- Austin Russell, the youngest self-made millionaire and founder of Orlando-based Luminar Technologies, plans to acquire 82% of Forbes Media, LLC.
- The deal brings the business-focused publishing company back to U.S. ownership after almost a decade under controversial communist Chinese investors who were accused of censoring content critical of the Chinese government.
- Russell’s involvement is seen as a step toward mitigating regulatory concerns about foreign influence in U.S. media.
An iconic name in American news is coming home after almost a decade in China. And a Florida businessman, Austin Russell, who also happens to be the world’s youngest self-made millionaire, is the person behind it all. Russell, the founder of Orlando-based Luminar Technologies just announced a deal to buy the business-focused Forbes Media, LLC, a move that would put the publishing company back in U.S. hands after having been under controversial Chinese ownership since 2014.
Russell, 28, rose to business stardom after founding Luminar before he turned 17 years old. The company is known for its development of self-driving car technologies like LIDAR, which uses light in the same way that RADAR uses radio signals to detect objects and determine their range. Luminar also develops machine perception technologies for self-driving cars. Russell became the nation’s youngest billionaire three years ago after Luminar went public and was listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
Russell’s company has deals in place with a range of automobile manufacturers, including Volvo, Audi, Toyota Daimler trucks, but also has deals with Intel, which makes computer processors and other technology, and Airbus, which builds passenger airplanes and is also the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer.
Now, Russell has agreed to put forward millions of his own money in a bid to acquire 82% of Forbes Media from its China-based owner, Integrated Whale. The deal is valued at around $800 million. It’s not clear what Russell’s financial commitment is in the transaction, but it is known thought that other investors are also contributing heavily to the deal. Despite some media reports to the contrary, sources say the exact details of financing for the deal have yet to be disclosed.
The Forbes media company was founded in 1917, and for the next 97 years, the Forbes family published Forbes Magazine and later also launched Forbes.com. But in 2014, the Forbes family sold a majority stake in the company to Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media Investments (IWM). Since that time, questions have been raised about Chinese government meddling in American media, and accusations have been leveled against China that it has interfered with Forbes journalistic independence.
Not long after the buyout by Chinese investors, previously published articles critical of the Chinese government that had been promoted and hosted at Forbes.com were purged from the website. At the same time, the author of the articles, Gordon Chang, says Forbes terminated its relationship with him as a contributor to the site.
“I don’t know the motivation,” Chang said, “but that’s what occurred.”
The public announcement of Russell’s deal to bring the media company back to the United States comes after considerable media speculation about the fate of Forbes and after years of failed efforts. In 2022 Forbes called off a deal to go public through a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and later explored a sale through Citigroup. Earlier this year, some reporting claimed Integrated Whale’s Chinese owners were close to selling Forbes to Indian-based investment firm Sun Group, claims that proved to be inaccurate when the Russell bid was inked.
With Russell now heading up the effort to bring Forbes Media back to the United States, industry observers believe his involvement will help satisfy regulatory and oversight concerns about foreign influence. It’s relatively common for foreign investors or companies to buy U.S. media brands, but Chinese ownership has been of particular concern in recent years due to growing tensions with the United States.