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Trusted advisers trade places as Bart Brecht retires at JAB Holding Company

By James Beech

The trusted adviser who spearheaded a $50 billion spree of acquisitions over the last five years for Germany’s Reimann family will be succeeded by executives who expanded the portfolios of the families behind Mars and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Bart Becht (62), chairman and one of three partners at JAB Holding Company, will retire this year, the Luxembourg-based vehicle announced this week. Becht also served as chairman of JAB subsidiary Keurig Dr Pepper and on boards including Pret a Manger, Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme and Coty, the $9 billion beauty conglomerate. He stepped down as chairman of Coty in November.

The Financial Times reported his departure from JAB was a result of disagreements with his co-partners over scaling back the holding company’s takeovers to focus on improving operations across its broad portfolio.

“After almost 40 years in the branded consumer business, I have decided it is time to refocus my activities and retire," Becht said in a statement.

“It has been a tremendous privilege and pleasure to work with JAB and the many people within its portfolio companies and I wish them continued success.”

Of the JAB triumvirate, Peter Harf, the new chairman of JAB and Coty, and Olivier Goudet will continue as partners and supervise its investments. Incoming consumer industry veterans Fabien Simon, Ricardo Rittes and Jacek Szarzynski will maintain JAB’s strategy of “long-term value creation”, the group said.

Frenchman Simon, the new chief financial officer, oversaw the integration of Douwe Egberts and the coffee business of Mondelez to create Jacobs Douwe Egberts. Brazilian Rites, responsible for expanding in emerging markets, delivered more than $75 billion in financings at AB Inbev, including the $45 billion acquisition financing for Anheuser Busch. Pole Szarzynski, new lead operator for JAB’s newly created Pret Panera Holding Company, held leadership positions at Mars businesses, including Global Petcare, Global Food and Global Drinks.

Becht, with Harf and Goudet, rapidly positioned JAB as a competitor for giants Nestle and Coca-Cola in beverages and L’Oreal in cosmetics with a spate of buyouts this decade. Their latest eyebrow-raising purchase was for Dr Pepper Snapple for $18.7 billion almost a year ago, to merge the US soft drink maker with coffee pod producer Keurig Green Mountain, which JAB bought in 2015. The roles and careers to date of the next generation of non-family directors following Becht at JAB suggest the company will continue its mission to acquire and merge.

JAB with $80 billion in assets under management is the investment group for the reclusive siblings Renate Reimann-Haas, Wolfgang Reimann, Stefan Reimann-Andersen and Matthias Reimann-Andersen. They have a combined wealth of $16 billion, according to Forbes in 2015. JAB is named after Johann Adam Benckiser, who bought a chemical business in Germany in 1823. Benckiser’s daughter married Ludwig Reimann, who took over the business when his father-in-law died.

In the late 1990s, the family went public with their expanded business and merged with UK-based Reckitt and Colman to form the $15 billion consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser, with Becht as chief executive until 2011. Family members who cashed out of the business at the time of the merger set up their own family office which evolved into the Munich based corporate group Reimann Investors which backs financial service, e-commerce and FinTech start-ups.

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