Lemann becomes Brazil's richest thanks to beer and burgers

, Bloomberg

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JorgePauloLemann
Jorge Paulo Lemann

Jorge Paulo Lemann, the banker who now claims the title of Brazil's richest man, built his fortune by overseeing takeovers of two icons of U.S. consumer culture: Budweiser beer and the Burger King fast-food chain.

The 73-year-old Swiss-Brazilian surpassed commodities tycoon Eike Batista after shares of Anheuser Busch InBev NV, the world's biggest beer manufacturer, crested 67 euros in trading Nov. 30. Since Burger King Worldwide Inc. returned to being a publicly traded company in June, its stock is up 11 percent. Lemann commands a net worth of $18.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the planet's 36th-richest individual.

The 56-year-old Batista, who has made repeated vows to pass Carlos Slim as the richest man on Earth, has an $18.5 billion fortune. Shares of his six publicly traded natural-resource startups have slumped this year, wiping out almost half of his wealth since March. He ranks 38th in the world.

"The performance of the companies that Lemann controls has been very strong," said Chris Palmer, who helps manage $2.5 billion of assets as London-based director of global emerging markets for Henderson Global Investors Ltd. "He's built on the success of his companies in Brazil and partnered with global companies."

Lemann and his two billionaire partners, Marcel Herrmann Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira, orchestrated AB InBev's $52 billion merger in 2008. Buoyed by steady demand for beer, they've seen their fortunes climb more than 50 percent this year after deals such as the $20.1 billion purchase of Mexico's Grupo Modelo SAB. Lemann's 10 percent stake in AB InBev is his largest asset, worth $14.6 billion as of the close of trading Nov. 30.

"Money is simply a way of measuring if the business is going well or not, but money in and of itself doesn't fascinate me," Lemann said in January 2008, according to an interview published in HSM Management magazine. He declined to comment for this story.

The son of a Swiss businessman, Lemann was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1939. He graduated from Harvard University with an economics degree in 1961, and spent a brief period of time as a business columnist at the Rio newspaper Jornal do Brasil before moving on to work in the brokerage business.

At the same time, he pursued a professional tennis career. He was a five-time Brazilian national champion and played in the Davis Cup twice, once representing his home country and once Switzerland, where he maintains dual citizenship. He now lives in a suburb of Zurich with his family.

Using Goldman

In 1971, Lemann bought a Rio-based brokerage called Garantia. Using the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partnership model as his inspiration, he quickly turned it into Brazil's premier investment bank. Sicupira and Telles joined him there in the early 1970s; today, they share control of a Sao Paulo-based family office and a New York-based buyout firm, 3G Capital Inc.

The partners made one of their longest-standing investments in 1982, with the takeover of Lojas Americanas SA, a discount-retail chain that is now among the largest in Brazil. They acquired Cia. Cervejaria Brahma seven years later, in their first foray into the beer industry.

In 1998, following more than $100 million in trading losses on restructured government debt, Garantia was sold to Credit Suisse Group AG, netting the partners $675 million in cash and stock. The "three musketeers," as they are sometimes called, turned their focus to acquisitions. They combined a series of Latin American brewers into Brahma, which became Cia. de Bebidas das Americas, known as AmBev, in 1999. Today, that company, a unit of AB InBev, is Brazil's biggest by market value, having surpassed state-controlled oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA last month.

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