Mexican cement baron dies, made Cemex a global brand

Mon May 12, 2014 7:24pm EDT
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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican businessman Lorenzo Zambrano, who turned cement maker Cemex into one of the country's first modern multinationals, but also almost brought it crashing down, died on Monday aged 70.

There were no immediate details about the cause of death in a statement released by Cemex, and there had been no reports of illness.

Before Zambrano took over as chief executive, Cemex was a financially solid, domestic operation that had successfully averted Mexico's dramatic economic crashes, and was risk-averse.

Zambrano moved to change that. A series of bold acquisitions extended the Cemex's reach to five continents, making him the poster boy for one of Latin America's most successful companies.

But a $16 billion acquisition of Australian building materials company Rinker in 2007, when the U.S. housing market was already months into a downturn, turned Cemex (CMXCPO.MX: Quote) into an early victim of the subprime housing meltdown.

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.

Cemex would spend the following years coping with large debt obligations, struggling to make deals with lenders, and trimming costs by outsourcing and restructuring jobs.

Zambrano, who was also chairman of the board at Cemex and was a board member at IBM Corp , died in Madrid, the company said in a statement, adding that it would continue to operate normally.   Continued...

Cemex Chief Executive Lorenzo Zambrano holds a news conference before the company's annual shareholders meeting in Monterrey in this file February 23, 2012 photo. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril