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Dirce Navarro de Camargo, Brazil’s Wealthiest Woman, Dies

By Alex Cuadros
April 21, 2013 6:00 PM EDT

Dirce Navarro de Camargo, who became Brazil’s richest woman after inheriting the Camargo Correa SA industrial conglomerate, has died. She was 100.

Camargo died April 20, according to a spokesman, who asked not to be identified, citing company policy. He didn’t provide additional details. Her age was disclosed by an executive close to the family who asked not to be named because the matter is private. She controlled a fortune valued at $13.8 billion, making her the 62nd-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Founded in 1939 by her late husband, Sebastiao Camargo, the conglomerate has played a key role in developing Brazil’s infrastructure. It participated in the construction of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, in the 1950s. Today, its interests include publicly traded cement maker Cimpor Cimentos de Portugal SGPS and Sao Paulo-based Alpargatas SA (ALPA4), which manufactures Havaianas flip-flops.

Camargo’s three daughters -- Regina de Camargo Pires Oliveira Dias, Renata de Camargo Nascimento and Rosana Camargo de Arruda Botelho -- are poised to inherit the family fortune. They hold an equal share of the Participacoes Morro Vermelho SA holding company, which controls Sao Paulo-based Camargo Correa, according to filings with Brazil’s securities regulator.

According to Morro Vermelho’s 2002 incorporation documents, some of the shares in the holding company were issued in lifetime usufruct in favor of Camargo, meaning she was their beneficial owner until her death. The rest couldn’t previously be sold, transferred or borrowed against by her daughters.

Lemann, Safra

The company spokesman declined to comment on how the fortune will be split up. The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported earlier that Camargo died at her home, without saying how it got the information.

Brazil’s richest person remains Anheuser-Busch InBev investor Jorge Paulo Lemann, worth $21.1 billion. Banker Joseph Safra now ranks No. 2, with a fortune of $11.8 billion.

Dirce Camargo avoided the spotlight to such a degree that even her age had not been publicly disclosed. She had not appeared on an international wealth ranking for more than a decade, and joined the Bloomberg index in August.

Born in 1909, Sebastiao Camargo started out carting sand by donkey when he was a teenager. He opened a construction business with two partners in 1939, whose stakes the Camargo family later bought out. They won government contracts for roads and railways over the decade that followed, before working to build Brasilia in the 1950s.

Military Coup

Camargo -- who was awarded an honorary diploma from the government’s High College of War in 1967 -- expanded the business into cement during the two-decade military dictatorship that took power in a 1964 coup. Amid increased state investment, Camargo took on ever-larger infrastructure projects, including subway lines in Sao Paulo, the Trans-Amazonian Highway and the bridge connecting Rio de Janeiro and neighboring Niteroi.

“Brazil’s greatest progress was in the military government,” Camargo told Folha de S.Paulo in December 1990.

In the 1970s, Camargo pushed deeper into Latin America. General Leonidas Pires Goncalves told the Sao Paulo-based oral- history archive Museu da Pessoa that Camargo once asked him to secure the assistance of the Brazilian government to mediate a labor dispute at a project in Venezuela. Goncalves agreed. When democracy returned in 1985, the general was named minister of the army.

Civilian Rule

Camargo’s business continued to prosper under civilian rule. During the privatization wave of the 1990s, the conglomerate acquired electricity company CPFL Energia SA (CPFE3), and won toll-road concessions that were later bundled together into publicly traded CCR SA. (CCRO3) Sebastiao Camargo led the company until his death in 1994, when control passed to his wife, Dirce.

Camargo Correa is now managed by professional administrators, including Chairman Vitor Hallack. The husband of Camargo’s daughter Regina, Carlos Pires Oliveira, and Renata’s, Luiz Roberto Ortiz Nascimento, both sit on the board. Rosana’s husband, Fernando Arruda Botelho, died in an airplane crash in April 2012.

The closely held operation generated $8.6 billion in revenue in 2011, with about 30 percent of the total coming from its flagship construction business. Camargo Correa employs more than 58,000 people.

“Sebastian was daring,” former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said in a December 2002 address at the Tucurui dam, one of Camargo Correa’s many projects. “And the results of his daring are left in concrete in Brazil and abroad.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Cuadros in Lima at acuadros@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net

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