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How Tall Can a Man Be?


Was António Champalimaud a short or a tall man?...medium height, most probably?

I was taken over by doubt while coming up with this introductory article. Not only could I not remember how tall he was but, I soon realized, finding out the answer to this question proved to be impossible, given the relatively few photos of him posted around the net.

...But, bear with me and you'll find out how unimportant my remembrance of this biological trait actually is.

Born in 1918 he entered the business world at 19, by taking the reins of a bankrupt family business, one his relatives were keen on liquidating.

At 24, he became the CEO of the largest cement company in Portugal, "Empresa de Cimentos de Leiria", owned by Henrique de Sommer.

His performance was such that when Mr. Sommer passed away, in 1944, he found fit to leave this man, a nephew, a significant part of his wealth.

Fueled by his business-oriented stamina and this cozy financial incentive package, he soared.
During the course of the next decades, he built a small real estate and industrial empire, one that slowly but steadily turned him into a full-fledged mogul . In the nineteen-seventies he pretty much controlled the whole of the Portuguese cement industry.

(...my father's first "real job", out of the university with his fresh Mechanical Engineering degree , was, curiously enough, with "Cimentos de Leiria". A few years later he was sent to Mozambique, by the very same company, to participate in the construction of Nacala's cement plant, specifically the conception and installation of the high-temperature furnace ...)

By 1974, his fortune was assed as the 7th largest in Europe.

...Now, down comes an always pesky revolution and, being inevitably associated with the "Ancien Régime", he was fully in for some rough times.

(...not that he ever formally endorsed the deposed regime in anyway but one cannot make consistently successful business in an authoritarian regime and have one's face all over the social media without running the risk of becoming "one of them", once all hell breaks loose...)

Most of his companies were nationalized and he and his whole family were targeted as "capitalist scum" by the enthused revolutionaries, an overall situation that did not went further south only because the full Communist takeover of the country was stopped by some brave and quite intelligent fellow countrymen of mine, 19 months after the initial revolution, and the democratic process brought back to its fructuous and reasonable tracks.

Still, things were hot enough for him and his family and he fled to Brazil with what, I can only imagine, must have been a very small fraction of their wealth.

...and how did things went in Brazil? Well, basically, the now 57 years-old entrepreneur just pulled-up his sleeves and started all over again gradually building another freshly new empire, based on cattle breeding, agricultural projects and... imagine that...Cement production!

By 1992, his wealth fully consolidated again, he decided it was safe and fitting to come back to Portugal.

Once back on his homeland, he continued to further add up to his wealth by diversifying into such areas as banking and insurance.

When he died, in 2004, his earthly possessions were such that he actually had already made Forbes "world's wealthiest men" list, ranking at 153.

A national newspaper published a full-page pie chart representing his whole fortune. The section representing what was left in testament to his relatives - already astronomical figures, mind you, figures that surely will leave them comfortable for generations to come - was graphically represented by tiny, tiny 1%, 2% or 3% slivers.

...then, there was this overwhelming remaining circular area.

(...Sidestep...)

Typically, there's a very negative, irritating trait to those Portuguese who become wealthy throughout their lives be it by resilient personal effort, shear luck or the more logical prevailing cause, the combination of these 2 factors. They don't seem to be able to acknowledge that, no matter what the proportion in that mentioned combination might have been, it was only effective because of the crucial field they were allowed to play in: Their fellow countrymen and countrywomen, as a responsive society, an organized nation.

Deliberately or just plain obliviously ignoring that "little" detail, typical Portuguese millionaires don't have a single philanthropic compulsion bone in their bodies. They usually don't feel any need to give back to society any part of what society has allowed them to accumulate over the years because of the simple fact that it...well...exists.

They don't feel the need to donate a library, build a school, sponsor an university, erect an hospital or come up any other kind of social-benefiting endeavor.

...Let's just say that I would be utterly surprised if it turned out that George Soros, John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates were, in fact, Portuguese...

What about António Champalimaud?

Well...he turned out to be the remarkable and honorable exception (...the only other philanthropist whose generosity we Portuguese have benefited from is Calouste Gulbenkian but he was an Armenian who just happened to love Portugal and the way we welcomed him in troubled times...).

His life progressing as inexorably as any human one does, he was illuminated by true vision, insightful knowledge: What one manages to accumulate in life may impress one's contemporary fellow citizens but the true lasting mark of a rich man's existence is how wisely he makes final use of his wealth.

In his will, António Champalimaud set provisions to build and perennially subsidize a Foundation dedicated to advanced research in biomedicine, in such areas as oncology and neurosciences. He made sure the wealth he so aptly accumulated (twice!) was to be put to good use, by working back for the society where it was harvested from.

So, today, in one of the most beautiful locations where it could possibly be, in Lisbon's west-most water front, facing the fusion tides that can't quite tell us if they still belong to the Tagus river or already to the Atlantic ocean, the so aptly named "Center for The Unknown" (an inspired creation of Indian architects Charles Correa Associates) proudly stands, facing the exact same direction towards which Portuguese "Caravelas" set sail in the XV century.

I can only but hope that, in the near future, it can reach such bountifully advancing boundaries as my ancestors did.

Bernardo Soares, one of the multiple heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa, the greatest of all Portuguese writers, wrote in his "Livro do Desassossego/The Book of Disquiet":

"A man's true height is not related to how tall he physically is but rather to how far his vision reaches".

...So, you see, it really doesn't matter if I remember correctly the physical height of António Champalimaud because, as this Center proves, he was in fact and for all perpetual purposes, a giant.






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