AirPod Aristocrat

Forbes Indonesia|June 2020

AirPod Aristocrat
Thirteen years ago, no one wanted to buy a money-losing hearing-aid battery maker. No one but MICHAEL TOJNER. Against all odds, Austria’s “Mr. 300%” turned that $40 million investment into a $1.9 billion fortune (thank you, Apple!). Now he has to fend o" the copycats.
Iain Martin

In a gray-walled conference room on the outskirts of the medieval Bavarian city of Nördlingen, the Austrian billionaire Michael Tojner is toying with a tiny battery. The coin-sized device is a technological wonder. Measuring just half an inch around, the gizmo packs a hundred times more energy than a household battery ten times its volume, can fully recharge in just 15 minutes, and can last five hours on a single charge. A much earlier version powered Neil Armstrong’s camera during the Apollo 11 moon landing. Some of the modern ones famously power Apple’s popular AirPod Pro wireless headphones.

The batteries are also a financial wonder. Tojner bought Varta, the company that makes them, for just $40 million in 2007. Two and a half years ago, the serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist floated the company on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange; it now has a market cap of $2.8 billion. Commerz bank estimates that Varta has a more than 50% market share for premium wireless headphone batteries, which boast an extraordinary 40% margins.

AirPod Pro sales along with deals with Samsung, Jabra, and Sony drove Varta’s revenues up 34%, to $400 million, in fiscal 2019. Tojner’s 56% stake plus his investment success—the Austrian press calls him “Mr. 300%”—have landed the 54-year-old father of six on the Forbes Billionaires list for the first time.

“With micro-batteries, we became the clear market leader in a segment which is growing at probably 50% to 60% per year,” Tojner says. “In ten years, no one will have a phone without an ear application. There is enormous potential for growth.”


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June 2020