Belgium’s richest man, multi-billionaire entrepreneur Albert Frere, has died aged 92, his investment company GBL announced Monday.
According to Forbes magazine, the self-made nail and screw merchant turned steel, utilities and energy magnate, was worth $6.2 billion.
His death was confirmed in a statement by GBL, the Belgian holding company that he has run as one of two controlling shareholders since 1990.
Born in 1926 in Charleroi in southern Belgium’s fading industrial heartland, he dropped out of school to join his family’s small iron-working firm.
He proved to have a flair for business and by the 1970s his company controlled almost all steel production in Belgium, before selling it into state control.
“In business, it’s your first million that really counts,” Frere once joked to a friend.
With capital generated by the sell-off he developed a series of investment vehicles in several sectors, working with his Canadian friend Paul Desmarais.
The jewel in the crown of his empire was the GBL holding firm, which has held major stakes in several French and Belgian industrial, oil, energy and consumer giants.
He remained honorary chairman of GBL and, with the Desmarais family, the major shareholder in the firm, which also has holdings in Lafarge Holcim, Pernod Ricard and Adidas.
GBL, or the Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, has been listed on the Belgian stock exchange for 60 years and at the end of September had a market cap of 15 billion euros. The shares were up more than two percent in mid-morning trade, in line with firmer European markets.
“In three decades, under his guidance, GBL has become one of Europe’s biggest holding companies. His professional and human qualities have deeply marked our group,” GBL said.
In a rare interview given when he was 85, Frere claimed “the word ‘retirement’ has no place in my vocabulary.”
He said then that he had succeeded thanks to “hard work, enthusiasm and the creation of a tightly-knit team of competent assistants.”
But he also admitted that his network of contacts among his peers in the upper echelons of the French and Belgian business elite “had helped a lot.”
Outside of business, Frere was a connoisseur of wine and fine dining and an “intense” golfer, a regular on the links at the Belgian upper class’s favoured beach resort, Knokke-le-Zoute.
He was a father of three children, one of whom died in a 1999 car accident. In 1994, the King of the Belgians, Albert II, declared Frere a baron.
“The funeral arrangements will be a strictly private and family affair, as the deceased had requested,” GBL said in its statement.