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Reuters / It was Américo Amorim's Group that launched Banco Único in Mozambique, in August 2011
Américo Amorim, who was known as the king of cork for building his fortune on cork stoppers and was believed to be Portugal’s wealthiest man, died July 13. He was 82.
His company, Corticeira Amorim, announced his death but did not provide additional details. Mr. Amorim had stepped down from his executive duties in October because of health problems.
Portugal is the world’s largest cork producer, accounting for about half of global output, and no cork company is larger than Corticeira Amorim, which Mr. Amorim’s grandfather founded in 1870. The company processes about one quarter of all the cork in the world, helping Mr. Amorim build a fortune worth $4.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
With plastic stoppers for wine bottles encroaching on his market, Mr. Amorim diversified cork uses into areas such as insulation and furniture, and created a conglomerate, Grupo Amorim, which expanded his business into wine production and tourism. Mr. Amorim also held significant stakes in Portuguese financial, telecom and energy companies.
He was born into a modest family in Mozelos, in northern Portugal, in 1934. The fifth of eight children, he started work at Corticeira Amorim — a small company at the time — at 18. He left that job to spend more than four years travelling through South America, Europe and Asia, a trip he later described as “a fantastic university.”
Mr. Amorim inherited a 2.5 percent share in the family company, and from that he built his business empire on the back of an export drive.
After an army coup in 1974 toppled Portugal’s long dictatorship, business executives fled the country. Mr. Amorim stayed and bought their assets, sometimes for knockdown prices, including vast areas of cork forest in southern Portugal.
Survivors include his wife, three daughters and several grandchildren.
The cork oak is remarkable for its spongy bark, which can be peeled away every nine years or so without killing the tree. Portugal’s cork industry employs around 15,000 people, either working on harvest or in factories making stoppers and other products.
Mr. Amorim’s companies do business in dozens of countries around the world. “I don’t consider myself rich,” he told a Portuguese newspaper in 2011. “I’m a worker.”