Brazil’s new richest man is building his empire on beer, burgers and ketchup

A 10% stake in the world’s largest beer company goes down smooth.
A 10% stake in the world’s largest beer company goes down smooth.
Image: Reuters/Yves Herman
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While Brazil’s once-richest man fumbles away tens of millions of dollars a day, his successor to the title is amassing a fortune.

Jorge Paulo Lemann is now Brazil’s richest man, having earned the distinction late last year amidst the precipitous fall of the country’s ruthless oil baron Eike Batista, whose flagship oil and gas production company OGX has struggled mightily (last year, Batista lost more money than anyone in Brazil was even worth).

At the end of last year, Lemann commanded a net worth of roughly $18.9 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s currently worth $20.4 billion, which is a $2.5 billion jump in just seven months. This means Lemann is amassing something like $360 million a month—or, roughly half a million dollars an hour.

How? He has controlling stakes in three massive global companies.

Anheuser-Busch InBev. Lemann, along with his two partners Carlos Alberto Sicupira and Marcel Herrmann Telles, bought a small Brazilian brokerage named Garantia in 1971. He then built it into one of Brazil’s foremost investment banks, and then flipped it in 1998 for $675 million. The following year, Lemann and his partners acquired a series of Latin American beer companies that eventually became Brazilian beer mammoth AmBev. AmBev has since merged with Belgium’s Interbrew, acquired US brewery Anheuser-Busch, and become Anheuser-Busch Inbev, the world’s largest beer brewery. Lemann has a 10% stake, which is valued at over $15 billion dollars.

Burger King. In 2010, Lemann, Sicupira and Telles, along with Brazil’s then richest man, Batista, came together to buy Burger King in one of the largest food acquisitions ever. After briefly taking the company private to mitigate market overreactions while they refinanced the struggling company, the trio sold 29% of it to hedge fund manager William Ackman and took it public again. Lemann’s stake in Burger King is now valued at nearly two billion dollars.

Heinz. 3G capital, which Lemann holds an estimated 45% stake in, and Warren Buffet just completed a deal to take over condiment-maker Heinz for $23 billion. Buffet lauded Lemann, telling Brazilian magazine EXAME that “Jorge [Paulo Lemann] is a great professor.” Heinz raked in over $1 billion dollars in profits last year, and has already reported strong earnings in 2013.

All three companies have turned hefty profits so far this year, and Lemann is reaping the benefits. He told HSM Management Magazine in 2008 that “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.” He was worth less than half of what he is now at the time. The combined worth of Lemann’s stakes in Anheuser-Busch InBev, Burger King and Heinz—about $19.3 billion—accounts for nearly 95% of his fortune. That most certainly is business going well.