(Adds executives' comments, background)
By Carolina Mandl
SAO PAULO, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Lázaro de Mello Brandão, the former chairman of Banco Bradesco SA died on Wednesday at 93, after decades of building the bank into Brazil's second-largest private-sector lender.
Brandão had stepped down two years ago after a 75-year career at the bank. He joined Bradesco in 1942 and worked alongside founder Amador Aguiar. The bank confirmed in a statement that he had passed away at a hospital in Sao Paulo.
Brandão long kept a tight grip on the lender, serving as chief executive from 1981 to 1999 and chairman from 1990 to 2017. Even after leaving his job as chairman, Brandão was seen almost daily at his desk in the bank's head office.
"He had an intense and vigorous working rhythm, which was contagious for all of us," Bradesco CEO Octavio de Lazari Junior said in a statement. "He used to be one of the first ones to arrive at our headquarters every day."
Under Brandão's leadership, Bradesco acquired more than 20 financial institutions, including the Brazilian unit of HSBC Holdings in 2015. The bank held 1.41 trillion reais ($338 billion) in assets in June, behind only Itau Unibanco Holdings among private-sector banks in Brazil.
"The Brazilian financial system lost one of its best-known executives," Bradesco Chairman Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi said in a statement.
Brandão championed the idea that Bradesco should open its branches to Brazilians of all classes, even as some rivals focused on upscale clients and cities to improve profitability.
"Brandão was a key man not only for building one of the world's largest banks, but also for helping Brazil's economic development in the recent decades," Itau CEO Candido Bracher said in a statement.
Sergio Rial, CEO of Banco Santander Brasil SA, said Brandao "led the Brazilian financial industry for a long time and left a valuable legacy."
$1 = 4.1730 reais Reporting by Carolina Mandl, Tatiana Bautzer and Gabriela Mello; Editing by Brad Haynes and Bernadette Baum