Finn bidding for Man Utd is sport-crazy tech entrepreneur

Helsinki, March 24 (AFP/APP): Finnish entrepreneur Thomas Zilliacus, who has entered the race to buy Manchester United, is a former Nokia executive who says he made his fortune in Asia’s tech sector.

Little-known in his native Finland before he threw his hat into the ring on Thursday, the 69-year-old Singapore resident is a passionate football fan, former owner of a hockey club, and the founder and chairman of tech investment group Mobile FutureWorks Inc (MFW).

MFW, which is an unlisted company, says it builds businesses in fields ranging from social media to online payment services, eSports, streaming video and real estate.

“Companies controlled by MFW have operations and offices in more than 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, where it owns a controlling stake in more than 150 businesses,” it says on its website.

Those businesses have “a combined market value of more than $3 billion,” it says, a claim that is difficult to confirm independently.

According to Finnish broadsheet Helsingin Sanomat, Zilliacus said he built his wealth “through real estate, shares and setting up his own businesses”.

But his net worth is not publicly known.

He is up against deep pockets in his bid for United, with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, also in the running to take over the Premier League giants.

Zilliacus’s life-long love of sport is well-documented — he played football as a boy and reportedly once spent time in the academy set-up at Brazilian club FC Fluminense.

He is a former co-owner of one of Finland’s biggest ice hockey clubs, Jokerit, and has served as chairman of the football division of Finnish club HJK.

Involved in student politics at Helsinki University, he started at Nokia in 1980, where he became global communications chief. A few years later while, still at Nokia, he co-founded a modeling agency.

He also co-founded Hartwall Arena in the late 1990s, the largest concert venue in the Helsinki area.

The Finn moved to Singapore where he became head of the mobile phone company’s business in the Asia and Pacific region, staying with the firm until the mid 1990s.

He decided to focus on technology in 1998, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

His social media company, Yuuzoo, was listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 2014, but share trading was suspended four years later.

Zilliacus is promising supporters of Manchester United, 20-time English champions, the chance to own 50 percent of the club.

“My bid is built on equality with the fans,” he said.

“My group will finance half of the sum needed to take over the club and will ask the fans, through a new company that is being set up for this specific purpose, to participate for the other half.”