René Benko (born 20 May 1977) is an Austrian real estate, media and retail trade investor and founder of SIGNA Holding GmbH. SIGNA is considered Austria's largest privately held real estate conglomerate. With an estimated wealth of US$3.8 billion, he is currently one of the ten richest Austrians. In 2019 Forbes classified René Benko as the third richest Austrian and number 365 in the world.
Benko was born in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria as the son of a local government employee and nursery school teacher and studied at a business college. At the age of 17 he gained his first experience of the real estate sector in a building company owned by an acquaintance. He subsequently dropped out of college because his overriding interest in the real estate business had led to him missing too many lessons to be allowed to take his school leaving exams.
Benko lives mainly in Innsbruck, Tyrol.
Benko is married for a second time and has four children. In addition, little is known about Benko's private life.
At the end of 1999 Benko founded the two-person company Immofina Holding GmbH, which was renamed Signa Holding GmbH in 2006.
The first projects included the extension of attics into luxury apartments and the profitable purchase and sale of the health hotel Lanserhof in Lans.
After these successes, the Viennese entrepreneur Karl Kovarik, who inherited a number of gas stations, contributed to the first financial jump-start with 25 million euros.
The next steps included the opening of medical centers in Vienna, and the acquisition of the Kaufhaus Tyrol, which was completely renovated between 2007 and 2010. The planning was carried out by the architect David Chipperfield. The Innsbruck office of Signa is still in the Kaufhaus Tyrol. Before the completion of the Kaufhaus Tyrol, Signa's offices were located in the Europahaus in the Museum Street.
In 2005, a corporate advisory board with prominent figures from politics and business was founded, which continues to shape the company's strategy.
In 2007, the purchase of 16 inner city properties from the portfolio of BAWAG P.S.K. bank expanded the real estate portfolio of the Signa Holding. This change in ownership took place shortly after Bawag was sold to Cerberus Capital Management.
In 2008, Rene Benko expanded his portfolio with another object from the portfolio of a bank: the former headquarters of "Länderbank" and Bank Austria Am Hof became the property of Signa Holding and in the following years was turned into the Hotel Park Hyatt Vienna.
In 2010, Rene Benko added the Deutsche Börse building in Eschborn to the portfolio of Signa Holding.
In 2011, another significant deal followed with the acquisition of the department store Oberpollinger in Munich. This became the first step of Signa's entry into the retail sector, which led to the acquisition of Karstadt group and the Kaufhaus des Westens in 2012.
On 2 November 2012 Benko and the tax advisor Michael Passer were found guilty of "attempted prohibited intervention" (bribery) and convicted to a suspended sentence of one year by the Vienna Regional Court. The judge saw the case as a "model of corruption", in which Benko commissioned Passer to contact the former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and offer him 150,000 euros to influence a pending Italian court case in Benko's favour. The conviction was confirmed by the Higher Regional Court on 13 August 2013 and, following Benko's appeal, by Austria's Supreme Court on 11 August 2014. As Benko received a suspended sentence of one year he is not considered a criminal by Austrian law and does not have a criminal record.
On June 18, 2013, Benko retired from the operational leadership of Signa Holding GmbH and took over the chairmanship of the Advisory Board of the Signa Group.
In 2013, the new company division Signa Retail was founded. With the acquisition of the Karstadt department store chain, further online and multi-channel retailers and purchase offers for the Galeria Kaufhof GmbH, Benkos Signa Holding is no longer just active in the area of real estate investment, but also a significant company in the retail sector.
In 2014, a number of projects were completed in Austria; these included the Golden Quarter and the park apartments on the Belvedere.
In 2015, the Food and Restaurants division of Signa Retail launched a joint venture with Eataly.
A milestone in 2016 was the approval of the shopping center Waltherpark (Bolzano) through a public referendum.
The year 2017 was marked by extensions in the on-line trade, like the assumption of Probikeshop or hood.de.
On June 21, 2018, the Signa Holding of the Tyrolean real estate investor Rene Benko bought the furniture chain Kika / Leiner with about 6500 employees.
In addition, in July 2018, the negotiations about the acquisition of the department store chain Kaufhof restarted. On September 11, the long-negotiated merger of Karstadt and Kaufhof was officially confirmed. Benko thus creates a so-called "department store giant." Through this merger Benko was included in the circle of "People of the Year 2018" of the German newspaper Handelsblatt. Roland Berger wrote the contribution to it.
In November 2018, the first investment in the media sector was announced through the acquisition of shares in the Austrian daily newspapers Kronen Zeitung and Kurier by Signa Holding.
In March 2019 Benko's Signa Holding acquired together with RFR Holding the Chrysler Building in New York for an estimated amount of 150 million US-Dollars. This is René Benko's first big investment in the United States.
At the beginning of April 2019, the South Tyrolean province's Technical Commission gave the go-ahead for the sale of the Bolzano Airport to a company owned by Benko, Bozen-based entrepreneur Josef Gostner and Strabag founder Hans Peter Haselsteiner. The expansion and internationalization of the airport is planned.
In June 2019 Benko's Signa Holding acquired the remainder of the shares of Galeria Kaufhof, still held by the Hudson's Bay Company. This marks the exit of the Canadian retailer from the European market.
In June 2019 Signa confirmed, that the French investment holding Société Foncière, Financière et de Participations, which manages the equity stakes of the Peugeot-family, acquired a 5% stake in Signa Prime Selection for €186 million.
- 2011: Benko was named Tyrolean of the Year by the Regional Governor Günther Platter.
- 2012 and 2018: Benko was named Man of the Year by the Austrian Business Magazine Trend.
- 2018: Benko was named Strategist of the year by the German Business Magazine Handelsblatt
- 2018: Benko was named man of the year by the business magazine European Retail Real Estate Magazin ACROSS