Tequila heiress Karen Virginia Beckmann gets biggest cut of $5 billion cuervo wealth

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New Delhi | Updated: Jun 09, 2019 10:04 AM

The move marks a major shift for a booze-producing bloodline that dates back more than two centuries

Tequila, Karen Virginia BeckmannToday, the family behind the world’s best-selling tequila includes a trio who are worth a combined $5.1 billion. (Bloomberg)

In 1873, three wooden barrels of distilled liquor derived from a prickly plant arrived in El Paso, Texas, an early export north of the Mexican border from the makers of Jose Cuervo.

Today, the family behind the world’s best-selling tequila includes a trio who are worth a combined $5.1 billion.

Becle SAB, the publicly traded holding company that owns the brand, said last week that Chairman Juan Francisco Beckmann completed the transfer of more than half of his stake to his daughter, Karen Virginia Beckmann, 50, making her one of Latin America’s richest women. Her 35% stake, worth $1.9 billion, exceeds the holdings of both her father and brother, who share an additional 50%.

The Beckmanns, whose combined Becle stake totals $4.6 billion, declined to comment. The company said last month that the father will retain voting rights over the transferred shares.

The move marks a major shift for a booze-producing bloodline that dates back more than two centuries and spans almost a dozen generations of tequila distillers, making the family one of the world’s most enduring liquor dynasties.

Longer lifespans and burgeoning wealth have made succession planning an imperative for the super-rich. While cutting the cost of inheritance taxes is usually a major consideration, that’s not the case in Mexico, which doesn’t impose such levies.

Wealth transfers “are much clearer than wills,” said Hector Reyes-Freaner, the head of Baker McKenzie’s tax-compliance practice in Mexico. “Wills are subject to processes, executors, it can become a problem if someone disagrees. Patriarchs tend to prefer trusts and donations than wills, it’s something we’ve been seeing more and more — the need to leave things in order.”

The family’s road to wealth began at the end of the 18th century, when Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo won the first tequila-making license from King Carlos IV of Spain. The spirit became a staple for soldiers in the Mexican-American War and Mexico’s war of independence, while the introduction of railroads helped establish a tequila boom at the turn of the 20th century.

The grandson of an heiress to the Cuervo fortune and a German ambassador, Juan Francisco Beckmann grew up in the border city of Tijuana, making margaritas by the gallon. He started working for the family business in 1964 and became president eight years later. His son Juan Domingo Beckmann, 51, became chief executive officer of Mexico City-based Becle in 2002.

The agave-based liquor has enjoyed a resurgence this decade, validating the family’s decision in 2012 to rebuff a takeover bid from Diageo Plc, the world’s largest distiller. Becle went public in Mexico in 2017 and is now worth $5.5 billion.

Tequila consumption jumped 8.5% last year in the U.S., the world’s largest market for tequila consumption, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. North America makes up more than half of Becle’s annual revenue, which has almost doubled since 2015.

President Donald Trump pushed Mexico to the brink this week when he threatened massive new tariffs over immigration. The two countries agreed to a border security and immigration deal late Friday.

Becle controls about a third of the global tequila market, double its nearest rival, the company said in a November investor presentation, and has diversified over the past decade by snapping up whiskey and vodka brands.

Competitors, meanwhile, are jumping on the tequila bandwagon. In 2017, Diageo acquired Casamigos, a tequila brand backed by Hollywood actor George Clooney, for as much as $1 billion. Less than a year later, rum-maker Bacardi Ltd. bought Patron Spirits International AG — co-founded by U.S. billionaire John Paul DeJoria — in a deal that valued the brand at $5.1 billion.

Before becoming Becle’s biggest shareholder, Karen Beckmann focused more on shoes than spirits. Six years ago, she launched a footwear company that sold its products in department stores controlled by Alberto Bailleres, Mexico’s fourth-richest person. A mother of three, she counts painting and sculpture among her interests, and some of her works have adorned her father’s office, she told Mexican lifestyle magazine R.S.V.P. in a 2013 interview.

“I’ve always liked to create and I can’t sit still — from 7 in the morning I’m already doing things,” she said. “I take French, Italian and piano classes. It’s all I need to live life, which gives me great joy.”

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