JE personalities: Vasco de Mello - A life taking on new challenges

Vasco de Mello was not limited to being a businessman born in a golden cradle. Throughout his 64 years he has shown that he faces adversity by discovering new challenges. The inauguration of the CUF Tejo Hospital, Brisa's new shareholder structure, the new chemical factory in Spain and the hydrogen production projects in Estarreja confirm that the José de Mello Group has not stopped in time.

Jornal Económico chose 30 personalities from the last 25 years that have marked, in a positive and negative way, the current Portuguese society: politicians, businessmen, managers, economists and civil society personalities. The methodology used to compile the JE Personalities is explained at the end of the text.

Vasco Maria Guimarães José de Mello (Lisbon, 1956) has long been the face of the José de Mello Group. It is a group that employs more than 10.700 employees. That in 2019 recorded 1,8 billion in operating income. And that controls 5,8 billion euros in total assets under management. But numbers are just the most impersonal part of Vasco de Mello's business activity. What really matters - said by those who know the entrepreneur's path - is showing everyone that it is in the least easy moments, or even in the most difficult ones, that new opportunities are seized and different strategies are initiated.

This is because, at the age of 64, the President of the José de Mello Group was applauded by the majority of Portuguese managers and entrepreneurs for having concluded one of the biggest deals of 2020, at a time that would not be conducive to the conclusion of business, precisely during the first state of emergency. due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Once again, Vasco de Mello gave evidence of the experience he has been accumulating throughout his life. Brisa's operation confirms that each adversity always opens up new challenges.

This has been the case since Vasco de Mello's childhood. For better or worse. When he was only five years old, he saw Lisnave born at the Margueira shipyard in Almada - a project by his father, José Manuel de Mello -, which would have been of enormous importance for Portugal, given that this shipyard inaugurated the dock that at the time was considered the largest in the world. Dock 13, named after his great-grandfather, Alfredo da Silva. But at the same time, he also lived with the financial euphoria of the merger that gave rise to Banco Totta & Açores.

Conversely, when he was 18 years old, he experienced the reversal of the industrial glory of the Mello family, in a downfall imposed by politics, in September 1974. It was the moment when Vasco de Mello saw the sanitation of Lisnave's administration, and that functioned as a kind of antechamber of what had happened on March 14, 1975, when the Provisional Government of Vasco Gonçalves nationalized all banking and insurance.

More than 180 nationalized CUF companies

Months later, in October 1975, by virtue of Decree-Law 532/75, Vasco de Mello witnessed the nationalization of CUF, which passed to the State's tutelage the more than 180 companies of the CUF Group, counting among the business areas covered , banking, chemicals, textiles, ores, food, health, ship repair and the environment, in a universe that employed more than 110 thousand workers, and which justified the CUF Group weighing 5% of Portugal's GDP time.

In this phase, after April 25, 1974, Vasco de Mello accompanied his father and family outside the country, settling in Switzerland, where he studied and did his training in business management at American College. At the age of 23, he started working at Citicorp in New York. However, life moved quickly, with Vasco de Mello watching the effort that his father, José Manuel de Mello - guided by the industrial aura of his grandfather Alfredo da Silva - made to rebuild the family group, launching in 1988 the holding company José de Mello.

At the age of 35, in 1991, Vasco de Mello follows the creation of Banco Mello, which was based on the Portuguese Financial Society, acquired in 1988 by the José de Mello Group, and which actually took the form of the first Portuguese privatization carried out in the post- April 25. This was followed by the purchase of Companhia de Seguros Império in 1992, as part of a re-privatization process - Império, which had been created in 1941 and belonged to the CUF Group until 1974. The following year, it was the turn to buy the majority of the capital of Soponata, a leading reference company in the navy.

In 1997, at the age of 41, Vasco de Mello won the reprivatisation of Quimigal, which had been nationalized in 1975, resulting from the chemical companies of the CUF Group. In 2000, a century after the original foundation, the José de Mello Group included Brisa and Efacec in its business portfolio, sold Lisnave and created José de Mello Residências e Serviços, in the same year that Banco Mello completed the merger with BCP.

In 2001 the CUF Descobertas hospital unit was opened, investing in this project 35 million euros, and began to develop the CUF hospital units network across the country. This was followed by the purchase of Elnosa in Galicia, dedicated to the production and commercialization of chemicals that reinforced the presence of the José de Mello Group in the international chemical sector. In 2004 the José de Mello Group sold Soponata and Finertec, which operated in areas where this group recognized that it was unable to add more value.

At 50, launches OPA to Efacec

When he celebrated his 50th birthday in 2006, Vasco de Mello went ahead with an OPA on Efacec, in partnership with the Têxtil Manuel Gonçalves group. Then came the purchase of a 2% stake in EDP - Energias de Portugal, which makes the José de Mello Group one of the reference shareholders of the electricity company. The moment when BCP's dream ended came more quickly than it could have predicted, because the José de Mello Group concluded in 2007 the sale of almost all of its interest in BCP, which was around 3,05% of the bank's share capital, which allowed to increase the participation in EDP to around 5%.

In 2008 it was the turn to sell the fertilizer business, owned by CUF. José de Mello Saúde opened new units and ended the management of the public-private partnership at the Amadora Sintra Hospital (which came from 1995), advancing towards the inauguration of the CUF Cascais Clinic and a diagnostic and treatment institute in Porto. In 2009 this group signed a contract with the State for the construction and management of the future Hospital of Braga (in public-private partnership), followed by the management contract for the Vila Franca de Xira Hospital.

Finally, in 2012, at the age of 56, Vasco de Mello launched a takeover bid on all of Brisa, associated with the Arcus fund, which led the José de Mello Group to become the largest shareholder of this company, with a 57,3 stake %. However, they carried out a corporate development at Efacec, with the constitution of Efacec Power Solutions, where Angolan capital entered, controlled by businesswoman Isabel dos Santos.

In 2018, the José de Mello Group's chemical industry area changed its corporate identity, replacing the historic CUF with the Bondalti brand, at the same time that it carried out the strategic repositioning of the business and advanced in internationalization. On the other hand, CUF becomes the unique brand in the health area, which is what happens to José de Mello Saúde, which coincides with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of CUF's first hospital. In September 2020, Hospital CUF Tejo was inaugurated in Alcântara, close to the newsroom of Jornal Económico, which began its phased activity, with the outpatient and imaging areas, thus replacing the CUF Infante Santo Hospital.

Brilliant business at Brisa

Going back a few months ago - on May 8, 2020 - the Vasco de Mello group together with AEIF Apollo and Tagus Holding closed the sale of two blocks of shares representing 81,1% of Brisa's voting rights, which controls the majority of the capital of Brisa - Concessão Rodoviária (BCR). The buyer was Rubicone BidCo, a company wholly owned by the consortium of international investors that is part of the Dutch APG Asset Management (manager of APB, which is the pension fund for civil servants in the Netherlands), the Korean NPS - National Pension Service of the Republic of Korea and the Swiss Swiss Life Asset Managers (which is the largest life insurance company in Switzerland).

In other words, this entire process was considered by many entrepreneurs as a “genius business”, because salespeople would hardly find better buyers to sell more than 80% of an infrastructure concessionaire. Four months and ten days later, on September 18, the European Commission gave the green light to this deal, which was the last of the suspensive conditions that remained to make this transaction fully viable.

The deal was possible because Vasco de Mello, as president of the José de Mello Group, and Daniel Amaral, representative of the Arcus European Infrastructure Fund 1 LP managed by Arcus European Investment Manager LLP had successfully concluded the negotiations with the aforementioned consortium of international investors for the joint sale of these two shareholder blocks of Brisa, with the prospect of selling 81,1% of the voting rights at a price that placed Brisa's value above 3.000 million euros. The purchase was made by a vehicle company controlled by APG and NPS.

Enter António Pires de Lima

Thus, Vasco de Mello started a new long-term partnership with its José de Mello Group, which remains a shareholder in Brisa, with 17%, but actively participating in the management and assuring him of the presidency of Brisa. Better would be difficult - it was the widespread comment among managers of leading companies in Portugal.

On the buyers' side, the commitment was made to actively contribute to the development of the Brisa company, especially in its evolution into new business areas - such as MAAS - Mobility As A Service -, which is a positive sign given to the Portuguese economy by foreign institutional investors.

In this business, the José de Mello Group was advised at the highest international level, with the participation of the teams of Rothschild & Co and Caixa BI, together with the law firms Vieira de Almeida & Associados, Clifford Chance and Loyens & Loeff.

Following this deal, Vasco de Mello reinforced the group of managers who monitor his business activity. António Pires de Lima, for Brisa's executive president, joined this group. Former Economy Minister António Pires de Lima was appointed to be the new executive president of Brisa. The appointment comes after the sale of 81,1% of the company to an international consortium.

In addition to his political career - Pires de Lima was a member of the national council of the CDS-PP (from 2007 to 2014) and Minister of Economy (from 2013 to 2015) -, he also has a career in the business world, in various sectors of activity.

In the current context, Pires de Lima will manage the concessionaire for 11 motorways scattered throughout the national territory. In the first statement released by Brisa to inform the entry of the new CEO, Pires de Lima considered “an honor and a challenge to be CEO of Brisa at a difficult time for the Portuguese and world economy”.

The comfort of Pires de Lima and Vasco de Mello is that they know that the dominant consortium is willing to invest in the company, given the intentions expressed by the APG administrator, who announced that “the consortium has available capital to grow the business and hopes to invest more than 1,2 billion euros over the next 15 years "," maintenance and improvement of the road network "and" development of new mobility solutions ".

Family support

Although Vasco de Mello has been the leader of the José de Mello Group for many years, in reality he is not alone. Pedro de Mello is one of his eleven brothers, serving as vice president of the José de Mello Group - responsible for the family council, which is relevant when it comes to organizing meetings with 132 family members. It also has the support of Salvador de Mello, the brother who has been guiding the health strategy, the CUF manager (formerly José de Mello Saúde), responsible for the investment made in the new CUF Tejo Hospital.

Like João de Mello, who leads Bondalti - gave an interview to JE explaining the group's new investments in this sector - responsible for the new plant in Spain and for the negotiation of Enkrott, as well as for the 2,4 billion project that has on hand to produce, among other chemicals, green hydrogen at the Estarreja unit.

Outside his family, Vasco de Mello has among his greatest support, António Gonçalves, one of the main shareholders of Têxtil Manuel Gonçalves, partner of the José de Mello Group at Efacec, which, according to the industry, will have become more comfortable after the nationalization of the participation held by Isabel dos Santos in Efacec.

And Paulo Cleto Duarte, president of the National Pharmacy Association (ANF), which controls Farminveste, which holds a 30% stake in CUF. Also Steven Braekeveldt, the CEO of the Ageas Portugal Group, who in 2019 partnered with the José de Mello Group for senior residences.

João Vieira de Almeida remains one of Vasco de Mello's main friends. In addition to being a manager at Brisa, he was recently involved in negotiating the sale of more than 81,1% of Brisa. Dutchman Jan-Willem Ruisbroek is one of the most recent supporters of Vasco de Mello, responsible for the APG pension fund, leader of the consortium that bought 81,1% of Brisa.

Among Portuguese-Brazilian support is António Pargana, cousin of Francisco Louçã and Vítor Gaspar (former Finance Minister), who is responsible for Global Roads, the partnership that brought together the three investors who in 2015 bought 30% of BCR - Brisa Concessão Rodoviária, manager of the main concession, a group that also includes Fernando Camargo, owner of the Brazilian television network InterTV, which works with Globo. In 2015, these Brazilian investors paid 770 million euros for less than a third of BCR.


Jornal Económico (JE) selected the 25 most relevant personalities for Portugal in the last 25 years, referring to the period marked out between 1995 and 2020, highlighting those who had the greatest influence on the development of civil society, the national economy, and the international growth of our groups business, in the way the Portuguese Diaspora and Portuguese-speaking communities evolved, in the process of attracting foreign investors and, in short, in the way the country has established itself in the world. This list was published on September 4, 2020, before the first weekend of the ninth month of the year. Resuming the initiative from the last weekend of September, but now extended to 30 personalities, the JE will publish, every Saturday and Sunday, texts about the 30 selected personalities, in descending order. To the 25 names initially published, JE now adds the names of António Ramalho Eanes, António Guterres, Pedro Queiroz Pereira, Vasco de Mello and Rui Nabeiro.

It is necessary to explain to the reader that the methodology followed was guided by journalistic criteria, without privileging eminently political personalities, who tend to have a greater media profile than that given to entrepreneurs, economists, managers and lawyers, but also without ignore the politicians who have been determinants in society during the last quarter century. Also not ignored were the personalities who, having died shortly before 1995, had an economic, social, cultural, scientific and political impact until 2020, as is the case with José Azeredo Perdigão and the work he built throughout his long life. life - the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The ranking is initiated by the historical leaders of five Portuguese business groups, with Alexandre Soares dos Santos in first place, distinguished as a major employer in the area of ​​food distribution, and for promoting the internationalization of his group in geographies such as Poland - with the brand “Biedronka” (Joaninha) - and Colombia. He also assured the passing of testimony to his son Pedro Soares dos Santos. The Jerónimo Martins Group has been encouraging the use of marine resources, by increasing Portuguese aquaculture production in the Madeira Sea - although several economists have highlighted the importance of the Portuguese maritime platform as a source of wealth, few entrepreneurs have supported projects in this area , being the group led by Soares dos Santos one of the cases that did not neglect the potential of the Portuguese sea.

It follows in second place Américo Amorim, who in addition to his cork empire - the only sector in which Portugal has achieved world leadership -, stood out in the world of energy and oil, ensuring the continuity of family control of his business through your daughters. Belmiro de Azevedo appears in third place, consolidating the activity of his Sonae, as well as participation in the competitive world of telecommunications and the development of his food distribution group, with testimony passed on to his daughter, Cláudia Azevedo.

In fourth place is António Champalimaud and the work that the “captain of the industry” left, in banking consolidation, as a shareholder in Grupo Santander - one of the largest in Europe -, but also in terms of research carried out in the health area, at the Champalimaud Foundation . Fifthly, Francisco Pinto Balsemão is the one who focused his business life on building a communication group with integrated platforms and solid positions in the leadership of the press and television during the last quarter of a century.

The politicians appear among the following individuals, led by Mário Soares (who appears in 6th place). António Ramalho Eanes is in 7th place, António Guterres in 8th, followed by Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (9th), António Costa (10th), José Eduardo dos Santos (11th) - due to the weight that his family members had in the Portuguese economy , especially his daughter Isabel dos Santos, and for the investments made in Portugal by the group of Angolan politicians and businessmen close to the former president of Angola, currently questioned, mostly, by the Angolan justice - and Aníbal Cavaco Silva (12th). Jorge Sampaio comes in 13th, followed by Mário Centeno (14th), José de Azeredo Perdigão (15th), António Luciano de Sousa Franco (16th), Pedro Passos Coelho (17th), Álvaro Cunhal (18th), Ernesto Melo Antunes (19th) , Luís Mira Amaral (20th), Pedro Queiroz Pereira (21st), Vasco de Mello (22nd), Ricardo Salgado (23rd), José Socrates (24th), Ernâni Rodrigues Lopes (25th), Francisco Murteira Nabo (26th), Rui Nabeiro (27th), Leonor Beleza (28th), António Arnaut (29th) and Joana de Barros Baptista ( 30th).

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