mandag, mai 21, 2018

Luis Vañó: "Money is the possibility or not of doing things, of building realities"

A few months after the nineties, Luis Vañó (Baeza, 1929) was one of the main Spanish managers at a time when this country was in the works phase. He held the highest positions in credit entities and companies, from Banco Árabe Español to Pedro Domecq through Kio. But his passion remained intact in the small city that one day he left to go to Madrid. He, and now his sons Paco and Rosa María, created Castillo de Canena, the most prestigious brand of EVOO in the world.
-Only nine years. If you look back if you remember your childhood years, what do you see?
-My childhood in Baeza was very happy. It is true that my father died in the vortex of 36. But my mother taught us to forgive.
-And he forgave?
-Yes. I pardoned I remember my time of study at the University of Chicago, in the United States. There I met Professor Malafakis. By then he had published his book on the history of peasant revolutions in the first third of the twentieth century. He made me see the situation in which that mass of disinherited lived. Forced unemployment in Andalusia exceeds forty percent, the absence of public aid, families with five children on average, terrible inequality. That was a hotbed, a conflict about to explode. Anyone in that situation, aware of not being able to feed their children, would feel a deep resentment. Even more to see the wealth of a few. My grandfather was the owner of the farmhouse, he went with a driver, he had access to a wealth ... I can not justify the death of my father, but I do understand the situation of despair in which a very important part of the population of that time lived.
-I had never heard a story with a load of pity and understanding of that level. His vision of that event is of a moving understanding. They should have made you a speaker of the law of Historical Memory.
-They were also the hardest years I remember. I was born in June of 29. When the war broke out I was seven years old.
-Do you have a memory of the day when the militiamen went to your house looking for your father?
-Yes. Imborrable. We were eating and two militiamen arrived. They asked my father to accompany him to the town hall. My father said he wanted to go up and change. They refused and a servant took down a jacket and took him away. I remember them dressed in monkeys and the rest of the family scared and expectant. A short time later they shot him. It was a situation of collective madness. At that time we were left without farms and without houses. But the workers who worked with us helped us secretly.
-Did your own workers help you?
-Yes. That's how it went. My grandfather had instilled in us absolute respect for subordinates.
-If your workers helped you, it was because they saw in you an honesty that perhaps other wealthy families did not have.
-My father was from Lerroux, he was a tall, strong man and in a moment of discussion, he punched the Communist mayor of Baeza. These things happen. I guess that triggered the madness that came later.
-Abandon Baeza and move to live in Madrid.
-To begin the studies and so that the family did not separate. In Madrid, thanks to the money produced by the farms, we can finance our life there and the studies of the family.
-Did you then have a feeling of overcoming, a horizon, a goal?
-Of course. I was clear that I had to prepare myself, that I face the future. I was lucky that I was a good student. The road to improvement went through academic excellence. I studied economics, then right and later the doctorate courses. But I understood that I had to train outside of Spain.
-That's what it is to be a visionary. That in the midst of a dictatorship, a young man is clear that the future is in the languages was something completely improper at the time.

-Yes if possible. Now everyone leaves. But at that time I was the exception. There was a motto that I did not like at all and that said: It is easier for books to travel for people to travel. I always tried to break that maxim. I went to Paris to the courses of French civilization at the Sorbonne and then to the University of Reading. I had in mind that you had to study at a good foreign university. With languages it was possible. No languages, no. Later I go to the University of Chicago. I remember a few years ago a lunch with the president of the United States Bill Clinton. On that date, I confessed that I felt in debt because his country had given me the scholarship to study in Chicago.
-What is learned outside of Spain?
-Among other things I respect. I worked in a student residence at the University of Reading. He lived, was employed and had the right to attend classes. There was a large dining room with waiters and I worked in a section with a dishwasher where I was putting the utensils. I learned how important it was to have a kind phrase with a subordinate. Some of them treated me with great respect and others almost threw the dishes in my face. That helped me a lot. I realized that the smaller this bourgeoisie was, the more disrespectful.
-And that learning he applied throughout his life? Did you always treat your subordinates well?
-Always. It is more: My grandfather and my father considered the workers part of the family. Without them, we would not have been able to cultivate. That effective approach with the workers increased when I was a worker. In fact, my son Paco sent him to pick olives with the rest of the workers.
- There is an illustrated air in his life. He reminds me of Pablo de Olavide who spent many years of his life traveling and training, returned to Spain to undertake reforms and died in Baeza. Luckily there was no inquisition in his time to process it.

-Pablo de Olavide died in Baeza. His body was buried in the church of San Pablo. Unfortunately, during the outbreak of the civil war, the temple was used as a garage and the trucks buried the graves that were in it. Those bones, including those of Olavide, were removed and lost forever. Olavide was a powerful, admirable, extraordinary figure.
-When did you meet your wife?
-When I come back from the Sorbonne and Reading and start the doctorate courses. She also studied economics. Rosa Maria had obtained outstanding and I had reached the remarkable years before.
-She was smarter than you ...
-She was smarter than me. I recognize it.
-But, being smarter than you, never exercised ...
-When she had finished her studies she was offered a position in a hydroelectric plant. And I behaved in a retrograde way, sixty-odd years ago, I refused to work there. 'Well, surrounded by men, women are dynamite and men are faces. No. Not talking. You can not work, 'I said. And I refused.
-And now you regret what you did?
-What a good question! Look: I'm embarrassed, but I do not regret it (laughs). For my children that was a fundamental decision because she was a father and mother. He took care of everything while I continued studying, traveling and working without ceasing. She was responsible for the emotional and educational stability of our children. She built my family.
-What did you do for them?
-Inculcate them honesty, sacrifice, effort, respect, closeness, love for books, the arts, Jaén and the olive grove.
-He has held management positions in important companies, mostly linked to banking. But there is a moment in his life when he goes to Pedro Domecq's wineries. What did a business segment unknown to you offer?
-When I was working at the European Business Bank, they asked me for a feasibility report and medium-term strategy for that firm. I told them that they were concentrating only on two products: brandy, whose consumption went down and came from sherry, whose exports were flat. We had to diversify: I proposed to develop new products, including gins and table wines. After delivering the study, two weeks later, they call me to offer me the position of general director of the company. They made me an economic offer that I could not refuse. That caused an absolute change of life. We moved to Jerez de la Frontera, traveled a lot abroad and there with that family was five years. It was a time of my life very profitable in all aspects, of great happiness. I keep an extraordinary memory of the Domecq family. Only the family could be shareholders of the company, but with me, they made an exception.
And from there he returns to the bank.
-Indeed. When I finish at Domecq he offers me the general direction of the Banco Árabe Español, a golden opportunity because I was starting from scratch. The president was Abdulla Saudi, an extraordinary person. I was there for thirty-odd years.
-What is the money for?

-What more curious merchandise! When you have it you undervalue it and when you do not have it you overvalue it. Money, deep down, is the possibility or not of doing things, of building realities. If you do not have money your purposes will be just good wishes. I was educated from austerity. If I earned important money I was still austere and that gave me a chance to save. For forty or fifty years I saved and dedicated that money always to the same thing: to acquire land in Jaén. When you leave Jaén you lose detail, but you gain perspective. I saw large underutilized estates in the hands of assistants and heirs. My people informed me that they wanted to sell such a farm and I bought it. Then he improved it, parceled it and then sold it. It obtained important capital gains and those surpluses were invested in turn to buy new farms that conformed with time the two thousand family hectares that I always dreamed of having and that today make up the germ of Castillo de Canena.
-And in 1994 he bought the Renaissance castle of Canena. It must have been a great time for you. As the culmination of a dream.
-My grandfather always said that you had to have a house for the family big enough to gather everyone. The castle was then owned by an Englishman who wanted to make a hotel, but Bellas Artes opposed it. The structure of the castle was untouchable. The English lost interest and I bought it. I did not hesitate a second. I already knew the strength. When I was eighteen, when I was a student, we made an excursion to Canena to visit him. Who was going to tell me that in the end I would buy it and it would become the emblem of a brand? The tension of being president of a bank replaced it on weekends because of concerns that came to me from the castle and the countryside. And the best way to forget about a problem is to replace it with another one.
-Your professional career has been a success. What has been your failure then?
-I do not know (doubt for several seconds). I could not say it. From a professional point of view, life has treated me well. Even when that shipping company put at risk the return of a credit of four hundred million pesetas or tried to sell a dehesa of Jaén to someone who turned out to be insolvent. Even in those operations, perhaps the most complicated of my life, everything ended up going well. I have been someone lucky. Yes. I have been fortunate.
Is banking cruel?
-Cruel is not the adjective. I would say that it is strict because you administer resources that are not yours.
-He has recently overcome two cancers. Who should be entrusted to have a life like yours where everything goes well?

-It all started because of a pain in the legs. The first time a doctor looks at me, he tells me not to worry, that it's just a tendonitis. But I am still suffering from pain and after a second consultation, followed by numerous tests, they discover that I have lumbar cancer. Last March he made two years. The world fell over me! It was a fight that I ended up winning. But three months later, they discovered a lymphoma in my brain, in the worst place I could have. I needed chemotherapy. It was very hard, very hard. So now that it seems that the thing is underground I'll confess that I'm not optimistic. When they ask me I always answer: 'At the moment good'. Such a disease is like the hydra of the lake of Lerna that had seven heads. When they were cut, others came out. Cancer is a curse and metastasis a life sentence.
-Now what is close to ninety years? What do you want to be when you are young?
-Now German study (laughs). And I feel happy because we have reached the third generation in the company. My grandchildren begin to be in charge of business and that is a source of pride.

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