With days numbered, Dauphin focused on Trafigura transition

Fri Oct 2, 2015 5:38am EDT
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By Dmitry Zhdannikov

LONDON (Reuters) - When Claude Dauphin, the billionaire founder of Trafigura, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, few doubted he would entirely abandon the fierce work ethic or grueling travel that helped him build one of the world's biggest commodity traders.

In fact, according to some insiders, he barely slowed down in the months prior to his death this week in Bogota, Colombia, where he went to inspect the firm's facilities.

Over the past 18 months, the 64-year-old Frenchman worked hard, hoping to ensure a smooth succession, naming a new chief executive and often bringing senior managers with him on trips to hand over the key relationships he won over four decades in the business, according to sources.

    "His idea was simple. My days are numbered. But I want the company to continue for many more decades," according to one senior Trafigura executive. Dauphin, who died on Wednesday, is survived by his wife and three children.

Yet there is also little doubt his death leaves Trafigura with a daunting task: How to keep it growing without the founder, whose demand for performance and decades of unrivaled contacts built it into an enterprise with $125 billion in annual revenue that trades more oil, copper and coal than almost any firm.

As Dauphin jetted around the world in Trafigura's corporate plane between chemotherapy injections, the impeccably dressed Frenchman didn't just pack his travel schedule with courtesy visits and ceremonial meetings. He kept making deals.

Weeks before dying, Dauphin traveled to Nigeria to clinch an oil swaps contract with the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari, according to sources.

In Angola, where Dauphin enjoyed close relations with the government of long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Trafigura reached an agreement this summer to maintain its status as the main supplier of refined products, despite fierce competition.   Continued...

Trafigura logo is pictured in the company entrance in Geneva March 11, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse