Americanas’ trio of key shareholders have come out publicly for the first time since a billion-dollar hole in the company’s finances led it to enter judicial recovery to try not to go bankrupt.
Entrepreneurs Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira released a joint statement on Sunday (22/1) in which they deny being aware of the problem and say they would not allow an accounting maneuver or fraud to distort results of the company, something that is being investigated.
“Our work has always been based on ethical and legal rigor over the decades,” they said.
They also said that the company has been managed for the last several decades by executives “considered to be qualified and of impeccable reputation” and that the banks with which Americanas or PwC, the consultancy firm responsible for auditing the company’s most recent financial statements, did business. highlighted irregularities.
“We strongly believed that everything was absolutely correct,” they said.
Americanas’ core shareholders also said they “deeply” regret the losses suffered by the company’s investors and creditors and emphasized that they have suffered losses as well.
They also said that the independent committee set up to investigate the gap “will have all the conditions” to investigate the incident and that it will work together to clarify the facts.
“We reaffirm our commitment to work towards the recovery of the company as soon as possible.”
The businessmen, who are the three richest men in the country, with combined assets estimated at $37.7 billion ($196.12 billion), according to Forbes magazine, have become the protagonists of the scandal of the company, because they are the main owners.
As major shareholders, they hold a larger stake in the company, just over 30% according to Americanas data for December 2022, and can influence its direction.
Everyone is entitled to a seat on the company’s board of directors, for example. Therefore, they are questioned how they knew nothing, as they claim.
After Americanas announced it had found an “accounting mismatch” in the amount of R$20 billion, its shares dissolved. They went from R$ 12, the amount negotiated shortly before the case came to light, to R$ 0.80 in Monday’s trading session (23/1). This means that the company has lost almost 95% of its market value in just a few days.
Because they held nearly a third of the company’s shares, the loss for the trio has so far been around R$3 billion, and they may have to shell out several billion more to inject the capital Americanas needs to avoid bankruptcy.
Lemann, Telles and Sicupira are among the richest people in the country because they have built corporate empires over decades and, today, are behind multinational corporations such as AB InBev, Kraft Heinz, Burger King, among others.
In their careers, they have won not only a fortune but also fame as highly successful businessmen and have become something of an “icon” of Brazilian capitalism – an image that is in danger of being tarnished after the Americanas scandal.
How it all began
Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira have been partners since the early 1970s, when they met in the former Garantia bank.
A graduate of Harvard University, in the United States, Lemann, an economist from Rio de Janeiro, had worked in banks and financial companies before starting work in the capital market.
At the age of 32, he bought Garantia in 1971, when he was still a financial intermediary.
Marcel Telles, 22, and Carlos Alberto Sicupira, 25, join the company in the following two years and become, together with Lemann and other executives, its main partners.
Garantia transforms into a bank in 1976 and, with a management style considered aggressive, results-oriented and innovative, based on the concept of meritocracy, becomes the leading investment company in the country – and a model for other companies at home and abroad .of the capital market.
It was during their time at Garantia that Lemann, Telles and Sicupira took control of Lojas Americanas, in the early 1980s.
Also through the bank they invested in companies such as Brahma and Antárctica, which merged to form AmBev and which, after a series of other mergers, would culminate years later in AB InBev, the largest brewery in the world.
Garantia was sold to Crédit Suisse First Boston bank in mid-1998 for a total value estimated at the time to be over $1 billion.
Five years before the Garantia sale, the trio had created GP Investimentos, a fund manager for buying and selling multimillion-dollar stakes in companies such as telecommunications company Telemar, construction company Gafisa and retail chain retail of Artex fabrics.
At the beginning of the last decade, Lemann, Telles and Sicupira sold their controlling stake in GP and left the day-to-day management of the company.
Simultaneously, in 2004, they created, together with Alex Behring and Roberto Thompson, the US-based asset manager 3G Capital.
Through the company, the trio were behind the formation of AB InBev and billion-dollar transactions, such as the purchases of food company Kraft Heinz and fast food chain Burger King.
Lemann, Telles and Sicupira also maintained their investments in Americanas through other funds or individually and were involved in its transformation into one of the leading retail companies in the country.
The three already commanded the management of Lojas Americanas and were its controllers – that is, they held more than half of the shares – for four decades until the merger with B2W, owner of the Submarino, Shoptime, Americanas.com and Sou Barato brands, in 2021.
Thus Americanas SA was born, of which they became the reference shareholders, and distanced themselves from daily activity, as they insist on underlining in the note released regarding the infringement by the company.
The Americanas case is not the first in which Lemann, Telles and Sicupira face financial difficulties or are haunted by suspicions of irregularities in their business.
Despite all of Garantia’s success, the bank was sold after losing more than $100 million in 1997 following the outbreak of the Asian and Russian crises, which brought the institution to the brink of bankruptcy.
In 2014, Cosan said, after buying logistics company ALL, that it found the company’s rail network in poor condition and evidence of irregularities in its accounting. Lemann, Telles and Sicupira were the main shareholders of ALL through GP Investments.
In 2021, 3G Capital reached an agreement with the SEC, which regulates the US stock market, to close an accounting misconduct investigation at Kraft Heinz between 2015 and 2018, resulting in a US$62 million fine (BRL 323 million) .
Payments company Stone, which counts Lemann, Telles and Sicupira among its investors, announced problems in its lending operations and saw its market value fall by more than 80% in early 2022.
Now, with the crisis of Americanas, the trio’s credibility has once again been called into question. The main attack has come from bank BTG Pactual, which is waging a legal battle with Americanas to collect what the retailer owes it.
In the lawsuit, BTG said the trio of billionaires, “enshrined as sort of demigods of ‘good’ world capitalism” were “caught on their hands” and tried to prevent Americans from collecting their debts early in order to protect their assets.
“It is the fraudster asking the bars of justice to protect himself ‘against’ his own fraud,” the bank said.
The Comissão de Valores Mobiliários, which regulates the stock market in Brazil, is investigating Lemann, Telles and Sicupira in trials investigating suspicions that there may have been accounting fraud at Americanas. To date there is no evidence of bad faith.
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