“Welcome to Casa Bacardi,” Joaquin says as I enter his office. “Please take a seat,” while pointing at a large wooden table with leather chairs. He resembles Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way’, a distinguished look with an unmistakable Latino influence.
On his desk I see pictures of children. “Your kids?” I ask.
“Yes,” he replies, “taken some years ago. Nowadays, the eldest is already in college and the youngest almost in high school.”
“So the sixth Bacardi generation is ready to take over the business?” I joke.
“Sixth, if you start counting at Don Facundo… yes. Ready to take over the business… not yet. Company policy is that you have to have a university degree and four years’ work experience outside the company. Preferably with a multi-national, like I did, working for Nestle. It helps broaden your mind.”
Joaquin pauses for a few seconds to let his words sink in.
“But then again,” he continues, “I’m not pushing them to start working at the Bacardi Company. They should make up their own minds.”
“Talking about broadening one’s mind,” I say. “You had some global positions within the company as well before you came back to Puerto Rico, didn’t you?”
“I did my share of traveling the globe when I was director of Bacardi global brands,” Joaquin says with a touch of tangible fatigue in his voice. In 2005, I became global brand director for Dewar’s Scotch, leading all global brand strategies. I learned a lot about doing international business and about other cultures.”
“But it wasn’t easy on family life…” I add.
“No, it wasn’t,” Joaquin continues. “I was talking to my wife and kids more over the phone and by Internet than in real life. Sometimes I think my wife must be a saint, coping with all that. Or maybe ‘just’ an angel,” he jokes.
“I agree,” I say. ” Not about your wife of course, but about the learning curve while traveling. So you had your university education, you had your experience working for Nestle, followed by the international experience in global positions within Bacardi. And now? What is the next step, besides enjoying a bit of family time?”
“It’s a next step,” Joaquin replies. “Learning new skills, like government relations. Bacardi is an important employer here in Puerto Rico that pays a lot of taxes and therefore plays an important role in society. Paying taxes is good as it is necessary for ensuring education.”
Joaquin pauses and takes a sip from his water bottle. “We measure our results at the end of the year in three fields: ‘people, planet and profit’. Public companies have shareholders, who have invested money. Their biggest concern is the profit. Bacardi is a private company, a family business. Of course we have to make profit, but we take full responsibility for ‘people’ and the ‘planet’ as well. People work with us for 20 or 30 years, become part of the family. And we take care of them.”
“Personally I’m a great believer in the power of education, so that’s where I devote my time and energy. Alongside running the Bacardi business, of course,” he adds with a smile.
Next stop Havana?
I’m on the ferry, back to San Juan. I take out my iPad again and browse my notes. I’ve interviewed a lot of brands over the past 10 years. But the best stories come from family-owned companies like Bacardi.
The greatest advantage of a family-owned company is that they’re in it for the long term. None of the family members are interested in short-term benefits. It means all decisions are based on creating long-term stakeholder value instead of short-term shareholder value.
Just before I left Casa Bacardi, Joaquin opened a cupboard behind his desk and took out a bottle. “Here,” he said, “I want you to have this. It’s some of the best rum we have, Reserva Limitada, that has been aging for 12 years.
“Thank you very much,” I replied. “But I don’t drink alcohol.”
“This is not for drinking… this is Reserva Limitada, the best of the best. This is for sipping,” he adds with a smile. Adios amigo, buen viaje.”
I thanked him and shook his hand, turned around and left the office. Next I took a taxi and boarded the ferry to San Juan.
I have a last look at Casa Bacardi. “Wouldn’t it be great to do a search on the Bacardi roots in Cuba,” I think out loud. “I wonder when the next plane for Havana leaves?”
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