Thursday, February 25, 2021

Eduardo Cojuangco, who built San Miguel empire, dies at 85

Jun 17. 2020
Eduardo Cojuangco speaks to reporters after being re-elected as chairman of San Miguel, the Philippines' largest food and beverage business empirem in Manila on April 20, 2004. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Jose Reinares
Eduardo Cojuangco speaks to reporters after being re-elected as chairman of San Miguel, the Philippines' largest food and beverage business empirem in Manila on April 20, 2004. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Jose Reinares
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Ian Sayson, Cecilia Yap · BUSINESS, WORLD, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS, ASIA-PACIFIC 

San Miguel Chairman Eduardo Cojuangco, who many called "the Boss" and "Pac-Man" for his knack for acquiring businesses, has died at 85.

San Miguel President Ramon Ang, in a mobile-phone text message on Wednesday, said Cojuangco died Tuesday.

The former chairman and CEO helped expand San Miguel as the Philippines' dominant beer and food company, then later helped with its diversification into energy and infrastructure that made it the country's largest company by revenue. The executive led San Miguel twice, relinquishing the job once in the 1980s after going into exile in Australia in the late 1980s as an ally of Ferdinand Marcos. He returned to San Miguel in 1998.

"Cojuangco was a strong manager, but wasn't rigid with his vision," said Alex Pomento, who covered San Miguel and Cojuangco in the 25 years he was an equities analyst before joining SM Prime Holdings in 2014. "It would have been easier to just stay in food and drinks and tell shareholders the low returns are such because of the nature of the industry. Obviously, Cojuangco's style is not just sitting down."

Ang, who won the trust of Cojuangco in the early 1980s, has led the diversification of the century-old brewer since the late 2000s as Cojuangco took a back seat in overseeing the group's expansion. In 2012, Cojuangco sold his remaining 14.7% stake in San Miguel to Ang and its majority shareholder Top Frontier Investment Holdings, raising 37 billion pesos ($737 million).

Eduardo Murphy Cojuangco Jr., known as "Danding," was born in Manila on June 10, 1935, to a family that controlled business and politics in Tarlac province, north of the capital. He too sought office.

In 1965, while losing a bid for a congressional seat, he cemented his ties to Marcos, his party's successful presidential candidate at the time, according to "Boss Danding," a 2003 biography. Seven years later, he was part of the inner circle that helped Marcos plan the imposition of martial law, according to the book and other accounts.

"Cojuangco's relationship with Marcos was like that of a son and father," said Earl Parreno, author of the biography. "Cojuangco's ties with Marcos were beneficial and opened opportunities."

By the early 1980s, local media had nicknamed Cojuangco "Pac-Man" as he took over the country's coconut industry, San Miguel and other companies. After Marcos was ousted by Corazon Aquino -- a cousin of Cojuangco -- the government seized San Miguel and other assets and alleged in court that Cojuangco acquired them by illegally using taxes collected from coconut farmers.

Cojuangco spent most of his exile in Australia, where he bred and raced horses. In 1992, three years after returning to the Philippines, he ran for president, placing third. In 1998, he backed Joseph Estrada's successful presidential bid. Days after the inauguration, San Miguel's mostly government-appointed board returned Cojuangco to the chairmanship even as the state continued to dispute his ownership in court.

"I will never deny that I was close to Marcos," Cojuangco told reporters in 1998. "It is the connotation that a crony is a crook that hurts."

Within months after retaking the chairman's seat, he ended an almost 30-year venture with Nestle to help raise $1.3 billion. He started picking up local food and beverage companies, and bought a brewer and juice maker in Australia. He also acquired the local Coca-Cola franchise and Australia's National Foods. In 2002, Cojuangco sold a 15% stake to a unit of Japan-based beer maker Kirin.

Cojuangco, along with Ang, began investing in the energy sector in 2008 and later added infrastructure, saying there was more growth potential there. To raise money and shift the company's footprint toward the new businesses, San Miguel sold National Foods, the Coca-Cola franchise and its stake in Del Monte.

"There is no other person deserving of this opportunity to control a significant stake in the company that is close to my heart, than Ramon," Cojuangco said in 2012 statement when he sold his stake in the Philippines' largest company.


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