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A business leader’s big adventure

Joaquin Uriach is personnel manager of Laboratorios Uriach

Travel can be an intellectual and spiritual journey as well as a physical one. Joaquin Uriach describes how membership of the Spanish chapter of the FBN has enriched his life and enabled him to develop training opportunities for young people from business families

When I graduated from business school an important businessman told us that in this life one has to do some things without expecting any money in return. His wife had asked him one evening, when he arrived home exhausted, if he had been to one of those meetings in which you participate but you don't earn a dime. Well, yes, he said, these days, more than ever, you have to get involved in the community, do your part in various associations. And you do it solely for the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing good for someone, for the society to which you belong, without any particular self-interest. This is what led me to participate in FBN, to get involved in the next generation working group, and, as a host company to become a part of FBN's Building the Future programme (BTFP).

Our young members should be encouraged to embark on a grand adventure. You must begin any adventure with excitement and humility, a great desire to learn, and little baggage in order to tread more easily and travel further. Take the risk and you will find yourself in good company.

Whenever possible, I have collaborated with the private associations in Barcelona. This sense of social responsibility is one of the essential values of our family business, Laboratorios Uriach. In fact, my father together with other business people, were promoters of the Instituto de la Empresa Familiar (IEF), the Spanish chapter of FBN and one of the pioneering associations in the defence of family business.

It is for all these reasons that we decided in 1988, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of our company, to create a non-profit organisation, Fundación Uriach 1838. This foundation donates a portion of our profit to the community in recognition of the fact that this same community has contributed to our financial success. This donation is not entirely charitable, but is an acknowledgement that society has truly brought us something of value. It represents the search for a role for the company that goes further than the striving for economic profits. In our case, the foundation is dedicated to the promotion of health and research in society.
My personal grand adventure of collaborating with associations began with the Instituto (IEF) in Barcelona. A few months after its creation, the instituto set up a family forum with the idea of offering a social space for the relatives of institute members, especially for the youngest ones. It was called forum familiar (family forum). The intention was, and continues to be, to make us aware of the relevance of young people in the transition from generation to generation. Furthermore, the forum attempts to encourage the next generation to participate in educational activities and events. At this moment, the family forum has more than 300 members. This experience has been emulated with great success by other international chapters within FBN.

The initial contact with family associations through the forum led me to realise the importance of its work, which goes much further than simply lobbying for the recognition of the family enterprise. The forum gave me both education and contacts. This fosters security and confidence, and the feeling that others can do a lot for you, and that you can do a lot for them.

I began the next stage of this exciting adventure: participating in a division of the institute set aside for those with more experience, the IEF-2. This division was created by the instituto and the family forum in an attempt to convince young people that it was worth taking a chance and devoting themselves to the family business. The members of this second institute – the sons and daughters of business people – already have executive positions, but have not yet reached the highest management levels. At the moment there are 50 members, among them executive vice-presidents, CEOs, and general managers. We have developed educational activities and meetings with influential people in the administration, in the economic world, with entrepreneurs and union leaders. The objective is to guide these members towards leadership. This generation will eventually constitute the core of the institute.

One doesn't have to stop there. There are other worlds and other adventures. One has to cross national borders and form a part of our global village. This is why, with the experience I have gained in the institute, I have chosen to continue my journey and participate in the FBN. My training in chapters such as the institute has facilitated my activities in this international organisation. At this stage, however, you meet other prejudices and worries. For instance the fear that comes from failure to master a foreign language. But you must overcome this, because the satisfaction of sharing experiences and meeting people is much greater than the fear.

Thanks to the FBN I have been able to participate in different conferences in collaboration with local chapters (UK, Brazil, USA), sharing my family's experience. This collaboration culminated with the presentation of our family case at the 13th FBN World Conference in September 2003 in Lausanne. It was not only a matter of personal pride to make these presentations, but also the satisfaction of being able to be useful to other people. To have taught people with the desire to learn, and without doubt to have done something good for family business members.
This great adventure has also allowed me to make friends and contribute in the creation of major projects, which have shown themselves to be of great use to the members of FBN. This was possible thanks to the creation at the centre of FBN of the next generation committee (NGC). This intense stage of collaboration began in 2003 with Barbara Murray. She had brought together eight young people from different countries in a pilot experience during one year. We began with a mission and a lot of illusion. The recognition of being chosen to work for and with the young members of FBN was a strong motivating factor.

During the first NGC meeting, the idea of a training programme was suggested. It would combine the international working experience wanted and needed by the next generation members with the wide network of companies within our association. The young members would not only be able to benefit from having a professional job, but also to share values and experiences with the family companies. This is how the building the future programme (BTFP) was born, which was set up during the world conference in Lausanne. It was a good idea, yet adventurous. At present, more than 10 young family business members have passed through the programme.
Our family does not yet have any members of the sixth generation who are old enough to participate in the BTFP. Despite this I proposed our family council that our company should participate in the programme. Thanks to the willingness to do something good for the community, and the deep-rooted values in our family, the Group Uriach proposed itself as a host company to receive young members from other business families. As a result, in October 2004 we received, a young woman from an important family business group in Brazil for three months.

It was rewarding to be able to contribute to the training of a young person. It was also a great opportunity to show and share our company, our family and our values. Something we really feel proud about. It is also satisfying to be able to share your city and your customs with someone else. The best part is to find yourself with young people. With our trainee, we managed to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and confidence, not only with her but also with her family. Based on this good chemistry, we spoke openly about our problems as a family company, and about our ways of seeing and understanding family matters. I think that we were able to provide different viewpoints which enriched our knowledge.

The programme was good also for my children who, by living together with the trainee could see another culture and another way of thinking. This will help them to have an open mind.

When I was younger I went to London to get international experience in the working world. I would have liked to have had the opportunity that our present BTFP members are enjoying. FBN has an important network of companies, and we should make good use of it. I hope that my own children will be able to enjoy and take advantage of the BTFP programme.

This has been my great adventure with FBN, begun timidly in the Spanish chapter. Now I leave NGC to allow other young members to enter. I am going with the happiness of having been useful to many young members and of having been able to contribute to their training.
Do not think about the destination, only of the journey, because the best part of this great journey has been, above all, the path that was travelled.

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