Richest Brazilian: Being Big a Burden in Sanders Era

  • Jorge Paulo Lemann has a fortune worth $30.8 Billion
  • Tycoon says better to be a ‘little less than the biggest’

The popularity of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. is a sign that it has become “uncomfortable” to be a market leader and dialing back scale can have its benefits, Brazil’s richest man, Jorge Paulo Lemann, said in a rare public appearance Monday.

Lemann is the co-founder of 3G Capital Inc, a New York-based private equity firm known for mega-deals followed by ruthless cost-cutting. He’s a shareholder in Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, which is in negotiations with SABMiller Plc to create the world’s biggest beer company with about half of global profits. He also teamed up with Warren Buffett to create Kraft Heinz Foods Co, the world’s fifth-largest food and beverage company.

"Being the biggest isn’t very popular in the world; no one likes it, even in the U.S.," he said in Sao Paulo at the 25th anniversary of the scholarship fund he co-founded, Fundacao Estudar. "When I see a candidate like Bernie Sanders having the popularity that he has and the resonance he has -- he’s against all that is big, against all that is good."

South America’s wealthiest man, whose career in business is detailed in a book called "Big Dream," expressed regret for having tried to "escape from politics all my life." He encouraged those in attendance to seek public office and engage in politics so that Brazil may one day have an "honest" president.

"So maybe the dream is to be a little bit less than the biggest, to spread the dream around a bit more and involve more people," he said Monday.

Lemann also called for a more egalitarian Brazil -- in an apparent turn from when he was quoted last year by Folha de Sao Paulo saying equality “doesn’t work." In an e-mailed statement Tuesday Lemann clarified that he believes “a more egalitarian society means equal opportunity. Total equality means you are considered equal no matter what you do or strive for.”

Lemann said he recently met for lunch in California with Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla, and mentioned he recently visited Brazilian Eike Batista.

Batista was replaced by Lemann as Brazil’s richest man when his commodity and logistics empire collapsed -- the tycoon temporarily held the unique distinction of "negative billionaire" when he was valued last year by Bloomberg at more than $1 billion in the hole.

"Eike is a huge dreamer," Lemann said. "He’s thinking again of 10,000 projects, that he’s going to make billions, etc. He’s a spectacle in terms of entrepreneurship. And Brazil needs that. But he wasn’t lucky, he didn’t pick the right people to accompany him. He didn’t have the people like I did around him."

Batista was banned by regulators from managing companies, and is battling allegations of insider trading, which he denies. Nonetheless, Batista has accepted a seat among the guests of honor at this month’s Rio 2016 Olympics after helping to finance the event.

(Removes reference to book Big Dream as authorized.)
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