Billionaire Chaleo Yoovidhya, the co-founder of energy drink Red Bull and the second richest man in Thailand, died Saturday at the age of 89, a company spokeswoman said.
Chaleo was Thailand’s second richest man, with a fortune of $5 billion last year according to business magazine Forbes, having fallen from the top spot on its annual list which he held in 2009.
According to local reports he was born into a poor Sino-Thai family in the northern province of Phichit who made their living from duck farming and fruit trading.
Chaleo moved to Bangkok to help his brother in his drug store before becoming a salesman and later set up his own pharmaceutical factory in the old quarter of Bangkok.
His TC Pharmaceuticals produced a “tonic drink” called Krating Daeng (“Red Bull”) which was popular with factory shift workers and truck drivers and provided the inspiration for the international beverage.
In 1984 Chaleo founded Red Bull with Austrian marketing whiz Dietrich Mateschitz, who had become aware of “tonic drinks” while travelling in Asia, and they started selling the drink in Austria in 1987.
According to the company website, Mateschitz got the idea for the business while sitting at the bar in the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong in 1982.
The pair each owned 49 percent of the company, with Chaleo’s son Chalerm holding the remaining two percent.
The drink, which was produced in Chaleo’s factory, is now sold in more than 70 countries worldwide.
Chaleo married twice and has 11 children, five from his first wife and six from his second.
Apart from its energy drink business, Red Bull also owns two football teams, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and the New York Red Bulls in the United States, and a Formula One stable of the same name.
Chaleo’s family were due to start week-long traditional Buddhist rites at a monastery west of Bangkok, a temple worker said.