Denmark’s richest man dies at 98

Posted April 18, 2012, at 8:33 p.m.

COPENHAGEN — Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller, the owner of the world’s largest container-shipping company and Denmark’s richest man, has died. He was 98.

“On behalf of the whole family I wish to express our deepest sorrow at the loss of our father, grandfather and great grandfather,” his daughter Ane Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla said in a statement to the Copenhagen stock exchange Monday. “My sisters and I have lost a father who never failed, neither his family nor his business.”

Mc-Kinney Moeller ran Copenhagen-based A.P. Moeller-Maersk for 38 years before stepping down as chairman in December 2003. He took over the closely-held company in 1965 after the death of his father, Arnold Peter Moeller, who founded the business with one second-hand steamship in 1904.

Mc-Kinney Moeller built the shipping company into a corporation with annual sales last year of $60 billion — equivalent to almost 20 percent of Denmark’s gross domestic product — employing 108,000 people in more than 130 countries. A tall, slender man who favored three-piece suits, he rarely gave interviews and sought to limit news-flow around his company.

“I hope you understand our peculiar inclination that we perhaps have the most to gain by being unobserved,” he said in 1998, according to the book “Moeller the Myth,” by journalist Jan Cortzen.

Mc-Kinney Moeller was a larger-than-life person in Denmark’s corporate world, contributing generously to public projects unrelated to his business. He funded a 2.5 billion kroner ($438 million) opera house in Copenhagen that opened in January 2005. In an August 2010 survey by Denmark’s Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin, his personal fortune was estimated at 8.3 billion kroner, while assets under his family’s control where worth as much as 125.4 billion kroner.

“Every week you would meet him on his way up the stairs to the sixth floor at the Esplanaden headquarters in Copenhagen, where he followed developments closely,” Chairman Michael Pram Rasmussen said in an emailed note Monday. “Should issues in the business require an opinion or comment, Mc-Kinney Moeller always made his position clear in no uncertain terms accompanied with wit and always based on a thorough knowledge of the company and the history.”

In his last year as chairman, Mc-Kinney Moeller transformed the company by merging its two publicly traded units, splitting its shares and lifting some of the secrecy surrounding investments and holdings.

His employees unfailingly called him “Herr Moeller,” rare in a country that has largely done away with titles and honorifics. All employees globally would get a Danish pastry each year on July 13, in honor of his birthday.

“Mc-Kinney Moeller is the most respected and admired businessman and leader in Denmark,” Thomas Larsen, a political commentator at newspaper Berlingske and co-author of the 2008 book “Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller,” said by phone.

“He’s one of the few Danes whom you say ‘De’ and not ‘Du’ to,” Larsen said, referring to the hardly-used formal second- person singular pronoun in Danish.

He handed day-to-day responsibilities to Chief Executive Officer Jess Soederberg in 1993. In 2007, Soederberg resigned after profit dropped 23 percent and Chairman Michael Pram Rasmussen hired Carlsberg’s Nils Smedegaard Andersen as the first CEO ever to be brought in from outside the company. Andersen has been on sick leave after receiving emergency heart surgery in December. The company said March 26 he will extend his leave by as much as eight weeks.

“Will and energy marked Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller’s endeavors,” Andersen said in an emailed note Monday. “Vision, careful preparation and a never-failing engagement minimized an often-times not insignificant business risk.”

Mc-Kinney Moeller’s wife Emma, who was born five days before her husband in 1913, died in 2005 after 65 years of marriage. They had three daughters; Ane Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla, Leise Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller, and Kirsten Mc-Kinney Moeller Olufsen.

Two of his grandsons, Robert Maersk Uggla and Johan Pederson Uggla, joined the company in 2004.

With assistance from Justin Carrigan.

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