Alex Behring: veteran investor aims to turn around Burger King.

Author:Ogier, Thierry


SAO PAULO -- Alexandre Behring is one of the most prominent representatives of a new generation of aggressive financial investors and managers of consumer-oriented services. At 44, he already stands as a veteran private equity manager in Brazil after learning the ropes on a team led by billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann at GP Investimentos, and later at 3G Capital.

Seven years ago, Behring left provincial Curitiba, in southern Brazil, where he piloted a struggling railway toward a successful IPO, and headed toward New York to help Lemann and others found 3G Capital. There, Alexandre simply became "Alex." Soon, 3G Capital allied itself with the activist Childen's Investment Fund in 2008 to buy a chunk of the U.S. railway CSX, of which Behring was appointed director.

Behring then became the main negotiator behind the surprise deal to buy out Burger King in late 2010.

"Burger King was a perfect target for 3G Capital, which has a strong experience in retail and consumer brands," he says, referring to the list of companies that had been conquered since the days of GP Investimentos, including Ambev, the brewer that led to the creation the global AB Inbev empire, and Lojas Americanas, a household name in non-food retailing in Brazil.

Behring sees some similarities between the Latin American railway he helped turn around and the U.S.-headquartered fast-food chain. "They are very different industries, but both have very significant growth opportunities ahead of them. This is what we liked," he explains. "They are good businesses that can grow for an extended period of time. So we decided to invest our capital, work on the potential to improve operations and to grow."

But a turnaround for Burger King could take a while. "It's still very early days in the Burger King investment. We feel there are important things to do to try and make Burger King more efficient," says Behring, who is leading the way as chairman. He insists that the chain should "operate in a lean way" in order to improve the franchise worldwide. The U.S. market is one area of concern.

"We have sought to improve our relationships with franchisees in the U.S. We have used a very upfront approach," Behring says. He cites the hiring of Steve Wiborg, the former president and CEO of Heartland Food Corp., one of Burger King's largest franchise operators, who brought 20 years of experience to the position of president of North America operations.

Other appointments have proved short-lived....

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