Prem Watsa (born 1950) is an Indo – Canadian billionaire businessman who is the founder, chairman, and chief executive of Fairfax Financial Holdings, based in Toronto. He has been called the “Canadian Warren Buffett.”
Early life and education
Watsa was born in Hyderabad, India. He attended Hyderabad Public School and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras where he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. He later moved to London, Ontario and went to the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario where he earned an MBA. Watsa left India with 8 rupees and sold furnaces and air conditioners to financially support his university education. He is a distinguished alumnus of IIT Madras.
After graduating, Watsa worked for the insurance company Confederation Life. In 1984, he started an investment firm with his former boss Tony Hamblin, called Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel. In 1985, Watsa took over Markel Financial, a small Canadian trucking insurance company that was verging on bankruptcy and renamed it Fairfax Financial Holdings. He helped grow the company, where it reached annual revenues of $8 billion a year in 2012. Despite his success, he largely stayed out of the public eye, only beginning to hold investor conference calls in 2001.
On January 22, 2012, it was reported he was to be appointed to the board of directors of Research In Motion (RIM) in the company’s largest-ever corporate shakeup. Watsa resigned in August 2013, but kept his investment in the company. On September 23, 2013, BlackBerry announced that it had signed a letter of intent to be acquired by Fairfax Financial Holdings in a $4.7 billion deal.
In April 2017, Watsa brought attention to concerns of a real estate bubble in Toronto. He asserts that most Canadian banks cannot survive a 50% drop in the value of real estate. “It’s going to come down, and a lot of people are going to get hurt,” said Watsa during Fairfax’s annual general meeting.
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