Brazilian billionaires come in two varieties: the starlet-dating, Ferrari-driving flash of Eike Batista, or the camera-avoiding, early-to-bed sobriety of Jorge Paulo Lemann. Mr. Batista, of course, flamed out spectacularly: he lost $34-billion (U.S.) between 2012 to 2013 and declared bankruptcy last year. Mr. Lemann, meanwhile, is Brazil’s richest man, and heads a company that acquired Tim Hortons Inc.
Mr. Lemann is the leader of a four-way partnership running 3G Capital, which garnered its first real international attention in 2008 when it acquired the brewery Anheuser-Busch in the teeth of the financial crisis. It merged the company with its own collection of breweries to form the world’s largest brewer.
Two years later, 3G became the majority owner of Burger King Worldwide Inc., which on Tuesday announced a $12.5-billion deal to take over Tim Hortons Inc. and create the world’s third-largest fast-food firm, moving the company’s headquarters to Canada in the process.
3G Capital has grown using principles that are rare in the Brazilian business world, says Cristiane Correa, including running as a meritocracy, and maintaining relentless cost-cutting. Ms. Correa is the author of Dream Big: How the Brazilian Trio behind 3G Capital – Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Beto Sicupira – acquired Anheuser-Busch, Burger King and Heinz, an unauthorized look at Mr. Lemann and his colleagues.
In sharp contrast to Mr. Batista, the men at the top of 3G relentlessly eschew media interaction, and the firm declined an interview request from the Globe and Mail on their behalf.
Mr. Lemann's father was a Swiss immigrant who founded a dairy products firm, while his mother was Brazilian. He grew up well-off in Rio de Janeiro, attended the city’s most elite private school and went to Harvard University to study economics, although he was nearly expelled after an incident involving fireworks. He began in the brokerage business in Rio and then moved to Credit Suisse in Geneva, all the while pursuing a professional tennis career.
He made it to Wimbledon in 1962 but concluded he would never dominate global tennis, and so left the sport as a hobby to focus on investing. He created Garantia, one of the first investment banks in Brazil; two of his preset-day partners, Mr. Telles and Mr. Sicupira, began as employees at the bank and were promoted through the ranks, while the fourth, Roberto Thompson, joined later but also earned his way to the partners’ office. In 1998 they sold Garantia to Credit Suisse First Boston, for $675-million.
The other three men continue to reside in Rio, but Mr. Lemann today divides his time between Zurich and Sao Paulo. He scuba dives and still plays tennis, but avoids parties and socializes only with a small group of friends, said Ms. Correa. Despite owning the world’s largest beer company and one of the biggest global fast food chains, Burger King, Mr. Lemann neither drinks beer nor eats burgers she said, but is abstemious in his personal life. He lives in a large but not ostentatious house in Sao Paulo; it is not heavily fortified although two of children were the subject of a kidnapping attempt in 1999. And he has an estimated personal net worth of $22-billion.
“For them to start as bankers, and then buy a retail company [Lojas Americas, now one of Brazil’s largest], and then a beverage company, was something different in Brazil,” said Ms. Correa. “But the main difference is the culture Lemann first implemented 40 years ago – a culture of meritocracy, which was a word people didn’t even know.”
3G’s relentless focus on cost-cutting is the other characteristic that distinguishes it here. “Costs are like fingernails – you have to cut them continuously,” is Mr. Sicupira’s mantra, according to the Brazilian business magazine Exame. In contrast, cost-saving is an idea that typically becomes less and less of a focus here as a company grows.
3G’s tactics, in fact, impressed even Mr. Batista, who commented on Mr. Lemann’s focus on motivating employees through profit-sharing and other methods. He called it an “extraordinary culture.” Last week, just for good measure, Mr. Batista auctioned off the Lamborghini he used to keep in his living room.