Rausing business go back to wartime Sweden. According to family legend, Ruben Rausing (Hans Kristian’s grandfather) was watching his wife make sausages and was fascinated by the way she folded over and pressed the skin to seal in the meat. He decided that the same principle could be applied to cartons and food packaging.
He commissioned an engineer to design a carton, made from cardboard laid with tin foil, that could be used to store liquids. By 1953 the product was ready and Tetra Pak – named after the carton’s tetrahedron shape – sold its first product. This was a machine that could make 100ml cream cartons.
The cartons made a cheap, light alternative to glass bottles and the business grew quickly. Ruben handed over to his two sons, Hans and Gad, and Hans Rausing – father of Hans Kristian – was made managing director in 1954. The brothers quickly established international patents for their designs and aggressively sold the machines that churned out the cartons to food producers.
In 1960, the brothers opened up a plant in Mexico to service the American market and by the 1970s they had even managed to sign a deal with the Soviet dairy industry and the People’s Republic of China. In 1981, just two years before the death of their father Ruben, the Tetra Pak headquarters was moved from Sweden to Switzerland. It meant the firms could avoid Sweden’s tough inheritance tax, which would effectively have nationalised the company, says Forbes.
In the early 1990s the firm snapped up other food industry equipment suppliers. By 1995 it was churning out about 75 billion packages annually. Hans then sold out to his younger brother Gad for a reported £3.2bn. When Gad died in 2001 control of the company passed to his sons.
But Hans senior has been no slouch himself. Since selling his stake other investments have increased his fortune to $6.4bn, pushing him to 83rd in Forbes’ 2011 list of the world’s richest people.
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