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Brazil’s Rubens Menin, chairman of property developer MRV Engenharia, has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 and becomes the first South American winner of the prize. The independent judges said they had decided to give him the award for his work in bringing housing to some of the poorest communities in Brazil and beyond.

Mr Menin looked visibly moved and said “there are no words” to describe his joy at winning the award.

The 62-year-old, who founded MRV in 1979 when he was just 21 years old, was picked from among 56 finalists from 46 countries vying for the prestigious title. His building company has delivered more than 320,000 houses and apartments in Brazil, allowing over 1m people to realise their dream of homeowning. In the 150 cities where it operates, one in 80 people live in a property built by MRV.

“It’s not enough to be profitable for shareholders and to give jobs, although this is important,” said Mr Menin. “A company that does not have purpose is not sustainable.”

The judges praised his social vision. “Rubens has a passion for seeking a fairer and more egalitarian society,” said Jim Nixon, chairman and chief executive of Nixon Energy Investments and chair of the judging panel. “It’s a wonderful story with the right balance of business entrepreneurialism, social entrepreneurialism, and a real purpose of improving the world.”

Mr Menin said he was “deeply honoured” by the recognition. “Throughout my life, I have pursued the purpose of bringing the dignity of home ownership to people who until now could not afford it . . . A healthy construction sector benefits countless people around the world.”

Last year MRV earned revenue of $1.44bn and recorded a net profit of $197m. Its performance has surged in the decade or so since the group went public in 2007. That year revenue was $105m and net profit was $13m. MRV employs more than 24,000 people.

The judges also commended Mr Menin’s innovative approach, notably through a building system called the concrete wall method in which the company can erect a four-storey building with 16 housing units in just 10 working days.

He is also successfully handing over the business to the next generation. His son Rafael and nephew Eduardo Fischer are now co-chief executives of MRV, and Mr Menin’s daughter Maria is chief legal officer.

Bryan Pearce, EY global leader of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award, said that Mr Menin’s “success and passion” made him an “exemplary” winner of the award. “As a family business, he has passed the torch on to the next generation. His son, nephew and daughter will help preserve his own family’s legacy by continuing to provide housing to millions of families in Brazil and beyond.”

Since 2008 MRV has been part of the Brazilian government’s social housing programme “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (My House, My Life), an initiative that has delivered 3m houses to Brazilians.

Mark Weinberger, EY global chairman and chief executive, said: “Rubens displays entrepreneurial passion in helping to build a better working world. From its founding nearly 40 years ago, Rubens has built MRV into the largest public housing provider in Brazil. Through his works, Rubens is helping people to realise their dream of owning their own home.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.