Brothers Reuben: The super-rich, Mumbai-born entrepreneurs you probably haven't heard of

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The Reuben Brothers grew their wealth trading in aluminium, but they have since diversified into racehorses, pubs, aerodromes, shipping, debt financing, and of course real estate. The even own a stake in the Newcastle United football club.

David and Simon Reuben took the second spot in The Sunday Times 2021 UK Rich List, with a fortune of £21.465 billion (Rs 2,168,519,722,698). For several years now, the brothers have featured in the top five, but their consistency in the rich list is only matched with their studied indifference towards publicity.

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The result: they are the influential Mumbai-born entrepreneurs-par-excellence you most probably have not heard of.

The brothers were born to Iraqi-Jewish parents in colonial Bombay (now Mumbai). Their father went to Bombay from Iraq to work in the textile industry. In the 1950s, the family migrated to the UK, which is where the boys grew up attending state schools, but they didn’t finish formal education. That, however, did not come in their way of building up a business empire which stretched from Russia to China, Monaco, Middle East, US, and Europe.

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Property and the internet are listed as their primary source of wealth. But before they stacked up their current portfolio of over 100 buildings (mostly debt-free) in and around central London, New York, Rome, Madrid, Ibiza, Florida; and the numerous smart investments in various sectors, the seeds to their prosperity were planted through the traditional turf of metals and trade.

The brothers are widely credited as being among the shrewdest businessmen from the Western world who dabbled in Russia upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It required some courage and charisma to enter a territory which was variously described as the ‘wild frontier’ and ‘wild east’. They struck partnerships with prominent Russian businessmen, sensing the opportunity which the newly privatised aluminium industry afforded with the fall of communism.

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However, the confidence to make the most in post-Soviet Russia came on the strength of having already amassed a mini-fortune, and the zeal to take it to another level.

Initially, the brothers had gone their individual ways – David, 82, the elder entered the scraps metal business in the late 1950s, while Simon, 79, had bought England’s oldest carpet company J Holdsworth Co, turned it around, and began investing in real estate. David went to US in 1974 and set up a joint venture with Merrill Lynch, and Simon scoured properties and imported carpets in England.

The brothers came together and started Trans-World trading in aluminium, copper and tin. By the mid-1980s Trans-World was estimated to be worth $20 million. In 1995, which was five years after they opened offices in Russia, Trans-World was worth a staggering $7 billion. It is said that the company accounted for 5 percent of the world’s aluminium production.

By the end of the millennium, the brothers had left Russia, but not before they took out a full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the stiffening atmosphere for foreign investors where Putin’s writ was becoming the law.

But the rise in fortune on the back of operations in Russia brought with it a fair amount of controversy, especially as the brothers turned their focus back to England. A rare interview to Fortune newsmagazine in 2000, turned into a legal tussle with the brothers taking strong objections to allegations of links with the Russian mafia. An out-of-court settlement was hammered out, and Fortune came out with a long clarification.

Their continued insistence on privacy and lack of proper estimates about their wealth was not conducive to a real integration with the British swish set. The Russia scar and abstruse company accounts meant public perception didn’t perhaps match their real position and unstated desire.

That changed when in March 2003 they launched their website which gave far more details about their business interests and philanthropy. From 253 in 2002, the Reuben brothers jumped to top five in the 2003 Sunday Times UK Rich List.

Those close to the brothers insist they are genuinely uninterested in media interactions and insist on the virtues of keeping a close circle. They are also known to give their own parties a miss! A proper sit-down interview that the brothers give happens once in 15 years. It is indeed remarkable that a family that has now got University of Oxford’s newest graduate college named after them (Reuben College) remains so aloof. Or perhaps it is the aloofness that gets them trophy investments and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a college named after them in perpetuity.

When the world was discovering the perils of Covid in 2020-21, the Reuben family was negotiating a delicious stake in Newcastle United football club. The family owns 10%, but their keen sense of deal making was again on display as it was revealed that they were part of the consortium including Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and PCP Capital Partners that ultimately bought British billionaire Mike Ashley’s stake for £300 million.

The enormity of this transaction goes beyond the purchase price, as the entry of a Saudi Arabian entity in an English football club signifies the transcending of social and cultural hurdles, in which the Reuben Brothers played a supporting role.

Now, the days of trading in aluminium in Russia look like a distant past. The Reuben brothers have diversified into racehorses, pubs, aerodromes, shipping, debt financing, and of course real estate.

The second generation of the Reuben family is represented by Jamie, the younger son of David, and Lisa, Simon’s daughter. Jamie is the most sought-after bachelor in London. He has in the past shown appetite for politics, and the whole family has been an open supporter of the Conservative party for years now. The other siblings live mostly in the US.

Jamie is known to be particularly close to Boris Johnson, which is why there were speculations that Downing Street had intervened in the Newcastle United bid, which was stoutly denied by both the parties.

Before sitting on the board of Newcastle United, Jamie was director at Queen’s Parks Rangers, and counts Amit Bhatia, the club’s chairman, and steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal’s son-in-law as his close friends.

Though Jamie and Lisa may be photographed with far more celebrities (the likes of Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Princess Beatrice) than their parents, they remain steadfast in following the family’s dictum of maintaining strict privacy.

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