Gerard Lopez: An F1 car helps for a man in a hurry

He has investments ranging from real estate to Charlie Chaplin. But right now he has Lotus on his mind

Gerard Lopez is crazy about cars, so crazy that he has 100 or so of them stored close to his office in Luxembourg. His favourite is a midnight blue Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II with three previous owners – the actress Brigitte Bardot, singer Charles Aznavour and the shoe king Charles Jourdan.

He drives them all but the Silver Cloud tops the lot: “ It’s a unique feeling – whenever I get in the car, I think about the illustrious people who they had driving with them. Somehow I never feel it’s mine, that I am just borrowing it.”

Lopez has had a car bug since he was a kid but couldn’t afford to buy one until he was 22, which is when he started collecting Austin Healeys and Jaguars. Now, 20 years later and with many millions in the bank, he and his business partner, and fellow Luxembourger partner, Eric Lux, also own the Lotus Formula One team through their privately owned and highly diverse investment company, the Genii Group.

When the Lotus team, then racing under the Renault name, came up for sale about five years ago, Lopez says it was an easy decision to take the wheel: “We both love cars, love speed. It may seem naive, even stupid, for us to take on the big boys but it’s great business for us; Eric and I call it our ‘embassy on wheels’.

“It’s extraordinary what owning an F1 team does for networking,” he adds. “Everybody who is anybody wants to be invited into the paddocks. You can’t quantify the value of this network.”

And it’s fun too: “Owning an F1 team is like stepping into the costume of a superhero for the weekend. But then you get back to work in normal clothes like everybody else on a Monday.”

While the black and gold Lotus cars are familiar to the millions who watch motor racing, the Genii name written on the side is less well-known outside the track.

But now Lopez and Lux have decided it’s time for Genii to come out of the lamp as they are so fed-up with the rumours whizzing around the motor press alleging financial troubles at the group’s investment management arm, Genii Capital, because of Lotus F1.

The 42-year-old Lopez is based in Luxembourg and has flown in by private jet to meet me at Genii’s offices in the Ritz building in Piccadilly – and put the record straight. He says: “It’s absurd to say that Genii has financial problems. Yes, Lotus has lost money, like every other F1 team in the world.

Romain Grosjean drives at Hockenheim in the German Grand Prix Romain Grosjean drives at Hockenheim in the German Grand Prix (Getty Images)
“Running Lotus cost us about €50m [£40m] last year and the related debts are about €100m, but the business is supported by shareholders and partners and represents only 10 per cent of our overall companies; the rest of Genii is profitable.

“We support Lotus with debt, not sponsorship like the other big teams. Only $6m of debt in the holding company of F1 is from banks. People are trying to compare apples with pears when it should be apples and apples.”

In fact, Lotus is improving: the accounts for 2013, due to be filed in a few weeks, will show that losses have been reduced with Lotus close to break-even, give or take €10m. There’s goodwill in the brand, between $36m and $166m a year, and a recent capital increase valued the F1 team at more than $330m. And the Genii Group is well funded, with unleveraged liquidity of more than  $400m for strategic investments.

“What’s amusing to us is that Lotus – the David against the Goliaths – is always in the public eye more than the big teams like Red Bull and Ferrari.  But F1 is a bitchy world and smear campaigns between rival teams are commonplace.”

 Today Lopez is not in superhero gear – more downtown in black jeans and T-shirt and a baseball cap. But his life has a touch of the larger-than-life action adventure story: the son of Spanish political refugees who fled Franco for the safety of Luxembourg, he was recognised as being exceptionally bright as a child – his IQ is 182 and he speaks seven languages fluently – but he disliked school, being thrown out of three.

Studying at Miami University changed his outlook. Lopez discovered a love for learning and campus life and was set on academia until one of his professors told him to “stop wasting your time and do your own thing”. That was it – although thing quickly became things in an entrepreneurial dash across diverse business sectors.

This was the mid 1990s and he taught himself everything about the internet, setting up a website company in the US before returning to Luxembourg to start a car leasing firm. “I wanted to buy a Porsche 911 but couldn’t afford it so tried to lease one and couldn’t. So I set up a leasing company.’

The professor was right: by his mid-twenties he had made a couple of million. Then he met up with Lux, who had been working at his father’s logistics business and whom he had known from school. They pooled their money and set up Mangrove Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, investing early in start-ups like Skype and raising nearly half a billion dollars.

Lux’s speciality, real estate,  has been a great success and Genii owns over a million square metres of prime land. The portfolio is worth around $1bn – they recently bought into New York’s tallest building, Essex House, and plan to add another $1bn of assets. 

Energy trading is another arm of the empire and they have licences to trade, store and distribute oil and gas across Africa. “We have capacity for over a million metric tonnes a year, making us one of Africa’s bigger players,” says Lopez.

Another calling card, almost as hot as F1, is Genii’s investment in the new Charlie Chaplin museum being built in the grounds of Chaplin’s house – which they own  – on the Swiss Riveria. It is due to open in two years’ time. “It’s a bit like F1 for us: the museum is unlikely to make huge money but we are passionate about Chaplin and want our children to remember his genius.” 

Lotus may be only a tiny bit of Genii but it’s still their dream to get it back on track after a horrible year on the circuit due to engine problems. Lopez is not giving up: “We have big plans and ambitions for next year. We wouldn’t be in this business if we weren’t out to win.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?