Hidden Billionaires in Plain Sight Emerge As Stocks Rise

Billionaire Steven Bresky, 58, has eluded the limelight that usually accompanies great wealth for five years.

In 2007, Bresky inherited his father’s 74 percent stake in Seaboard Corp. (SEB), a $5.7 billion commodities trading and cargo shipping company that generated almost a third of its revenue last year slaughtering 5 million hogs. Bresky’s stock is worth $1.7 billion today.

“He must regretfully decline to be interviewed,” said Bresky’s assistant, Amanda Doyle, from the company’s Merriam, Kansas, headquarters on March 14. “He just doesn’t do a lot of stories.”

An analysis of stakes held in publicly traded U.S. and Latin American companies uncovered Bresky and seven other billionaires who haven’t appeared in any major international wealth rankings. Most of their 10-figure fortunes are derived from public holdings and dividend income.

Bresky, Seaboard’s chairman, has remained under the radar by owning his shares, which are down 9 percent since he inherited them, through two Newton, Massachusetts-based holding companies, Seaboard Flour LLC and SFC Preferred LLC. Seaboard Corp., which also has sugar and power operations, bought half of the Butterball turkey brand for $178 million last year from Garner, North Carolina-based Maxwell Group.

Far From Silicon Valley

American Graham Weston, 48, has also avoided being ranked with the world’s richest, partly by running a technology company in San Antonio, Texas — 1,700 miles from Silicon Valley. Weston owns about 15 percent of Rackspace Hosting Inc. (RAX), a provider of Web-based information-technology systems. His stock is worth almost $1.1 billion.

The company held its initial public offering in August 2008. Rackspace shares have surged more than 12-fold since hitting a low of $4 per share in February 2009, making Weston, the company’s largest shareholder, a billionaire.

Weston loathes talking about his wealth. After seeing glitzy dot-coms fail spectacularly a decade ago he, along with his Rackspace cohorts, decided to adopt what they call a no- stars policy.

“We said we wanted to be judged on our substance, not our flash,” Weston said in a telephone interview on March 14.

Weston has put some of his money — he’s sold about $60 million of Rackspace stock since 2008 — into helping entrepreneurs and local students. Weston and Rackspace employees have contributed $2 million in grants to spruce up local schools, fund mentoring programs and provide supplies.

“It’s a way for a corporation to interface in a philanthropic way, not just with money but with our own enthusiasm,” Weston said. “We really adopted a new model, which is the idea that a corporation takes accountability for the success of the schools around it and gets directly involved.”

Pleasure Aircraft

Insurance mogul William R. Berkley, 66, built his estimated $1.2 billion fortune by creating what became W.R. Berkley Corp. (WRB) The $4.9 billion Greenwich, Connecticut-based company has 48 operating units underwriting a spectrum of property and casualty risks, from pleasure aircraft to cyber security.

Berkley owns about 18 percent of the company, a stake worth almost $900 million today. He has also collected more than $51 million in company dividends since 1980, and has collected more than $85 million in salary and bonuses since 1993. In 2006 and 2007, Berkley earned $58 million selling shares of First Marblehead Corp., a Boston-based student loan company he has been a director of since 1995.

“He’s very private about his wealth,” said Karen Horvath, a spokesman for W.R. Berkley Corp. “He prefers not to be on any lists.”

Holocaust Survivor

Surging economic growth in Latin America is minting a new wave of wealthy tycoons. Booming consumer demand in Brazil has made Samuel Klein, an 88-year-old Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor, and his son Michael, billionaires. In 2009, Klein sold his chain of home-appliance stores, Casas Bahia Comercial Ltda., to retail billionaire Abilio Diniz.

The Klein family received a combined 47 percent stake in Via Varejo SA (GLOB3), as the unit of Diniz’s flagship Cia. Brasileira de Distribuicao Grupo Pao de Acucar is now known. The stake is worth $2 billion today, with Samuel Klein owning 54 percent. Michael Klein, 59, who is Casas Bahia’s chief executive officer and Via Varejo’s chairman, controls the rest.

The Kleins also have cash. As part of the sale to Diniz, the family kept Casas Bahia’s property holdings. Diniz pays them 140 million reais ($78 million) a year in rent. Casas Bahia’s press office said the family was unavailable to comment.

Chemicals and Copper

Billionaire Antonio del Valle, 74, has turned Mexichem SAB into one of the largest chemical producers in the Americas by acquiring more than 15 competitors since 2007. The Tlalnepantla, Mexico-based company’s shares have surged more than 50-times since 2002, making his family’s 48 percent stake, which he controls, worth $3.2 billion.

Del Valle got his start in banking. He served as chief executive of Grupo Financiero Bital SA until his partners sold it to HSBC Holdings Plc in 2002, paying him in cash and shares of Mexichem — then known as Grupo Industrial Camesa.

Mexican regulatory filings indicate the family has been able to increase its stake in Mexichem by reinvesting most of their dividends and proceeds from a 2005 stock sale back into the company.

Del Valle also owns closely held lender Grupo Financiero Ve Por Mas SAB and Elementia SA, which makes copper and aluminum products and is part-owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He controls all three stakes through his holding company, Grupo Empresarial Kaluz SA. Del Valle’s personal assistant said he was unavailable for comment.

Precious Peruvian Metals

Buoyed by surging gold prices, Alberto Benavides and his family have seen their 28 percent voting stake in Cia. de Minas Buenaventura SA, Peru’s biggest producer of precious metals, jump five-fold in a decade to $2.7 billion. Today Benavides, 91, owns $1.2 billion of the company’s stock after giving the rest in equal parts to his five children last year.

Based on an analysis of dividends, local taxes and market performance, the Benavides family probably has an investment portfolio worth at least $250 million. “We’re people who have no interest in ostentation or luxury,” Roque Benavides, who has led the company since his father retired, said in an e-mail. “We’re working people whose goal is to contribute to the social development of Peru.”

Banco Santander Purchase

Alvaro Saieh, 62, became a billionaire after his shares of Corpbanca (CORPBANC), Chile’s sixth-biggest lender, jumped 63 percent in 2009, more than doubling the following year. His 63 percent stake is now worth more than $2.1 billion.

Saieh, who earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago and traces his roots to Palestine, formed his company by leading the takeover of century-old Banco de Concepcion in 1995 and using it to buy up rivals.

In December, Saieh oversaw the $1.16 billion acquisition of Banco Santander SA (SAN)’s Colombian unit, helping Corpbanca become the first Chilean financial institution to own a foreign bank.

A press official representing Saieh, who asked not to be named due to internal policy, said his closely held retail, insurance and media assets are worth $2.6 billion not including debt. SMU SA, his chain of supermarkets and retail stores, reported 2010 sales of $2.2 billion.

The number of billionaires that remain uncovered is difficult to quantify. “It’s hard to give you a number. You should question anyone who claims they can,” said Anthony DeChellis, head of Private Banking Americas for Credit Suisse in New York. “It is a very difficult thing to know.”

By Brendan Coffey and Alexander Cuadros

Courtesy of Bloomberg News

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