Home News Swiss billionaire Klaus J Jacobs dies

Swiss billionaire Klaus J Jacobs dies

Published on 12/09/2008

12 September 2008

BERN — German-born billionaire Klaus J Jacobs, who built the world’s leading chocolate and temporary staffing firms, has died of cancer, his family company Jacobs Holding said Thursday. He was 71.

Family spokesman Urs Laufer said Jacobs died of cancer early Thursday at home in Kuesnacht, near Zurich.

Jacobs, originally from Bremen and later a Swiss citizen, played a key role in building Barry Callebaut into the top chocolate seller, and Adecco SA into the world’s leading temp employer.

He was born on 3 December 1936, and took over the leadership of the coffee trading firm founded by his great uncle, Joh. Jacobs & Co, when he was 33.

Jacobs moved the company to Zurich in 1973 and later took over the Swiss firm Tobler and Suchard, creating Europe’s biggest chocolate and coffee seller.

He sold the consumer interests in the combined company to US giant Philip Morris in 1990 for CHF 3.1 billion.

But he retained parts of the company, including the US candy maker Brach’s, Van Houten powdered chocolate brand, and Belgian chocolate producer Callebaut.

In 1996 he added French chocolate maker Cacao Barry to create Barry Callebaut, which has since become the world’s leading producer of cocoa, chocolate and confectionary products.

Jacobs also turned his attention to human resources, purchasing the Swiss company Adia Personnel Services in 1992 and spearheading its emergence as a global Fortune 500 company following a merger with the French firm Ecco four years later.

Jacobs left the board of Adecco in 2002, but returned two years later. In 2005, after a power struggle with Frenchman Philippe Foriel-Destezet, Jacobs became chief executive and chairman. He ceded leadership a year later to Dieter Scheiff, but remained the major shareholder with a stake of about 30 percent.

Swiss financial magazine Bilanz estimated the total share holdings of Jacobs and his wife in 2007 at well over CHF 3 billion, placing them among Switzerland’s richest people.

An opera fan, Jacobs was a board member since 2003 of the Zurich Opera House and the "Friends of Bayreuth," who help fund the annual festival in Germany devoted to the works of Richard Wagner.

Jacobs was educated in Germany and at Stanford University in the United States.

He is survived by his second wife, Renata, their four children and two children from an earlier marriage. Funeral plans were undisclosed.

[AP / Expatica]