By JAN M. OLSEN, Associated Press
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Arnold Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller, Denmark's richest man who created the country's largest enterprise, the shipping and oil conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, died Monday at the age of 98.
The shy Mc-Kinney Moeller, who was listed on Forbes magazine's annual billionaire's list, turned two small shipping companies that his father had created into a global giant with 108,000 workers across 130 countries. The Moller-Maersk group owns the world's biggest publicly held container shipping group, Maersk Sealand.
Chairman Michael Pram Rasmussen said the company had "lost a businessman of international scope and a man who...can take credit for the group being among the world's leading (businesses) and Denmark's undisputed largest business."
CEO Nils Smedegaard Andersen said Mc-Kinney Moeller "made decisions on significant investments which has made the Group's activities leading in the world within shipping and oil exploration."
Flags at the group's Copenhagen headquarters were flown at half-mast. Buoyed by a rise in the wider stock market, shares in the company were up 3.2 percent to 42.600 kroner ($7,487).
Mc-Kinney Moeller stepped down as board chairman in 2003, at the age of 90. Five months earlier, the business titan merged the two companies that formed the nucleus of the A.P. Moeller group, creating the current A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S.
Although he withdrew from day-to-day management in 1993, when he appointed his deputy, Jess Soederberg, as chief executive officer, Mc-Kinney Moeller was continuously involved in the company's management.
Soederberg left the company in 2007, reportedly after a disagreement with Mc-Kinney Moeller, and was replaced by Smedegaard Andersen, then CEO at Carlsberg.
In high spirits but visibly frail, Mc-Kinney Moeller made his last public appearance Thursday at the group's general assembly in Copenhagen.
"We sisters have lost a father who never betrayed either his family or his work," Ane Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla said on behalf of the three daughters.
Mc-Kinney Moeller was a larger-than-life person in this Scandinavian country of 5.6 million. His personal fortune was estimated at 8.3 billion kroner ($1.5 billion), while assets under his family's control were worth an approximate 125 billion kroner ($22 billion).
His death sparked reaction from the government and the royal palace. Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Denmark had "lost an important businessman" while the royal family was "very moved" by the news, royal spokeswoman Lene Balleby said.
Mc-Kinney Moeller, whose mother was American, was a staunch supporter of the United States.
During World War II, the group's ships were engaged in allied service under British or U.S. flags. In addition, A.P. Moeller-owned Maersk Line Limited, based in Norfolk, Virginia, which transported American troops and military equipment for the 1991 Gulf War and U.S.-led offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2000, Mc-Kinney Moeller reportedly ordered the sale of the group's 14 percent stake in Denmark's Berlingske media group. The sale came after a series of articles a year earlier in the Berlingske daily claiming the group had been friendly toward Nazi Germany during World War II.
Mc-Kinney Moeller brushed off the reports but never explained the stake sale.
The magnate was a close friend of Denmark's royal family and was often seen at private royal events. In a rare move, Queen Margrethe knighted him in 2000 with the Elephant Order, Denmark's top order for royals and heads of states and only rarely given to commoners.
Coincidentally, Mc-Kinney Moeller died on Margrethe's 72nd birthday.
Mc-Kinney Moeller was also known for his philanthropy. He sponsored a park near the royal palace and restored vintage ships and old buildings, including a fortification from 1626 in downtown Copenhagen. He also paid 2.5 billion kroner (US$ 440 million) to construct Copenhagen's waterfront opera house that opened in 2005.
In 1940, Mc-Kinney Moeller married Emma Neergaard Rasmussen, who died in 2005. The couple had three daughters, Kirsten, Leise and Ane.