Five key moments of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's life

The business empire of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the man who endeared himself forever to Leicester City fans by bringing the club a league title in 2016, started with a single duty-free store in Bangkok.

A giant televsion screen displays a picture of Leicester City's Football Club's late Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash on October 28.   -  Getty Images

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner of Leicester City football club, died in a tragic helicopter crash on Saturday night after watching his club play in England.

The founder of the duty-free giant King Power Group in Thailand, he leaves behind a shopping empire valued at around $4.9 billion by Forbes, built on political connections and shrewd business decisions. We take a look at five key moments in Vichai's life.

- Shopkeeper to tycoon -

Vichai launched King Power in 1989 with one duty-free store in downtown Bangkok. That single store mushroomed into a massive duty-free empire, with his company holding concessions in major Thai airports in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai — locations that serve as major tourist attractions.

His business crossed borders, gaining a license in the 90s to operate a shop at the Great Wall of China and a duty-free shop in Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport.

- Duty-free monopoly -

Vichai's big break came in 2006, when King Power was awarded an exclusive concession to manage duty-free zones in four major airports, including Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok.

The monopoly generated huge sums of money for Vichai's group, allowing it to invest in its flagship headquarters, which includes offices and a duty-free mall geared towards Chinese tourists on prime Bangkok real estate.

- Football club owner -

Vichai, a polo fan and high-level player, realised his ambition of owning an English football club in 2010, when he bought Leicester City, a struggling second-tier team from the Midlands, for around 39 million pounds.

Thai billionaires were no strangers to English football; former premier Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City and sold it just a year later for a profit. But Vichai vowed he was in for the long haul. “I've never had an idea to work with the team for a short period and then sell it,” he told AFP in 2010.

Vichai showed his ruthless streak sacking a stream of managers including former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson and later Nigel Pearson. While an unpopular move at the time, he was vindicated just a year later when his team won the Premier League.

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Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, left, talks to Claudio Ranieri with the English Premier League trophy next to them. [File photo]   -  AP

 

- Premier League champion -

In one of sport's great underdog triumphs, lowly Leicester City won the English Premier League in 2016.

The unexpected victory earned Vichai plaudits across the world as football fans marvelled at his clear investment strategy and shrewd signings. Thais were equally thrilled to see their country thrown into the spotlight by Leicester's win.

But months later the fairytale soured as Leicester slumped into the league relegation places, prompting Vichai to sack the much-loved title-winning coach Claudio Ranieri.

Leicester's form promptly picked up and it ended the season midtable while reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

- A tragic end -

Vichai boarded a helicopter along with four others after watching his side draw 1-1 with West Ham United at the King Power Stadium on October 27, 2018.

Moments after take-off, the chopper crashed into a car park outside the stadium and burst into flames, bringing a tragic end to the Thai billionaire's life.

Vichai leaves behind a wife, two sons and two daughters — all on the King Power executive board.