Dutch beer magnate Freddy Heineken, who has died at 78, began his half-century brewing career carrying sacks of barley.

With borrowed money, he secretly bought back his family's stake in Heineken in 1954 after his father had sold it in 1942 — the year 18-year-old Freddy joined the company.

A marketing maestro in less PR-savvy times, Alfred Henry Heineken turned the brewery into a global household name and himself into one of the Netherlands' richest men.

He made bright green synonymous with Heineken lager and stressed flavor and consistency as core values. The company has grown to become the world's second biggest brewer by beer volumes, with more than 110 breweries in over 50 countries and export activities across the globe.

With his passion for private jets and fast cars, Freddy won a reputation as one of the Netherlands' most flamboyant entrepreneurs. However, he shunned the public gaze after a 1983 kidnapping ordeal.

He moved easily in international high society, though his playboy image belied an astute businessman.

The boyish-faced entrepreneur acquired his penchant for advertising in the United States, where he worked in the sales office of Heineken's importer from 1946 to 1948. It was in the U.S. that he met and wed his American wife, Lucille.

She survives him, as does his only daughter Charlene, who will take over the family's majority stake in Heineken Holding, the firm that controls the Amsterdam-listed company itself, Heineken NV.

Freddy chaired Heineken NV from 1971 to 1989 and headed its supervisory board from 1989 to 1995.

He was chairman and delegate member of the Heineken Holding supervisory board from 1979. He announced plans last year to step down this April — though he intended to keep his controlling stake in the Holding, and thus in the brewer itself.

Charlene will become delegate member of the Holding supervisory board.

Family Values

While training in the United States in the 1940s, Freddy wrote his father Henry Pierre — who ran the company from 1914 to 1940 — a partly prophetic letter.

"I have my mind set on restoring the majority of shares in Heineken into the hands of the family. It's not my plan to become very rich...but it is a matter of pride that any children I might have can inherit a stake in Heineken, like I did from my father and you inherited from your father," he wrote.

He secured a controlling stake in Heineken in the early 1950s and succeeded his father as a member of the brewer's supervisory board in 1951.

Having sat in on its meetings since 1954, Freddy was officially appointed to the Heineken executive board in 1964, in charge of the financial side.

"The driving force in his life was his family," Heineken NV said in a statement. And family became even more central to Freddy's life after he and his chauffeur Ab Doderer were kidnapped in November 1983.

For three weeks, the two men were held captive in a disused Amsterdam hangar as their abductors sought to secure a ransom of 34.6 million guilders ($14 million). They were later freed by police acting on an anonymous tip-off.

Freddy's death is likely to trigger intense speculation on the future of Europe's biggest brewer. Shares in both Heineken NV and Heineken Holding firmed on Friday as the market buzzed with talk it might become a takeover target.

Alfred Henry Heineken was born in Amsterdam on November 4, 1923. He died at his home in the coastal resort of Noordwijk in the early evening of January 3, surrounded by his family.

Heineken, whose health had been poor since he suffered a mild stroke last April, died of pneumonia.