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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 12:17 GMT
Heineken heiress remains a mystery

By Danielle Rossingh
BBC News Online business reporter

Freddie Heineken
Freddie Heineken transformed the business
It has been more than a year since Dutch beer magnate Freddie Heineken died, leaving behind a multi-million pound beer empire selling one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

His death meant that his 48-year-old daughter, Charlene de Carvalho Heineken, and her husband Michel de Carvalho, were catapulted into the top league of Britain's wealthy elite.

Mrs de Carvalho inherited a 3bn ($4.8bn) fortune, making her the richest woman in the Netherlands, overtaking Queen Beatrix.

She has made a clear choice, and that is to raise her five children and not work in the company
Barbara Smit
Heineken biographer
Her inheritance also gave her a controlling stake in the family business, the world's fourth-largest brewer.

On Wednesday, Heineken reported an 11% rise in net profits to 795m euros (544m; $856m).

An increase in global sales of its beer, as well as acquisitions, have added to its earnings.

Mrs de Carvalho sits on the management board, while her husband, a former film star and Olympic skier, is a member of the supervisory board.

But more than a year after the death of her father at the age of 78, his daughter remains as much a mystery as she was then.

'Something Cool'

Freddie Heineken led a jet set life, owning a yacht named "Something Cool" on which the Dutch royal family were regulars.

Queen Beatrix
The Dutch royal family were regulars on the Heineken yacht

In contrast, his daughter lives a fairly anonymous life in London with her husband and five children.

She studied law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and, although she was an intern at Heineken, was never really serious about joining the business.

"She has made a clear choice, and that is to raise her five children and not work in the company," said Freddie Heineken's biographer, Barbara Smit.

"She is a very intelligent woman, but I do not think she has any ambition in taking over the family business.

"But I do feel she is very aware of what is going on with Heineken.

"She was very close to her father and he once told me she would keep the business together until her eldest son was old enough to run it."

Rolls Royce borrowing power

Mrs de Carvalho's great-grandfather set up the beer brewery, while her mother, Lucille Cummins, came from a Kentucky bourbon family.

Heineken ad
Freddie learned about marketing in the US
Her flamboyant father Freddie bought back a controlling stake in the business in 1954.

He was widely credited with transforming a small Dutch beer brewer into a global brand, having picked up the power of marketing during his stay in the US.

Legend has it that he hired a Rolls Royce, had himself driven to the bank and immediately secured a 400,000 guilder loan (122,181) - thanks to the stunt.

"That was quite a bold move," Ms Smit says.

"He was only 23 years old and under his father the firm was taken away from the family.

"He had absolutely no money but managed to get a bank loan anyway. I think this explains his later obsession with keeping the business in the family."

Too much control?

The family owns just over half the shares in the holding company that owns half of Heineken.

But analysts have said the family's reluctance to give up their controlling stake could theoretically restrict the company's ability to expand the business.

In theory, Charlene Heineken has great influence
Sander van Oort analyst Effectenbank Stroeve
Heineken executive chairman and former chief executive Karel Vuursteen said last year that "it is absolutely clear to everyone that the family will stay in control".

"In theory, Charlene Heineken has great influence," said analyst Sander van Oort at Stroeve Effectenbank in Amsterdam.

"But she has only been seen twice in connection with the company."

Uncharacteristically, Mrs de Carvalho attended the annual shareholders meeting after her father passed away last year.

As family we are part of Heineken's past, present and future
Charlene de Carvalho Heineken

Although she refrained from giving a much-anticipated press conference at the last minute, she did address the company's shareholders.

It became clear she had no intention of selling her 3bn stake when she said: "As family we are part of Heineken's past, present and future."

Lawrence of Arabia

Although little is known about Mrs de Carvalho, her husband's life has so far rivalled the jet set existence of Freddie Heineken.

Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia
Heineken's son-in-law starred in Lawrence of Arabia
Born of Brazilian-English parents, Michel de Carvalho met his future wife at an exclusive skiing club in St. Moritz.

At an early age, he took up acting, and under the stage name of Michel Ray, he landed himself a role in the epic 1962 David Lean film, Lawrence of Arabia, playing an Arab boy.

Mr de Carvalho has said his decision to quit acting and pursue his studies at Harvard University was "just about the most stupid decision" he ever made.

But studying at one of America's most prestigious universities did not stop him from turning into a world-class skier.

He represented Great Britain at the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Winter Games, as well as the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

Family influence

Mr de Carvalho then went on to make millions in London's financial centre.

In 1998, he became the first non-Japanese board member of Nikko Securities, and is said to have been instrumental in the firm's alliance with US powerhouse Salomon Smith Barney later that year.

"We do not hear much about Michel de Carvalho's influence on Heineken company policy," says analyst Sander van Oort.

But he added Heineken had changed slightly since its founder passed away.

"The new chief executive, Thony Ruys, seems to be a bit bolder than Mr Vuursteen, who was always closely linked to Freddie Heineken.

"The big players, like Heineken, Interbrew and Anheuser-Busch are all trying to expand their market share.

"I think we can expect to see some movement there in the near future," he added.

During the company's results announcement on Wednesday, little light was shed on its strategy to manage consolidation in the industry.

Heineken profits in line
27 Feb 02 |  Business
Farewell Mr Heineken
04 Jan 02 |  Business
Heineken beer magnate dead
04 Jan 02 |  Europe

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