August 25, 2014 / 11:17 AM / 3 years ago

Ermirio de Moraes, head of Brazil's Votorantim for decades, dies

SAO PAULO, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Antonio Ermirio de Moraes, the businessman who helped forge Brazil’s largest industrial conglomerate, died in São Paulo after battling Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade. He was 86.

Ermirio de Moraes, who reportedly owned about 25 percent of Grupo Votorantim, died late on Sunday of heart failure, a source with knowledge of the situation told Reuters. In a statement, Grupo Votorantim said his burial will take place in São Paulo’s Morumbi cemetery on Monday.

Forbes Magazine recently recalculated his net worth to about $3.9 billion, down from $12.7 billion last year, after uncovering an ownership split at the conglomerate. The rest of Grupo Votorantim is controlled by two of his siblings and their heirs, according to Forbes.

Ermirio de Moraes was for decades the chief executive officer and chairman of Grupo Votorantim, which owns Brazil’s largest cement and aluminum producer, a sizable operation in mining and steel and a financial group that controls the nation’s 10th-largest bank by assets. He left Votorantim’s board and was rarely seen in public since being diagnosed with the disease in 2001.

Now mainly led by the family’s fourth generation and a team of professional executives, Votorantim thrived during the second half of last century, in a country marked by massive political volatility, economic booms and busts and, especially, the burden of hyperinflation. A biography written by longtime friend José Pastore defined Ermirio de Moraes as a man with vision and the toughness needed to implement business discipline in a rocky environment.

With his death, “Grupo Votorantim loses an outstanding leader, who was an example and inspiration to its values such as ethics, respect and entrepreneurship,” the statement said.

While his hallmark was an ability to foresee ambitious business opportunities and execute large projects, Ermirio de Moraes was largely respected in Brazil for his humble lifestyle and his involvement in areas as diverse as philanthropy, politics and theater. He sponsored the creation of a large hospital in São Paulo, where he reportedly visited the emergency room without warning to make sure attendance was prompt.

Antonio Ermirio de Moraes was born on June 4, 1928, in São Paulo, the oldest of four children. His father, José Ermirio de Moraes, founded Group Votorantim in 1918 after buying a textile factory in the southeastern town of Sorocaba.

After studying mining at the Colorado School of Mines in the early 1940s, he joined the group and spearheaded an expansion into chemicals and aluminum. In the 1980s, under his stewardship, Votorantim expanded into paper and pulp as well as banking. Currently, Grupo Votorantim does business in more than 20 countries.

In 1986 he ran for governor of São Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, but lost. In the late 1990s, he wrote three plays depicting Brazil’s political, ethical and economic crises.

He is survived by his wife, Maria Regina, with whom he had nine children. (Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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