For Think of the Historical Collectiveto the The partisan – Since the death of banker Joseph Safra in December 2020, businessman Jorge Paulo Lemann is the richest man in Brazil. Lemann has an estimated fortune of 23.8 billion dollars, more than 118 billion reais. Together with his two main partners, Marcel Herrmann Telles and Beto Sicupira – third and fifth richest in Brazil – Lemann commands one of the largest empires of global capitalism. The entrepreneur is one of the co-owners of AB InBev, the largest brewery in the world, the 3G Capital conglomerate (which controls companies such as Lojas Americanas, Submarino, B2W Digital, Kraft Heinz and the Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons chains) and the GP Investimenti fund.
On his “philanthropic foundation” website, Lemann is described as a “self-made man and a “hero of the Brazilian business class”. There is, in fact, an entire corporate “hagiography” dedicated to the billionaire. He is considered one of the best icons of the theater entrepreneurship cult and of the corporate self-help niche. Lemann’s narrative as an entrepreneur who worked hard, innovated, and achieved excellence serves the dual purpose of justifying obscene fortunes and reinforcing the myth of meritocracy. And, as with other billionaires, Lemann also tends to ignore details of history that contradict the fable of “self-made man“. The truth is that Lemann was born by inheriting one of the largest companies in Brazil. She even descends from a European merchant family that has stood economically for over 600 years.
Originally from Switzerland, the Lemann family has been active in the durable goods trade and cheese production in the Emmental Valley since the early Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 1900s, driven by an economic crisis, three brothers of the family decided to emigrate in search of new markets. One went to the United States, another to Argentina and Paul Lemann, father of Jorge Paulo, to Brazil. Here Paul Lemann created a shoe and dairy company, Leco – short for “Lemann & Company”, which would become one of the largest national companies in the sector. In turn, Lemann’s mother, Anna Yvette Truebner, is the daughter of one of the largest cocoa exporters in southern Bahia.
Jorge Paulo Lemann studied basic education at the American School of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most exclusive private schools in the then federal capital. He later moved to the United States, where he studied economics at Harvard University. After graduating he moved to Switzerland, where he is a citizen, and got an appointment to work at Credit Suisse Bank, in Geneva. Bored with his homework, he resigned after seven months and spent a few years dedicating himself to tennis. Back in Brazil, Lemann acquired Corretora Garantia, where he began his collaboration with Marcel Telles and Beto Sicupira. In 1976, during the Geisel government, the entrepreneur obtained from the Central Bank the authorization to transform the intermediation into a financial institution, founding the Banco Garantia. The company would become one of the leading investment banks in the country, emulating the management model of Goldman Sachs Bank.
An ode to exploration
It was during the two decades at the helm of Banco Garantia that Lemann and his partners saw their assets multiply exponentially. The management of the bank’s employees already had characteristics common to Lemann’s businesses: wages below the market average, an aggressive focus on achieving ambitious goals, the creation of unhealthy business environments, and the stimulation of productivity through pressure, harassment and humiliation. Banco Garantia has been the subject of numerous lawsuits for moral harassment, as well as being investigated by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM) for irregularities in the capital market. The Central Bank fined the bank for foreign exchange fraud, irregular transactions and illegal money transfers abroad. The institute has also been accused of collaborating with the infamous financial pyramid scheme set up by Bernard Madoff.
Despite the scandals, the bank prospered enormously. With the capital amassed by Banco Garantia, Lemann and his partners financed the purchase of dozens of companies, giving life to their gigantic conglomerates. They bought Lojas Americanas, in 1982, Brahma, in 1989, and Antarctica, in 1999. In 2004 they created 3G Capital, starting to invest in the acquisition of multinationals, such as the Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons chains. They also founded Innova Capital, focused on building startups, and Gera Venture, focused on education.
In 1999, despite allegations of non-compliance with antitrust law and the principle of competition law, the Competition Defense Board (CADE) authorized Lemann to merge the Brahma and Antárctica breweries, creating Ambev, which now controls 70% of the Brazilian beer market. In 2004 Ambev merged with the Belgian Interbrew, creating AB InBev, the largest brewery in the world. In both transactions, the CVM has again identified abuses of power, irregular trading and the use of inside information to speculate on the stock exchange. Lemann and partners paid CVM a fine of 18.6 million reais so that the trials could be closed.
However, abusive trading practices would become the order of the day. In 2004, the company was fined 229 million reais for unfair competition, as it gave commercial advantages to points of sale that closed exclusive contracts or agreed to reduce the sale of competitor products. The distributors also accuse the company of trying to control the market by negotiating lower prices with trading partners and forcing independent companies into bankruptcy. Outside of Brazil, AB InBev is also involved in numerous corruption and abuse of economic power scandals. In India, for example, he is being investigated for bribery and bribery. In the United States it has been accused of adulterating its products. And in Argentina he responds to charges of tax evasion.
AmBev is also accused of practicing social dumping, eliminating workers’ rights to reduce its production costs and make its products more competitive. The company faces a flood of lawsuits for moral harassment and abuse of all kinds. Employees who fail to achieve goals are subject to embarrassment, humiliation, name calling, discrimination, and even physical assault and punishment. The trials in which the company has been convicted range from beatings in a “Polish corridor”, to the use of diapers and T-shirts with offensive phrases, racial slurs and gun threats, to the use of pornographic films and ” in company meetings.
Other charges include manipulating attendance records, failing to pay overtime and subjecting employees to inhumane working hours. In one lawsuit, AmBev employees were shown to be required to work up to 17 continuous hours. Other Lemann companies are also frequently accused of labor abuses, most notably Burger King. The network is also known for its habit of paying wages inversely proportional to working hours. In 2020, Burger King was ordered to pay a one million reais fine for forcing its employees to routinely work up to 8 hours of overtime a day and work without paid weekly rest. The conviction was upheld in the second instance.
While forcing his employees to work up to 17 hours a day – already considered inhumane in the early days of the Industrial Revolution – Jorge Lemann tries to establish his reputation as a “philanthropist”. In 1991, the businessman created Fundação Estudar, an NGO purportedly dedicated to “encouraging education.” His performance goes through the organization of courses and lessons and the awarding of scholarships for undergraduates and graduates. In 2001 he set up the Lemann Foundation, dedicated to “training and leadership” and to supporting “initiatives useful for solving the great challenges of the country”. In addition to granting them tax breaks and a veneer of “social concern” to mitigate criticism of their corporations’ harmful practices, Lemann’s NGOs function to pressure governments to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset in public education and to bring institutions under government to financial capital interests. This strategy is in line with Lemann’s growing investments in private education, through Gera Venture Capital and the Eleva Educação holding company, and signals future interests in privatizing public education systems in Brazil.
a bad philanthropist
Lemann’s “philanthropic” foundations operate as centers for training the managers of his companies and for promoting leadership and initiatives in line with his business and political interests. Lemann’s foundations funded, for example, movement leaders MBL and Vem Pra Rua, as well as other organizations that would help fuel anti-government protests from 2013 onwards and create the institutionally disruptive environment that led to the coup parliamentarian of 2016 A BBC Brasil report showed that the registration of the Vem Pra Rua movement website had also been acquired by the Fundação Estudar.
Lemann’s NGOs have also been used to circumvent electoral legislation which prohibits private financing of electoral campaigns. For example, the infiltration of self-aligned representatives into political parties and government bodies. By emulating the initiatives of supra-party movements allegedly dedicated to the “renewal of politics”, such as RenovaBR, Livres and Movimento Acredita, the billionaire financed the training of his own leaders. Once elected or sworn into key positions, these leaders begin defending the liberal agenda and corporate-friendly measures, regardless of the orientation of their captions.
The “Lemann bench”, elected in the 2018 election, includes MPs from the PDT, NOVO and PSB, including federal deputies Tabata Amaral, Felipe Rigoni and Tiago Mitraud. State deputies include Renan Ferreirinha and Daniel José. All studied at universities such as Harvard, Oxford and Yale, with a scholarship from the Lemann Foundation. And all have voted in favor of market interests in the projects voted by the current legislatures.
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