His is the name on everyone's lips right now. Whenever someone is rumoured to be stake-building or showing interest in a company, Robert Tchenguiz is the first name mentioned, even if it is just to have him rule himself out. And with his older brother Vincent, at his offices in London's West End he has established a modern equivalent of the medieval court, where bankers and financiers from the City come to him with proposals for new ventures.

A born showman, with a love of fast cars and fancy women, Robert Tchenguiz is the public face of the normally private investment world, well known in property, retail and finance circles alike. But underscoring it all is his adeptness at making money.

Tchenguiz has just sold Whyte & Mackay, which he owned jointly with his brother-in-law Vivian Imerman, to India's UB Group. They had paid £208m for the Scottish distiller in 2001. Six years later, it has changed hands for £595m. It's that sort of ability to translate initial outlay into jaw-dropping profit that has made Tchenguiz an increasingly feared and respected figure.

From a family of Iraqis who fled to Iran and became closely linked to the former Shah, the Tchenguizs arrived in the UK in 1979 when the ruler was overthrown. He began his career as an oil trader. Working for someone else didn't suit Robert, however: he got a loan from Barclays Bank and bought a one-bedroom flat in London's Seymour Place for £47,000 and sold it, almost immediately, for £73,000.

Since then, the brothers have built an empire that includes 600 buildings, many of them commercial landmarks, as well as Odeon Cinemas, Pubmaster pubs, and Shell petrol stations.

The brothers operate as a unit and, on other occasions, separately. Recently, while Vincent has focused on property and green projects, Robert has concentrated on stalking big name companies, and as well as taking big stakes in Somerfield and Mitchells & Butlers, his recent investment in a 5.1% stake in Sainsbury's has only raised his profile further.

Tchenguiz is a dab hand at using money provided from an investment bank to add to his own cash - typically he will contribute about 15% with the rest borrowed. He is also renowned for selling a hard bargain. For instance, it was widely thought he would have backed away from Sainsbury's by now but he has remained resolute. He still believes the supermarket chain's properties can be spun off from the company, netting a colossal windfall for investors. He hasn't given up on lobbying the supermarket's board.