The business on: Wilbur Ross, Chairman, WL Ross

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The Independent Online

And what does he do?

He's a US billionaire who makes his money – $1.9bn and counting, says Forbes – from investments in distressed assets: companies and industries that have been through the mill, but which Mr Ross thinks have the potential for a comeback.

Like what?

It emerged yesterday that Mr Ross is part of a consortium which has just pumped $600m into a shipping company to finance the purchase of 30 oil tankers. It is an industry suffering from overcapacity, with too many ships chasing too few contracts, but Mr Ross is betting it is now close to the bottom.

Is he right?

He usually is – most famously, he made a fortune buying up distressed steel companies in the US, which he welded together and sold on to Lakshmi Mittal for $4.5bn. He's done the same sort of thing several times, though he doesn't always get his way. He's lost out on a few deals to Carl Icahn, the renowned US corporate raider, whom he counts both as a friend and an adversary.

Has he invested in Britain?

He owns a sizeable stake in Virgin Money, Sir Richard Branson's financial services business, which is tipped to take Northern Rock off the Government's hands. Mr Ross thinks mortgage banking in both the UK and the US is an oversold business.

What's his background?

Now 74, he grew up in New Jersey and went to Yale. He wanted to be a writer, but ended up with a summer job on Wall Street – turning his back on his writing ambitions, he says, saved him from a lifetime of poverty – and a Harvard MBA then followed. He spent 20 years at the investment bank Rothschild, where he became America's best-known adviser on bankruptcies – and learnt the difference between distressed and "had-it".

What does he do with his money?

Nothing too racy that we know about. Mr Ross did give $10m to Yale last year to help finance a new building at his alma mater's school of management.