Sonae billionaire Belmiro de Azevedo leaves fortune of €1.3 billion

He has been described by commercial group Sonae, which he led for 50 years, as a “visionary entrepreneur”, and today tributes are coming in from all quarters.

Belmiro de Azevedo, the son of a seamstress and a carpenter who went on to shape Portugal’s economy died yesterday at CUF hospital in Porto, leaving an estimated personal fortune of €1.3 billion. He was 79 years old.

By coincidence, one of his sisters died the same day, also in a Porto hospital, and also from cancer.

But as funeral arrangements get underway, Belmiro de Azevedo is being lauded and remembered by establishment figures.

Antónia Saraiva, the head of Portugal’s business confederation, told Observador that “if examples like him could be replicated, the country would be on a different path of development and growth. Belmiro de Azevedo was one of the pillars of the Portuguese economy”.

Said President Marcelo, his was “a constant vision of the future” in that he “was concerned not simply with the short-term but that which he considered essential for the country in the medium and long-term”.

Indeed, independence of thought meant that Belmiro de Azevedo never “bent to the power of the State”, says an editorial in today’s Correio da Manhã – no matter how much this caused conflicts further down the line.

“An entrepreneur who marked an epoch”, says the paper. “A man whose legacy is superior to the millions he earned”.

Belmiro de Azevedo joined Sonae in 1965, aged 26 with a degree in chemical engineering from Porto University.

At the time it was a company specialising in the production of ‘engineered wood’ and laminates.

His first job was “director of investigation and development”, and he set out to initiate reforms in production.

By 1974, he had taken control of the group, extending its activity into the areas for which Sonae is now nationally and internationally famous.

1985 saw the opening of Portugal’s first Continente hypermarket – the stock sold out on the first day – and since then brands have multiplied and become almost household names.
From Continente, to Modelo, Worten, Sportzone, Zippy, Berg, Deeply, Salsa – the list is seemingly endless.

Sonae became a powerful multinational “managing a diversified portfolio of businesses in retail, financial services, technology, shopping centres and telecommunications”, and rapidly becoming one of the largest employers in the country. It even owns the respected Portuguese daily paper, Público.

Withdrawing from the group’s leadership in favour of his son Paulo two years ago, Belmiro de Azevedo remained a major shareholder and keenly involved.

But wealth and his “temperament” (for this read his business ethos) has always divided the country’s political class, explains Portugal’s best read tabloid. The division was patent yesterday in parliament when Bloco de Esquerda leftwingers – along with the Greens (ecology party) – refused to endorse a ‘vote of regret and total solidarity for family and friends’ over the business mogul’s passing.

The funeral will be taking place today at the Igreja do Cristo Rei in Nevogilde, Porto, while Grupo Sonae has tweeted that it “commits to perpetuate” Belmiro de Azevedo’s mission and vision for the group.

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