A $2 Billion Day Is No Small Beer for Colombia's Richest Family

  • Santo Domingo clan is SABMiller's second largest shareholder
  • Family head is engaged to the Duke of Wellington's daughter

A $2 billion Budweiser has been cracked in Bogota.

As Anheuser-Busch Inbev NV and SABMiller Plc contemplate a merger to create the ultimate King of Beers, one of the biggest winners, on paper at least, is the wealthiest family in Colombia.

The Santo Domingo clan, led by 38-year-old Alejandro Santo Domingo, saw its fortune swell by $2.2 billion to $15 billion as its holdings in SABMiller soared in value, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The gain is the latest win for the Santo Domingos, who’ve floated above the financial turmoil that has been convulsing much of Latin America and cutting into other fortunes.

Their secret to success is no secret at all: geographic diversification. The Santo Domingos’ biggest move was the 2005 sale of Bavaria brewery, then Colombia’s biggest, to SABMiller in exchange for stock. The deal transformed the family from majority ownership of a regional brewing powerhouse to the second-largest shareholder -- with 14 percent of the equity and two seats on the board -- in the world’s second largest beer maker.

Alejandro Santo Domingo, board member of Sabmiller PLC, in New York.
Alejandro Santo Domingo, board member of Sabmiller PLC, in New York.
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Alejandro Santo Domingo

“The Santo Domingos have been hitting it out of the ballpark,” said Andres Jimenez, a Colombian investor and former head of international sales for Medellin-based money manager Serfinco. “When the economic situation got very good down here, they started selling a bunch of assets and going abroad. They aren’t as exposed as the rest.”

Last December, the Santo Domingos overtook banker Luis Carlos Sarmiento to become their country’s wealthiest family. “Sarmiento’s exposed with banks in Colombia, so has lost about 40 percent after the currency started down,” Jimenez said. Colombia’s peso has plunged 34 percent over the past 12 months, the worst in emerging markets after Brazil’s real and Russia’s ruble.

The Santo Domingo fortune has surged relative to other Colombian fortunes.
The Santo Domingo fortune has surged relative to other Colombian fortunes.
Bloomberg Billionaires Index

Alejandro is among the scions of the late patriarch Julio Mario Santo Domingo. Other family members include his younger brother, Andres, their mother, Beatrice Davila, and Julio Mario’s grandchildren from a previous marriage, Tatiana and Julio.

With his roots in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla, Alejandro’s grandfather was a regional banker who put the family on the map by snapping up companies weakened during the Great Depression.

His father made the business into one of Latin America’s biggest fortunes by betting on his native Colombia as it was being ravaged by drug cartels and a conflict. He funneled the profits from the Bavaria brewery into dozens of companies across different industries, from media to finance.

Julio Mario was a larger-than-life figure who served as Colombia’s first ambassador to China and took up part-time residence in New York’s 740 Park Avenue apartment building, which has been home at times to Rockefellers, Guggenheims and Vanderbilts, according to the book “Don Julio Mario,” an unauthorized biography by Gerardo Reyes.

He was as famous for his playboy lifestyle as his business acumen. He controlled radios and a newspaper in Colombia and was friends with artists such as Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Alejandro and Andres, his sons from his second wife, were largely raised in New York. Alejandro worked as an investment banker in the city after graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Today, the Santo Domingo Group has investments in real estate, banking, broadcasting and service companies. In one deal last year, the family-owned Terranum Group teamed up with billionaire Sam Zell’s Equity International to buy the Decameron chain of resorts across Latin America.

Alejandro oversees the fortune through the New York-based investment company Quadrant Capital. The family also has stakes in Chile’s Corpbanca, Brazil’s BTG Pactual and Spain’s Inmobiliaria Colonial. Through Valorem, it controls Caracol Television and other businesses. Attempts to reach Alejandro through a spokesperson for Valorem were unsuccessful.

In keeping with his very good year, Alejandro become engaged this summer to 24-year-old Charlotte Wellesley, the Daily Mail reported. She’s the daughter of the Duke of Wellington and a direct descendant of the British general who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.

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