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BRAZIL: Life with Baby

4 minute read

Of all the roughriding industrialists whose energy and daring have made Sāo Paulo one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, by far the most untrammeled is Francisco (“Baby”) Pignatari. At 33, Baby has already built an industrial empire worth some $25 million. In his spare time he has enjoyed life with a free-spending gusto that has won him the undisputed title of Brazil’s champion playboy.

Almost nightly, when Baby is in Sāo Paulo, his Cadillac pulls up outside a plush nightclub known as the Oasis. The Oasis’ bartender keeps a special highball glass ready with “Baby” etched on the side. There, not long ago, Baby used a whisky bottle to etch some less formal inscriptions on an uncooperative trombonist’s brow.

Whistle at the Door. After one Oasis evening. Baby and a brunette playgirl, roaring down a Sāo Paulo road at 70 miles an hour, veered away from an-unmarked excavation, slowed down with brakes screeching, then smacked into a telephone pole. Peering past the sedan’s crumpled nose, the girl complained: “The telephone pole is still standing.” Without a word Baby backed up, stepped on the gas and demolished both pole and Cadillac.

One night last week, while socialites gathered around the illicit green gaming tables of the recently reopened Quitan-dinha Hotel at Petropolis, Baby stepped to the door, blew a shrill blast on a police whistle. As the guests scampered out, Baby tipped his straw hat to them. Another time, when he visited New York, he booked a suite of eight rooms in a Park Avenue hotel, rang up various girl friends and gave a continuous house party.

But neither his pals, parties nor weekends—which have sometimes been spent overturning speedboats at Santos or buzzing a Beechcraft over apartment houses—seem to interfere with Baby’s business affairs.

His Italian-born father started him at 19 in the family metals plant in Sāo Paulo. Not long afterwards, the father died. Taking over the business, Baby resolved to build an industrial empire. He drove himself hard from 7:30 a.m. till the Oasis opened at night. He showed an extraordinary mechanical bent. He wore old clothes, worked in the shops, ate with the men. His war-booming Laminaçāo.ao Nacional de Matais grew into the largest non-ferrous rolling mill in South America, employing 20 times as many men and doing 40 times as much business as in his father’s day. Soon Baby was making the army’s machine guns, buying copper and bauxite mines, opening retail stores to sell the pots & pans his factories made. When friends brought him their planes to repair, he began building light aircraft.

Experts in the Shop. By 1948, Baby was badly overexpanded. He hired U.S. experts from Westinghouse International to modernize his setup. They found that Baby had never had his books audited; he had simply poured his surplus into likely new enterprises, taking out his expenses as needed. The experts worked hard (and ran up some sizable expense accounts themselves) trying to reform the Pignatari operations. After a year, Baby kicked them out and took over again himself.

Last week, with a few new grey flecks in his crewcut hair, Baby was in Rio for a relaxing round of cabaret crawls and pre-carnival binges. Lounging in his suite at the Copacabana Palace, he boasted that business was better than ever now that the experts were gone. Actually, by slicing off a couple of his unprofitable enterprises, the U.S. advisers had done him a real service. His assets, he figured, were now higher than they had ever been. Said Baby: “1949 was a good year for me. Gross sales won’t be far from $25 million when the figures are added up.” Before he left Rio Baby hoped that $1,000,000 worth of new U.S. equipment would reach his Sāo Paulo brassworks, and that $2,000,000 would come through from Aluminium Ltd., of Canada. With the money he plans to open an aluminum smelter in Minas Gerais.

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