Billionaire Family Builds a Real Estate Empire Fueled by Tequila

By: Daniel Cancel and Felipe Marques

The heir to a fortune built on Jose Cuervo tequila has plowed cash into US commercial real estate for the past 15 years, quietly amassing a portfolio that runs from Miami to Minneapolis.

Juan Beckmann Vidal, the patriarch behind the tequila maker and other spirits housed under Becle SA, has purchased and developed at least 5 million square feet (464,515 square meters) of mostly commercial properties across three US states. All told, the buildings are worth more than $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The real estate business has been entirely backed by the Beckmanns and has thus far declined co-investors, said Jose Antonio Perez, a Mexican lawyer by training who heads Agave Holdings, as the firm is known.

Agave’s latest project, a mixed-use complex in trendy Coral Gables near Miami, is not only its most ambitious yet but emblematic of the US playbook of one of Mexico’s richest families, which holds a combined fortune of $7 billion, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index.

Agave purchased the Coral Gables land out of foreclosure more than a decade ago. Their early arrival in South Florida is proving a boon as property prices skyrocket following the influx of new residents from the US and abroad. The new building, which is fully leased, will include offices for Apple Inc.

The firm is hoping to replicate that success in Chicago. Agave snapped up real estate in the city over recent years at steep discounts, betting one of the most battered commercial real estate markets in the US will eventually bounce back.

Beckmann “wants to maximize the square footage as part of a long-term strategy for future generations,” Perez said in an interview in Miami. “In 15 years everything has been reinvested into Agave. He’s never taken a dime out of the company.”

While Beckmann, 84, continues to reside in Mexico along with his children who run publicly traded Becle, his relative Carlos Beckmann, a cousin from the second generation, is a managing director at Agave.

The properties include the newly finished Plaza Coral Gables with 2.25 million square feet of office, residential and retail space. Agave also owns 396 Alhambra in Coral Gables, which will house the headquarters for FIFA during the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament. In Chicago, they own and operate two office towers, including one purchased last year at an almost 40% discount to the last time it was sold. In Minneapolis, they acquired a 93-room hotel.

As pioneers of wealthy Latin American families building US real estate businesses, they’re now in talks with other investors and families to potentially partner outside of Agave or to offer expertise. They’re strategic partners with White Bridge Capital, a firm led by former Citigroup Inc. bankers that’s looking to connect family offices with investment opportunities.

Beckmann had been overexposed to real estate in his home country of Mexico in 2008 when he began to unwind holdings there to diversify his investments. He tapped Perez, who was already working for his family office, to build a real estate business in the US even as the reverberations of the global financial crisis were still hitting the economy. Besides the real estate assets, Perez also oversees the Beckmanns’ personal real estate, investments, assets and tax structures in the US.

Gregory Schwartz, who joined Agave in 2018, runs the firm along with Perez. They both help younger generations of the Beckmann family analyze investment opportunities including startup tech deals, they said.

The liquor business dates back to 1758 when Jose Antonio de Cuervo was granted approval by Spain’s King Ferdinand VI to plant agave to produce tequila. The company built a distillery in the early 19th century and began to bottle and export the product. Beckmann, a descendant of German immigrants, married into the family and took control of the distiller in 1970. Under his leadership, the company began to acquire other types of spirits to diversify from tequila and mezcal.

While Beckmann used to visit Miami almost monthly to supervise projects, he’s curbed his travel since the pandemic, Perez said.

During the construction at the Plaza there were plenty of nervous moments when the pandemic struck and they were without leases locked in. They realized they didn’t have enough money to “build this monster.”

At one point, Beckmann asked them how much they needed to finish it. The answer: $300 million.

“So he sent us $300 million. He said, ‘Just finish. I don’t want any nightmares, I don’t want headaches, I don’t want to be over-leveraged,’” Perez said.

Agave has a team of about six people and while they’ve looked at other fast-growing cities post-pandemic, they aren’t convinced that they’ll do better than their current locations where they know the market and are consistently pitched new opportunities.

One criteria for any new destination is to have a direct flight from their base in Miami, they joked.

“We always say that we’re not looking,” Perez said, peering out the office window to the Coral Gables Plaza complex. “But that’s the way we ended up with this.”