Gruma founder Roberto Gonzalez dies at 81

by Josh Sosland
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MONTERREY, MEXICO — Roberto Gonzalez Barrera, the founder of Gruma S.A.B. de C.V., died Aug. 25 in Houston at the age of 81. Mr. Gonzalez’s passing was announced in a brief statement Aug 27 by the company.

“The operation and administration of the company shall be conducted as usual,” Gruma said. “The company extends its condolences to Mr. Gonzalez’s family.”

Mr. Gonzalez headed Gruma from its humble beginnings in 1949 to its growth as a major industrial company in Mexico and globally. In 2011, the company had net sales of $4.2 billion, two thirds of which were generated outside of Mexico. Gruma operates in more than 100 countries worldwide in the production, marketing, distribution, and sale of tortillas, corn flour, and wheat flour. The company has 21,000 employees and operates 99 plants. Its shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol GMK, and has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion.

Gruma’s roots date to 1949 with the opening of the first processed corn flour production plant in Cerralvo, Nuevo León, near where Mr. Gonzalez was born. The company’s technical developments allowing for the production of dried macerated corn flour represented a major time saving breakthrough for consumers and tortilla companies in Mexico, fueling rapid growth for Gruma.

Over the past two years, the company has been working on succession for Mr. Gonzalez. In 2010, Raul A. Pelaez Cano was named to succeed Mr. Gonzalez as chief executive officer, but he stepped down in September 2011. Mr. Pelaez had served as chief financial officer and strategic planning officer at the company.

Earlier this year, Gruma announced Joel Suárez Aldana had been named c.e.o., specifically stating that the “appointment was proposed by Mr. Roberto Gonzalez Barrera.” Mr. Suarez has 25 years of experience at Gruma and is credited with helping the company grow its operations in Europe and the United States.

In addition to his position at Gruma, Mr. Gonzalez was chairman of Grupo Financiero Banorte SAB. He acquired the financial institution in 1992 with an investor group, and Banorte has grown to become the fourth largest commercial bank in Mexico.

Mr. Gonzalez is survived by six children.

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