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Passings : Klaus J. Jacobs

Billionaire entrepreneur

September 12, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Klaus J. Jacobs, 71, a German-born billionaire entrepreneur who built the world's leading chocolate seller and temporary staffing firm, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Kuesnacht, Switzerland, his family company Jacobs Holding said.

Jacobs, who became a Swiss citizen, played a key role in building Barry Callebaut into the top chocolate seller and Adecco SA into the world's leading temp employer.

He took over the leadership of the coffee trading firm founded by his great-uncle, Johann Jacobs & Co., when he was 33. Jacobs moved the company to Zurich in 1973 and later took over the Swiss firm Tobler and Suchard, creating Europe's biggest chocolate and coffee seller.

He sold the consumer interests in the combined company to U.S. giant Philip Morris in 1990 for an estimated $2.6 billion. But he retained parts of the company, including the U.S. candy maker Brach's, Van Houten powdered chocolate brand and Belgian chocolate producer Callebaut.

In 1996, he added French chocolate maker Cacao Barry to create Barry Callebaut, which has since become the world's leading producer of cocoa, chocolate and confectionary products.

Jacobs also turned his attention to human resources, purchasing the Swiss company Adia Personnel Services in 1992 and leading its emergence as a global Fortune 500 company after a merger with the French firm Ecco four years later.

Jacobs, who remained the major shareholder of Adecco with a stake of about 30%, had with his wife an estimated net worth in excess of $3 billion, according to the Swiss financial magazine Bilanz.

Jacobs was born Dec. 3, 1936, in Bremen, Germany, and educated in Germany and at Stanford University.

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