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Fortune's Pattie Sellers with Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken Peter Dench for Fortune Magazine.

Heineken Heiress Is Considering Her Successor: ‘I Don’t Want to Rule From Beyond the Grave’

Jun 12, 2017

Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken was put on the spot in 2002, when her father died. Freddy Heineken had transformed the family beer company into one of the world's largest brewers. Upon his death, de Carvalho-Heineken, his only child and sole heir, inherited 100 million shares of the company—a 25% stake—which gave her voting control. In a matter of a few days, the mother of five, who at the time was living as a housewife in London, had to decide whether to take up the role her father had played.

De Carvalho-Heineken quickly concluded that, yes, she would fill her father's shoes. She launched a global tour to study Heineken's far-flung operations. In the process, she learned how to become an effective owner and guardian of the family dynasty.

Some 15 years later, de Carvalho-Heineken, who has no daily management role but is an executive member of the Heineken Holding board of directors, is now hoping to give her own children a bit more notice.

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"I don’t want to rule beyond the grave," the notoriously press-shy de Carvalho-Heineken told Fortune's Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Monday. "I want to let go even before that."

Her oldest son Alexander, joined the board of Heineken Holding in 2013. Her oldest daughter Louisa and youngest son Charles have also expressed interest in the family business.

De Carvalho-Heineken, one of the richest women in the world with an estimated fortune of $14.7 billion, says she's lucky that three of her children want to be involved: "It could've been none."

The family's succession plan, she says, will be decided in the next year or two. But she did hint that the family will continue in an ownership role, rather than a management one. The company's CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer renewed his contract for another four years in 2016, a year in which Heineken reported a rise in full-year earnings and revenue as sales jumped 5% from 2015.

De Carvalho-Heineken's father served as CEO before stepping down in 1989, but that is not a job she's eager for one of her children to take.

"My father’s era was different," she said. "It was a small company with real room for an entrepreneur. Now it's so big, so regulated that I think we can do better from the sidelines, by helping the company grow a different way."

Selecting the next person to carry that torch is a responsibility that weighs on de Carvalho-Heineken as she considers how best to protect the company's bottom line and her family's legacy.

When asked to characterize her leadership style on Monday, de Carvalho-Heineken described herself as a "mother hen."

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