Anderson Antunes for FORBES
|Roberto Civita (Photo by Ivan Pacheco)|
Brazilian billionaire Roberto Civita, the head of one of Latin America’s largest media conglomerates, died on Sunday after spending more than 60 days at a São Paulo hospital due to complications of an aneurysm, according to his media group, Abril. He was 76.
The son of Victor Civita, who founded Abril in 1950, Roberto Civita took over the company in 1990 when his father died. Abril currently employs more than 7,000 people, and includes Editora Abril, which publishes some of Brazil’s biggest magazines, and the publicly listed Abril Educação.
Born in Milan in 1936, Roberto and his family moved to the United States soon thereafter, where they stayed for about a decade. During a visit to Brazil, his father decided to settle his business there, and the family moved once again, this time to São Paulo.
Civita initially founded his publishing company as Editora Primavera (Spring Publications), publishing an unsuccessful Italian comic called Raio Vermelho (Red Ray). He later renamed it Abril (April), referencing the month in which Spring begins on the northern hemisphere, and published its first title, Donald Duck, which continues to run to this date. Abril’s first magazine led Civita to claim, “It all started with a duck,” parodying Walt Disney‘s declaration that “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse.”
Roberto worked for 18 months as a trainee at Time Inc. under Henry Luce before claiming his position at the family’s publishing business. He studied nuclear and particle physics at Rice University, besides studying journalism at the University of Pennsylvania, and had a degree in economics from the Wharton School. He also had a post-graduate degree in sociology fromColumbia University.
In 1968, he founded Veja. Today Veja is Brazil’s biggest magazine and the best-selling weekly newsmagazine outside of the United States, with a circulation of over 1 million. Although widely read, the publication is also one of the most hated media outlets in Brazil, due to its alleged right-wing editorial content filled with political bomb-throwers and its clear opposition to the current Workers’ Party government.
On May 14, 2005, Veja published a story describing an apparent corruption scheme in the Brazilian Postal Service. The magazine chronicled a 110-minute video recording, made with a hidden camera, which showed a former Post Officer apparently receiving a bribe from a businessman. The incident triggered the scandal now known as “Mensalão,” which rocked the government of then President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and was followed by a series of similar devastating reports.
More recently, Veja got involved in a corruption and money-laundering probe that broke with the arrest in February 2012 of Carlos Augusto Ramos, more commonly known as Carlinhos Cachoeira (Charlie Waterfall), who allegedly used to run a gambling racket in Goiás state. A familiar face in Brazilian politics, Chachoeira was also a key figure of the Mensalão case. But while several officials were sacked, he walked free. Brazil’s Congress set up a special committee to investigate the matter, which included a timetable for hearings of at least 167 summonses. One of the editors at Veja was among the first on the list.
Ironically, it was during the Workers’ Party government that Abril experienced its best economic growth. In 2006, South Africa’s Naspers acquired 30% of Abril for $422 million, including the 13.8% that belonged to Capital International, an investment fund. Then in 2011 Abril Educação, an education company that offers primary, secondary and pre-university courses, as well as education-focused publishing houses, went public. The company, in which the Civita family owns a majority stake, has a market capitalization of more than $5.7 billion.
Earlier this year, Roberto and his family were listed for the first time in FORBES’ World’s Billionaires list with a net worth estimated at $4.9 billion. In addition to his position as the CEO of Abril, Roberto was also the president of the Victor Civita Foundation, created in 1985 to improve basic education in Brazil. He is expected to be replaced by his son, Giancarlo Civita, in the running of Abril’s operations.
The news of Roberto Civita’s death comes just days after the passing of journalist Ruy Mesquita, publisher of the influential daily “O Estado de S. Paulo,” who died on May 22. Both men were considered the last true media barons in Brazil, a title they earned thanks to their influence in the country and its politics for over six decades.
“The more independent from the government, the greater the contribution of the press and free enterprise for its development. The reader is the one in charge of things,” Roberto Civita used to say.
He not only stood by that statement, but he practiced it and, most importantly, left it as his legacy.