Even a decade ago, JBS was still mainly focused on selling in Brazil. But by acquiring American giants such as Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride, JBS grew from a $1 billion private company into a $40 billion behemoth that slaughters 90,000 head of cattle a day, employs 125,000 workers and exports to 150 countries.
JBS is now the world’s biggest provider of meat, its footprint felt by feedlots, packing plants and chicken processors from Argentina to Italy to the American Midwest.
In Brazil, it is not uncommon to find banks, steel mills and other companies that evolved from family businesses into global giants. But JBS stands out, using an alliance with Brazil’s development bank and an aggressive acquisition strategy to become a vital pillar of the country’s efforts to project its economic power abroad.
To Wesley Batista, JBS’s 40-year-old chief executive and the founder’s fourth child, the company is still run “a simple way,” using a management model without “a lot of layers, not a lot of fancy things, not a lot of time spent on PowerPoint presentations.”
And although family patriarch Jose Batista Sobrinho, 77, can still be found at JBS headquarters in Sao Paulo whispering advice to his sons, the company he built is anything but folksy.
High-tech plants in Australia supply the Asian market, and its 39 slaughterhouses in Brazil help feed this booming country as well as Europe. In the United States alone, it employs 75,000 workers and is projecting revenues of $28 billion this year.
“In terms of slaughtering capacity, we have 10 percent of the total worldwide capacity,” Wesley Batista said. “And in terms of the beef trade, 25 percent of the worldwide trade in beef comes from JBS.”
No meat company in decades has come so close to dominating all facets of beef production — from feedlots and grazing lands to packing plants to distribution points.
“Today, 50 percent of the meat commercialized worldwide is transported by companies with Brazilian capital,” said Dante Sica, a Buenos Aires economist who tracks Brazilian foreign investments. “Brazil is advancing strongly.”
That has rankled some in cattle country, as far away as Montana. “We believe it is a very aggressive company that truly is attempting to dominate the protein market globally,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA in Billings, Mont., which represents 6,500 cattle producers.
In 2009, JBS dropped its purchase of Kansas City, Mo.-based National Beef after the Justice Department and several state attorneys general opened an investigation to determine whether a takeover would hurt competition. By then, JBS had already bought Swift for $1.4 billion, to be followed by cattle feedlots and a chicken processor.