By 2019-08-20 InPortugal

Portugal’s Pingo Doce supermarket king dies

Supermarket king Alexandre Soares dos Santos, who led the Jerónimo Martins group, died over the weekend aged 84.

The man who said “I’ve been extremely lucky in life” was one of Portugal’s most enigmatic entrepreneurs with a fortune estimated at €3.419 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

But he always said that he wanted to set a good example to his children. He initially studied law but gave up the course to join Unilever in Germany. “I wanted to live an international life and never thought about returning to Portugal,” he said in an interview with Público in 2002. But he did.

In the 1960s, Jerónimo Martins was owned by the families Santos and Vale and, in 1968, he decided to buy the share owned by the Vale family and pursue a career in distribution to offset the competitor at that time, Unilever, which had a 60% share in JM.

Today, Jerónimo Martins is one of the largest food distribution groups in Portugal with supermarkets such as Pingo Doce and Recheio.

The entrepreneur said he made money to create jobs, modernise the country and provide a better quality of life for all those who worked with the company.

Soares dos Santos argued that it was important to gain experience in all the company’s departments, from the lowest to the highest, because that was the only way you could really understand the business.

He also said that he took all of the most important decisions in his life early in the morning at 6.30am-7am.

Another of the rules he lived by was never to live in the past and always focus on tomorrow.

The supermarket mogul oversaw the group’s international expansion in Brazil and Poland but admitted the experience had not always gone as planned.

He sold up in Brazil in 2002 while admitting that operations in the Polish market had not been easy. “It could have spelled the end of the Jerónimo Martins family as shareholders,” he said at the time.

JM’s first acquisition in Poland was the cash & carry chain Eurocash. “Of all the nations in Eastern Europe that had been under Soviet rule, Poland was the closest to Western Europe and had a qualified workforce and a developed infrastructure in terms of road, energy and factories,” he reckoned.

Today, Poland is the biggest profit driver for the group, representing 65% of all JM sales.

In 2013, he oversaw the group’s expansion into Colombia.

Soares dos Santos chose his son Pedro to take over the family business who, he said, “deserved to be CEO”. With the changeover, he left behind him a career of 45 years at the helm of the group and summed up his success and career in one word – “determination”.

“Great determination. To know what you want and where you want to go and have the determination to get there.”

In 2018, the company he built up enjoyed profits of €401 million from its operation of over 3,600 supermarket stores in Portugal, Poland and Colombia.

The group is the majority owner of Jerónimo Martins Retail (JMR), which operates the Pingo Doce super and hypermarket chain in Portugal. JMR has been run as a 51%-49% joint venture with the Dutch firm Ahold Delhaize since 1982. It also runs the Recheio chain of cash & carry stores.

In Poland, it owns Biedronka, the largest no-frills supermarket chain, as well as the beauty and cosmetic chain Hebe.

In 2013, JM started operations in Colombia with the opening of the first Ara stores.

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