Borges, family owned and externally led

Josep Pont is a third-generation member of Borges. In this article, he shares the origins of this pioneering family firm and the keys to its longstanding success.

Borges International is an agri-food group headquartered in Spain and a global leader in the sale of olive oil, vinegar, nuts, olives and almonds. We have a market presence in over 120 countries and international sales that account for roughly 75% of our annual revenues.

I’m a third-generation member of the family and the last to hold an executive position in the company, where I served as CEO for 15 years until passing the baton in 2020. I’m officially retired but still active in the company.

The firm’s corporate governance is managed by the fourth generation, while David Prats, a non-family CEO, holds the top leadership role.

Global expansion

Borges was founded in 1886 in Catalunya, Spain by my grandparents, Antoni Pont and Dolores Creus. Under their leadership, the company operated on a local level. In the second generation – my parents, aunts and uncles – the business expanded throughout the country.

It was the third generation that spearheaded the company’s global expansion, although the merit belongs to our parents: they were the visionaries who understood the need to open up to the world.

Back then, scarcely 10% of Spaniards had access the university degrees, and foreign languages weren’t given much importance. Despite this context, my parents went against the current by sending us abroad to learn languages and gain experience in other cultures and countries.

My brother, Antonio joined one of the first degree programs in “trading management,” which in today’s lexicon would be economics and business administration. My cousin Antonio studied in France, and my brother Ramón and I headed to the United States.

“Our parents were visionaries who understood the need to widen our global perspective.”

I earned an MBA from the University of Georgia, where I learned to speak English fluently. When I returned to Spain in my early 20s, there weren’t many people who spoke good English, which turned into a competitive advantage.

This differentiating factor and the exportability of our oils, nuts – particularly almonds – and other products paved the way for our global expansion.

Family owned, externally managed

The Borges Group has always had a strong family character, and we eventually realized the need to professionalize the firm’s day-to-day operations. The company’s governance is wholly family led, while its management has been externally professionalized since 2005.

The issue with family-controlled firms is the increasing number of family members in the business with every new generation. In our case, there were two family members in the first generation, two in the second (my father and uncle) and four in the third. Today, there are 14 of us, and 39 if we add the next generation.

As more family members joined the company, everything became more complex. We also lacked a clear succession process between the third and fourth generations, which prompted our decision to appoint a non-family CEO.

In 2005, Borges became family-governed and non-family led except in my case, since I continued as CEO, with David Prats serving as operational CEO.

“The professionalization process is long and complex. It’s really important to make sure all the pieces fit together.”

David has been with Borges for more than three decades and is like a member of the family. He joined Borges as an 18-year-old computer scientist and systems programmer and gradually climbed the ranks to the presidency. His solid track record has earned the family’s trust.

Family firms have complex dynamics so it’s really important to choose a leader from within. It doesn’t matter whether they’re family members as long as they have the owner family’s full support.

The company is today governed by fourth-generation family members and led by David Prats as the group’s global CEO. Working together, they will take Borges to an entirely new level.

The four fourth-generation members from each family branch are highly qualified professionals and equipped to help David steer the company’s future growth and development. I root from the sidelines and serve as a mentor to ensure they succeed.

The professionalization process is long and complex. It’s critical to make every piece fit together by appointing the right person whom the family trusts and making sure everyone is in the right role.

Today I can say we’ve been successful in this pursuit and that Borges is 100% professionalized. The family controls the firm’s governance, power and ownership, while its day-to-day management is led by David Prats.

The quest for long-term sustainability

After 127 years of history and four family branches involved in the business project, I would highlight three keys to the firm’s long-term sustainability:

  • Material issues: the company must operate efficiently and have the capacity to pay dividends. Unprofitable businesses don’t survive in the long term.
  • Emotional realm: a shared vision that inspires and aligns is critical. Everyone needs to live it as a family project and believe that its perpetuation is worth the effort.
  • Operational domain: the relationship between family and company should be streamlined. Getting 14 people to agree is nearly impossible, which is why we decided to name one representative per family branch on the board. This way, the company deals with four people rather than 14.

Every family firm is unique

Every family business is unique and there are no two alike. Each has to map out its own path and ways of doing things.

Companies are people. Like companies, families change and evolve depending on their circumstances. Instilling a positive family business culture is also key, which my parents did exceedingly well: they taught us to work together, stick together and build a common project.