COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, who built a Danish family shipping business into an international conglomerate which runs the world's biggest container shipping company, died on Monday aged 98.
Shares in A.P. Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), which is still controlled by the Moller family, rose over 6 percent as analysts said younger generations might spin off parts of an empire that also spans oil businesses, supermarkets and a stake in a bank.
Born on July 13, 1913, to a Danish father and Irish-American mother, Moller was ranked by financial magazine Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin as Denmark's wealthiest man and often voted by Danes as the country's most influential industrialist.
"Denmark has lost an important business man and a person made of very special substance," Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in a statement.
"Few have left a mark on Denmark's recent history like shipowner Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller," she said.
Moller made his last public appearance at the group's annual general meeting last Thursday, chatting briefly with shareholders and signing autographs, but looked frail as he joked there were too few female photographers present.
An analyst said the group, which was founded in 1904 and includes Maersk Line, the world's biggest container shipping company, could now face change.
"There could be a stock split or a demerger of for instance Danske Bank (DANSKE.CO) or Dansk Supermarked," Alm. Brand analyst Jesper Christensen said.
A.P. Moller-Maersk owns a 20 percent stake in Danske Bank and a controlling interest in supermarket chain Dansk Supermarked in addition to its main shipping and oil businesses.
Spokesman Michael Storgaard said that the strategy of the company would be unaffected by Moller's death.
Moller's fortune was worth 82.4 billion Danish crowns ($14.5 billion) last year, according to Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin's annual list of richest Danes, putting him in the top position, ahead of the owners of toymaker Lego.
Moller put most of his stock in A.P. Moller-Maersk into family foundations that he headed, but kept a 3.72 percent stake in the company and 6.49 percent of the voting rights.
He dropped out of recent Forbes rankings of the world's wealthiest people because the foundation stock was excluded.
The Moller family's control of the group is secured through two family funds which together own 51.07 percent of the shares and 64.13 percent in the voting rights.
Moller's daughter, Ane Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla, is deputy chairman of the board of the company and will become chairman of the biggest family foundation. Two grandsons, Robert Uggla and Johan Uggla, both hold executive positions within the Maersk group and have been seen as future likely leaders of the family business.
"We do not think that it will affect the company from one day to the next that Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller is dead," said Otto Friedrichsen, portfolio manager at asset management firm Formuepleje.
Friedrichsen said the rise in the share price probably reflected hopes on the part of some shareholders that control of the company could loosen up somewhat, which could open up more strategic opportunities than before.
The shares trimmed gains to 3.1 percent by 1355 GMT, against a 1.4 percent rise in Denmark's bluechip index .OMXC20. A.P. Moller-Maersk, with about 117,000 employees in 130 countries. has a market capitalisation of about 183 billion Danish crowns.
Moller, whose father and grandfather founded the company, took over leadership of the business when his father died in 1965. He handed over daily management to Jess Soderberg in 1993, and the chairmanship to Michael Pram Rasmussen in 2003, but remained involved in its affairs through the family foundations.
Soderberg was replaced by Carlsberg Chief Executive Nils Smedegaard Andersen in 2007, while Rasmussen remains chairman.
Moller remained active in the decision making and activities of the group, frequently going to the Copenhagen headquarters where he kept an office and travelling around the world to represent Denmark's largest company by turnover.
Moller married childhood girlfriend Emma in 1940 and together they raised three daughters. Emma died in 2005, and the next year the company launched the "Emma Maersk", which was the world's biggest container ship at the time and remains one of the largest.
His donation of 2.5 billion crowns helped to build a new Copenhagen opera house which opened in January 2005.
($1 = 5.6859 Danish crowns)