Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Silver King Alberto Baillères, one of Mexico’s richest men, dies at 90

Billionaire businessman Alberto Baillères González, dubbed King Midas and “the silver king” for his lucrative mining interests, has died at the age of 90.

The tycoon and philanthropist, Mexico’s fourth richest person with a net worth of some US $9 billion, passed away in Mexico City on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by his conglomerate Grupo Bal. The cause of death was not given.

His passing comes less than a year after he stepped down as head of Grupo Bal, a conglomerate of at least 15 companies with interests in a range of sectors including mining, retail, insurance, finance and beverages.

Among Baillères’ best known companies are mining firms Peñoles and Fresnillo, the department store chain Palacio de Hierro, the insurer GNP and the asset manager and stockbroker ValMex.

After Mexico’s energy sector was opened up to foreign and private companies by the previous federal government, he founded Petrobal – Mexico’s first private oil company in decades, according to business intelligence service BNamericas.

President López Obrador acknowledged the nonagenarian’s passing at his regular news conference on Friday morning.

“I want to express my deepest condolences for the death of Alberto Baillères,” he said.

“… We spent time together, he invited me to dine at his home, we talked about the situation in the country, we didn’t always agree but we always maintained a relationship of respect.”

Indeed, the magnate advised at least some of his employees not to vote for López Obrador in the 2018 presidential election due to fears about what the leftist would do to the Mexican economy.

Born in Mexico City in 1931, Baillères attended a military boarding school in the United States as a teenager before studying economics at the Autonomous Technical Institute of Mexico (ITAM), a private university founded by his father, Raúl Baillères, who left Guanajuato at the age of 19 in search of opportunities in the capital and became a highly successful businessman.

A young Alberto worked in the banking sector while he studied in the 1950s, becoming a branch manager of the state-owned Banco de Comercio while still an undergraduate.

Baillères speaks at a Palacio de Hierro opening in Veracruz in 2019.
Baillères speaks at a Palacio de Hierro opening in Veracruz in 2019.

He joined the brewery Cervecería Moctezuma as a beer salesman toward the end of that decade, rising to the position of head of sales in the Mexico City metropolitan area before becoming the company’s general director in 1964. He also ascended to the helm of Palacio de Hierro in the 1960s and came up with the exclusive department store’s catchy yet much-mocked slogan, Soy totalmente Palacio (I’m completely Palacio).

His father died in 1967 after an accident, leaving him in charge of many of the companies that are now part of Grupo Bal.

In addition to a great love and talent for business, Baillères had a passion for education, the arts, bullfighting, horse racing and hunting. He was chairman of the board of trustees at ITAM for decades and a major donor to the university, where many prominent businesspeople and politicians studied.

“His academic legacy at ITAM is invaluable,” said José Antonio Meade, a former federal cabinet minister and presidential candidate who studied at the university. “He transformed each and every sector and life he touched.”

Baillères was also a patron of the arts and the owner of bullrings in Spain and Mexico, and cattle ranches in those two countries as well as the United States.

“I love nature, but given my core business activities, ranch life has not been my main activity,” he told the San Antonio Business Journal in an interview late last year.

Alberto Baillères' son Alejandro took over the family business after his father's retirement in 2021.
Alberto Baillères’ son Alejandro took over the family business after his father’s retirement in 2021.

According to the Grupo Bal statement announcing his death, Baillères will be remembered as a “visionary businessman, exemplary Mexican [and] a romantic dreamer who triumphed and exceeded his goals.”

His wealth increased significantly between 2000 and 2012 when the conservative National Action Party was in power and he was granted mining concessions across large tracts of land, the news agency Bloomberg reported.

In addition to managing his own companies, he served on the boards of other large firms, including Chase Bank in the 1970s.

In 2015, he was awarded the Belisario Domínguez medal, the Mexican Senate’s highest honor, in recognition of his entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

At a ceremony attended by then-president Enrique Peña Nieto, the businessman said that his father had instilled a great affection for his homeland in him, and declared that his “two great loves in life” were his family and “my beloved Mexico.”

Baillères also affirmed that he had always held the belief that “material wealth is a means, not an end.”

“And when this wealth is invested in the country, it becomes a social instrument that benefits everyone,” he said.

Despite being one of Mexico’s most prominent businessmen, Baillères preferred to avoid the limelight, although he sometimes hosted and attended high-profile parties and events.

He was married to Teresa Gaul, with whom he had seven children. Alejandro Baillères took over as Grupo Bal chief when his father retired in April 2021 after more than half a century at the conglomerate’s helm.

With reports from El País, Milenio, Reuters and Bloomberg

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