NEWSMAKER-Brazil's Diniz, a tycoon with a penchant for battle
* Pao de Acucar chairman known as aggressive deal maker
* At 74, Diniz still one of Brazil's best-known executives
* Diniz at odds with France's Casino over Carrefour deal
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Vivian Pereira
SAO PAULO, July 4 (Reuters) - When it comes to acrimonious, multi-billion dollar disputes, Brazilian tycoon Abilio Diniz's current showdown with French retailer Casino Guichard Perrachon (CASP.PA) might not even rank as the worst.
Two decades ago, a younger, more aggressive Diniz took on his own brothers in a prolonged battle that ultimately gave him control of Grupo Pao de Acucar, the family business that is now Brazil's biggest retailer.
Now, the 74-year-old is pressing his partner of 11 years in Pao de Acucar (PCAR4.SA)(CBD.N) to accept a deal he says is a win-win: letting Casino's archrival Carrefour (CARR.PA) in on the action. Casino, however, is in no mood to negotiate and is taking legal action to stymie the deal. [ID:nLDE76303I]
The fitness-obsessed father of six argues that teaming up with Carrefour's local unit would create a giant with 27 percent of Brazil's booming retail market and $41 billion in annual sales. It would also have the largest payroll of any private-sector company in Latin America's No. 1 economy.
At the core of the spat is an agreement between Casino and Diniz that allows the former to take control of Pao de Acucar through an option next June. The contract also gives Casino the right to oust Diniz as chairman of the company that his father Valentim founded in 1948 after immigrating from Portugal.
"He badly wants to get that deal with Carrefour done at any cost -- he won't let go of Pao de Acucar that easily," said a senior investment banker who was on the losing end of an acquisition deal involving Diniz a few years ago.
For a profile of Casino, Carrefour CEOs: [ID:nL6E7I4060]
For ANALYSIS of the deal: [ID:nN1E75S2AY] [ID:nN06264627]
Special report on Carrefour: link.reuters.com/kyw22s
The standoff with Casino is bringing back memories of Diniz's past as an aggressive executive with a penchant for boardroom battles. The worst of them, which took place in the early 1990s and shattered relations with four of his five siblings, put Pao de Acucar on the brink of bankruptcy.
Friends and foes alike say Diniz's competitive nature and a laser-like focus on results are what drive him most. When he sets a goal, he persists until his rivals simply give up.
That side of his personality is a reflection of his love for competitive sports: to stay fit, he runs marathons, swims and bodybuilds compulsively. He brings a similar intensity to his diet, rarely straying from a strict routine of three farm-fresh cheese sandwiches on whole-wheat bread a day.
"Sitting opposite Abilio at the negotiating table is never easy, he is restless," said the banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He runs up against rivals, allies, advisors, until he gets what he wants."
In 2009, Diniz sealed the takeovers of home appliance chains Globex and Casas Bahia without burning any cash, winning out over sweeter offers from rival bidders. This year, he finally emerged victorious from an eight-year tussle over the price tag for the acquisition of rival supermarket Sendas.
Diniz is equally tough on his own staff. Cassio Casseb, a former banker tapped in 2006 as chief executive to preside over a turnaround of the company, was fired a year into the job after losing the top spot in Brazil to Carrefour.
"Once he identifies his goal, he goes after it without caring much about the means," said Saulo Sabba, who manages 1.3 billion reais ($839 million) in assets at Rio de Janeiro-based Maxima Asset Management.
That no-holds-barred approach has won Diniz plenty of enemies, and not just in the corporate world. In the late 1980s, he was a magnet for public outrage from angry housewives who accused him of hoarding food and produce to profit from the runaway inflation that rocked Brazil at the time.
But behind the hard-nosed executive lies a devout Roman Catholic who has softened his public image by writing self-help books that promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
In 1989, Diniz was the victim of a high-profile kidnapping for ransom that some say helped swing Brazil's presidential election that year. When his captors were arrested, one was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the initials of the left-wing Workers' Party, whose candidate held a narrow lead in polls.
The incident helped turn enough voters against the then-radical Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, clinching the election for the more conservative Fernando Collor de Mello. Lula went on to lose two more elections before winning in 2002 and 2006.
Diniz often recalls the kidnapping as "a redeeming experience" that taught him a lot about spirituality and the value of being humble.
RENEGING ON CASINO?
Some analysts say Diniz's decision to reach out to Carrefour amounted to a betrayal of Casino, the partner that came to Pao de Acucar's rescue in 1999 with fresh capital. But Diniz insists a deal with Carrefour would create value for all, including Casino, whose French products line the aisles of Pao de Acucar supermarkets throughout Brazil.
"I am under a lot of criticism but I believe that the merger between Pao de Acucar and Carrefour will be good for the country," Diniz wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.
His efforts to garner government support for the merger have also drawn harsh criticism, in part because of Diniz's proximity to President Dilma Rousseff. His 38-year-old wife hosted a campaign dinner last year for Rousseff with a group of wealthy Brazilian women at their mansion.
Diniz's fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $3.4 billion, makes him Brazil's ninth-richest man. His Spartan eating habits contrast with a lavish lifestyle that includes a fleet of helicopters and armored cars, a private jet and a $3 million mansion in one of Sao Paulo's most upscale districts.
His private life is also frequently chronicled in the society pages of Brazilian newspapers and celebrity magazines.
(Additional reporting by Jeb Blount in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Todd Benson)
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