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OBITUARY

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

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Mr Cojuangco was known for his knack for acquiring businesses.

Manila

SAN Miguel Corp 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 Mr Cojuangco died on Tuesday.

The former chairman and chief executive officer 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 Mr Cojuangco in the 25 years he was an equities analyst before joining SM Prime Holdings Inc 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.

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Obviously, Mr Cojuangco's style is not just sitting down." Mr Ang, who won the trust of Mr Cojuangco in the early 1980s, has led the diversification of the century-old brewer since the late 2000s as Mr Cojuangco took a back seat in overseeing the group's expansion. In 2012, Mr Cojuangco sold his remaining 14.7 per cent stake in San Miguel to Mr Ang and its majority shareholder Top Frontier Investment Holdings Inc, raising 37 billion pesos (S$1.03 billion).

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

Mr 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 Mr 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," Mr 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 SA to help raise US$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 Ltd. In 2002, Mr Cojuangco sold a 15 per cent stake to a unit of Japan-based beer maker Kirin Holdings Co.

Mr Cojuangco, along with Mr Ang, began investing in the energy sector in 2008 and later added infrastructure, saying there was more growth potential there. "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," Mr Cojuangco said in 2012 statement when he sold his stake in the Philippines' largest company. BLOOMBERG

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