Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, the queen of beer, lands in Spain ready for a big party in Seville

Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken (Amsterdam, 67 years old) is the richest woman in the Netherlands and one of the largest fortunes in the world. The businesswoman is the main shareholder of the family business that bears her surname, a beer emporium with 82,000 employees and more than 300 brands in 190 countries. However, the average Dutchman would hardly recognize her on the street. Carvalho-Heineken likes anonymity. She barely makes public appearances and has given few interviews in her life. Some attribute her reserved character to a traumatic episode: the kidnapping of her father, Freddy Heineken, in 1983, and her subsequent release thanks to the payment of a multimillion-dollar ransom.

The Dutch heiress has always preferred to go unnoticed. She dresses discreetly and never wears jewelry. But her arrival in Seville has aroused some interest among the residents of the Andalusian capital’s old town, where sagas such as the Alba, the Medinaceli and the Solís have their palaces. This weekend, Heineken and her husband, the financier and exactor Michel de Carvalho, will give a party at the home of the Marquis de la Motilla. Personalities from all over the world will attend: friends of the couple, businessmen, princes and princesses. The scene of the celebration has been the talk of the Sevillians for months. The owner of the palace, the aristocrat Miguel Solís Martínez Campos, wants to sell the property to a hotelier businessman for a millionaire figure. The operation has caused surprise among some of his relatives.

The Carvalho-Heineken marriage, oblivious to this controversy, has many reasons to celebrate. Charlene has organized this Andalusian party for her birthday. In addition, she is about to celebrate 40 years of marriage to her husband, and two decades at the helm of the brewing giant that she inherited from her father in 2002. Her husband also commemorates 60 years of the first visit of her to Seville. Michel de Carvalho, a former child star who went by the stage name Michel Ray, played the role of Farraj in Lawrence of Arabiathe 1962 film directed by David Lean, starring Peter O’Toole and shot at the Casa de Pilatos and the Alcázar.

The Heineken’s ties with Andalusia are not only sentimental, but also economic. The Spanish subsidiary of your business is located in Seville and is one of the most advanced in the holding company: wants to be a company with zero emissions and waste in 2025, five years before the group worldwide. To achieve this, they have just begun construction of a 100% renewable solar thermal power generation plant at their factory in Seville. They will reduce by more than 60% the consumption of fossil gas.

From housewife to executive

Charlene Heineken’s story is similar to that of other heiresses. She was always a shy, introverted and somewhat lonely person. As she herself told in an interview, as a child she was “unable to look people in the face.” She was also embarrassed to see her last name in all the bars in Holland. Her father, Freddy Heineken, tried to have more children, but ended up admitting that a single heir was a blessing. That ensured an uncontested succession.

The Dutch tycoon always kept his daughter abreast of the family businesses, but never forced her to be a part of them. Charlene studied Photography and Law in Leiden, half an hour south of Amsterdam. During a winter vacation in the Swiss town of St. Moritz she met her husband. After graduating from university, she did several internships at Heineken, rotating through the subsidiaries in Amsterdam, Zoeterwoude, Strasbourg and Paris.

Michel de Carvalho and Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, in a 2014 file photo in London.
Michel de Carvalho and Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, in a 2014 file photo in London.getty

In 1983, Charlene and Michel married in Switzerland and settled in London, where she focused on raising a family. She had five children: Alexander Alfred, who was born in 1985; Louisa Lucille, born a year later; twins Isabel Catherine and Sophie Charlene, whom she gave birth to in 1987; and Charles Andrew, who arrived three years later.

His life changed radically with the death of his father in January 2002. He inherited 100 million shares of Heineken NV, valued at around 3.7 billion euros. That equates to a quarter of the company. He was also given veto power over decisions made by the board of directors of the holding company. “I interpreted it as a call,” she explained in one of the few interviews with him. Fortune. It took her less than a week to make the big decision: change her life from a housewife to that of an international top executive.

The shyness he suffered from in his childhood has become a strength when it comes to doing business. “The first thing I did after succeeding my father was to see and hear,” she explained to Pattie Sellers, a longtime journalist from Fortune. “I traveled the world to understand the business.” She not only managed to understand it, but also control and expand it. Sellers dubbed her “the self-made heiress.” Forbes calculates that the current fortune of the businesswoman amounts to about 14,000 million euros.

“I would not have achieved all of this without my husband. He gave me confidence”, revealed Heineken in a meeting with women entrepreneurs. “It’s annoying to admit that I needed a man, but I did,” she said. In 2014, he exercised his veto power and rejected the merger of the Dutch company with the giant SABMiller. “I feel like the guardian of a legacy. But that legacy is not mine. My responsibility is to keep it growing and then pass it on to the next generation,” she explained. Three of her children—Alexander, Louisa and Charles—already serve on the Heineken NV board of directors. The future of the beer empire is assured.

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