Poland’s richest businessman, Jan Kulczyk, dies at 65

Jul 29, 2015, 8:00 AM
FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo Jan Kulczyk appears at a special parliamentary commission that examined the deals of the fuel giant PKN Orlen. Kulczyk Holding says Wednesday July 29, 2015, that its founder and president, Jan Kulczyk, Poland's richest businessman, has died from complications after surgery. He was 65. For years, Kulczyk, a lawyer and manager by education, led lists of the richest Poles and was reputed for his courage and imagination in business decisions. He invested in the energy and natural resources sectors in Europe and in Africa, and developed the car sector in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Jan Kulczyk, Poland’s richest man and the founder and president of investment empire Kulczyk Holding, who made his fortune during Poland’s economic transformations, has died from complications following surgery, the company said Wednesday. He was 65.

TVN24 said he died in Vienna.

Poland’s former president, Lech Walesa, said that Kulczyk was irreplaceable. “It will be hard to organize some things without him.”

For years, Kulczyk, a lawyer and manager by education, led lists of the richest Poles and was reputed for his courage and imagination in business decisions. He invested in the energy and natural resources sectors in Europe and in Africa, and also developed the car and infrastructure sectors in Poland.

Poland’s edition of the Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth at some 15 billion zlotys ($4 billion.)

To many, his success was a symbol of the opportunities offered by Poland’s transition from a communist to a free market economy. He started from a trading company set up by his father, and built his fortune taking part in the intensive privatization of state plants after communism.

“You cannot write an honest history of Poland’s transformations after 1989 without mentioning the role of Jan Kulczyk,” said Leszek Balcerowicz, former finance minister and author of Poland’s transformation program.

Critics, though, said Kulczyk made money by acquiring Polish assets at favorable prices and then selling them to western investors at a large profit.

Kulczyk donated generously to culture and history. His donation of some 20 million zlotys ($5.3 million) helped finish work on the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. He also sponsored grants for gifted young people.

Divorced from his wife, he is survived by a son and a daughter.

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Poland’s richest businessman, Jan Kulczyk, dies at 65