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ECONOMY | 14-06-2024 13:20

Gregorio Pérez Companc, one of Argentina’s richest men, dies at 89

Gregorio Pérez Companc, who helped transform the face of Argentina’s corporate world with investments from telecommunications to farming and oil, which made him a billionaire, has died aged 89.

Gregorio Pérez Companc, who helped transform the face of Argentina’s corporate world with investments from telecommunications to farming and oil, which made him a billionaire, has died. He was 89.

His death was reported today by multiple Argentine news outlets.

Known as 'Goyo,' Pérez Companc was one of Argentina’s most powerful businessmen as leader of the industrial conglomerate known for many years as Compania Naviera Perez Companc, then as Pérez Companc SA.

He played a central role in Argentina’s epic economic boom-and-bust in the 1990s, which saw the nation pull out of hyperinflation, become a Wall Street darling and then collapse in the world’s largest-ever default. The rise-and-fall was in large part fueled by a massive sale of state corporations — and Pérez Companc was one of the biggest buyers. 

He became one of Argentina’s wealthiest men and for years topped the ranking of local billionaires. But the fast growth of his holdings wasn’t enough to protect them from Argentina’s swift loss of competitiveness, the overvaluing of its currency and the recessions that hit in the later part of the decade. 

 

Sale to Petrobras

By the time the economy collapsed in 2001, Pérez Companc had to divest large parts of his empire, including the RÍo de la Plata bank and an oil producer, Pecom in part due to high debt. Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras, bought a majority stake in the oil firm in 2002 for about US$1.1 billion — years later the conglomerate would found a new energy firm with the same name, Pecom. That same year, Goyo Pérez Companc sold the company’s farming business to a venture partly funded by billionaire George Soros.

Forbes magazine estimated the net worth of Pérez Companc and his family — his wife, María del Carmen Sundblad Beccar Varela, and their seven surviving children — at US$4.2 billion.

Pérez Companc was a devout Catholic and was famously press-shy, with only a handful of pictures of him ever released. An avid car collector and racer, he built a private racing circuit in his farm outside Buenos Aires. and for several years the family owned a team that ran in the world rally championship.

He was born Jorge Gregorio Bazan on October 12, 1934, according to Los Dueños de la Argentina II, a book of biographies of Argentina’s wealthiest people. His mother was a house cleaner employed by the Pérez Companc family, which adopted him as an adult after having paid for his studies at a private Catholic school in Buenos Aires, according to the book. 

 

Tension with sister

The Pérez Compancs already had three elder children: Jorge, Carlos and Alicia.

Carlos and Jorge founded the family business with a shipping company in the 1940s and later expanded into oil and banking. Jorge died in 1958. Gregorio and Alicia inherited the holding after Carlos, who had no children, died in 1977. 

Despite a tense relationship with his sister, Pérez Companc managed to grow the holding slowly in Argentina’s troubled 1980s, as the country transitioned into democracy and struggled with an unstable economy. 

Not satisfied “with just steering the company ahead, he drove it to expand,” Amadeo Vazquez, who spent more than four decades in the family holding and served as chief executive officer of the group’s Río bank, said in 2011. “His passion was the farming business, but that never made him lose focus on the rest.” 

Pérez Companc’s big break came in the 1990s, when the government of president Carlos Menem threw open the economy and pegged the peso to the US dollar. As foreign funds poured into the country, Pérez Companc snapped up interests in sectors including gas, electricity and telecommunications and expanded abroad. He took full control of the conglomerate in 1992 after his sister suffered a brain embolism.

From then on, the Pérez Companc group focused its business mainly on Molinos Río de la Plata SA, Argentina’s biggest food-maker. 

Goyo Pérez Companc retired from active business in 2009, when he resigned from the board of Molinos and donated most of his wealth to his children. 

by Rodrigo Orihuela, Bloomberg

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