Mexican cement baron dies, made Cemex a global brand

MONTERREY (Reuters) – Mexican magnate Lorenzo Zam-brano, who turned Cemex into one of the world’s biggest cement makers but also nearly brought it crashing down, died yesterday aged 70.

Cemex said its chief executive died in Madrid of natural causes. There had been no reports of illness and it was unclear who will succeed Zambrano, whose grandfather founded the company.

Before Zambrano took charge, Cemex was a financially solid, domestic operation that had successfully avoided Mexico’s dramatic economic crashes but was risk averse.

Zambrano moved to change that, building it into one of Mexico’s first modern multinationals. A series of acquisitions extended Cemex’s reach to five continents, making him the public face of one of Latin America’s most successful companies.

But a risky $16 billion acquisition of Australian building materials company Rinker in 2007, when the US housing market was already months into a downturn, turned Cemex into an early victim of the subprime housing crash.

At the time, Zambrano put a brave face on it.

“We’ve shown that a company that is born in a developing country can compete in the whole world, and we want to keep doing it,” he told Reuters in 2009.

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