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Family Matters

Miguel Torres is handing over the reins of the familybusiness to a new generation – but is letting go as easy as it looks? Charlotte Hey finds out

"I DIDN’T TELL her to say that, honestly," Miguel Torres leans over and whispers at me, grinning.

We are sitting together with his daughter, Mireia Torres Maczassek and son Miguel Torres Maczassek, both of whom are discussing the challenges facing the family businesses and the smooth integration of the new generation.

Mireia has just finished talking about what she feels are the most important aspects of business she has learnt from working with her father.  What’s making him smile is what she feels are the lessons she will take forward with her.

They are exactly the same as those he had mentioned to me whilst we were waiting for his children to arrive.  Neither Mireia nor Miguel junior strike me as the type of people who are easily brainwashed or indoctrinated, however much they might admire their father.

But they are clearly passionate about how they are going to take on the responsibilities that lie ahead of them.  Both readily agree that in the future the family union established by Miguel’s father and subsequently reinforced by his own time at the head of the company will remain intrinsic to the success of the business.

"We must retain the current practice of re-investing 95% of company profits back into the business each year," says Mireia. "Honestly, I haven’t primed her," repeats Miguel Torres senior.

Watching the friendly but firm banter between father and daughter, she certainly doesn’t look like the kind of woman to do exactly what daddy says.  "I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school," admits Mireia, "My sister knew exactly what she wanted to be from the start.

I studied chemistry and then I thought oenology would be a good next step. I mean, why not? As I progressed through the course I realised that what I wanted to do was to make wine."  And she’s very serious about her winemaking.

Heading a large viticultural and vinification team, quality is paramount and research into how to improve the quality and consistency of the wines is clearly one of the passions she has inherited from her father.

From aromas to the use of wood, plant source material to chemical composition, every aspect of wine production is analysed and researched with a meticulous attention to detail.  Luckily Miguel Jr. wasn’t that interested in the production side, "As the baby of the family, I was last to start working for the company.

We already had a winemaker in the business so it seemed to make sense to go into the business and marketing side.  Fortunately it was the area that interested me the most. 

My mother is an artist and I think I have inherited some of her interest.  I like visual communication, marketing, packaging, all the aspects of wine that add value to the product."

Both are adamant that their father never told them what they should do with their lives nor pressured them into entering the family business and both acknowledge the importance of  working for other companies before entering Torres.

"It gives you the chance to view all aspects of a business from a different angle," says Miguel Jr. "You see things that you would never see and you learn to appreciate the frustrations that an employee might experience.

The culture in a family business is decidedly different.  Here at Torres my father has shown us that the best way to work with people is to consider them as members of the family – our working relationship is something more of a friendship than an obligation."

Miguel Torres Sr. pulls a credit card-sized card out of his pocket.  "We have a set of company values to which we adhere quite seriously," he says handing it to me.

The words agility, environment, communication spring out.  "These are our company objectives, this is our vision," Torres says.  "The forum that created each of these objectives was made up of 40 employees from around the company.

I am very proud of the people who work for me and the practices they wanted to bring to the business.  We refer to them frequently. I am very fortunate to have a very strongly motivated team."

So interested is he in motivating his team that he has just finished having lunch with every member of the company.  "It’s taken me two years in total," he admits, "but I have had regular lunches with 10 members of the team at a time.

I have to admit I have learnt a lot not only about my company but also about the personalities who work here."

"And I’ve just started to do exactly the  same at Jean Leon," interjects Miguel Jr.  The Torres family are obviously close and they value being close to their employees but what are the challenges they feel they face as a family company and what are the challenges Miguel Torres feels the next generation will confront in business?

"The main tests I forsee for them will be maintaining the strength and importance of the family unit," explains Torres, "I believe that one of the reasons that this company has thrived is because of the strength of our family union.

We have learnt to work together and agree on business issues that affect us.  "The company is structured in such a way that we now legally have to follow the family protocol that has been set down and agreed at the family council meetings.

Established about three years ago, and separate from the main board, we felt it was important that we create a structure to encourage communication and reinforce our unity as a family, now and in the future."

And then we return to the subject of Mireia’s initial comments – the reinvestment of profit.  "I believe one of the main reasons why we have been able to grow is that we have adhered to the principle of being self-financed.

This means that we can continue to invest in the areas that make sense commercially and that we see as intrinsic to improving our wines.  If the company loses that ability in the future, well," he pauses, "that will be the biggest challenge for my children."

The message has clearly sunk in.  Miguel Jr. chips in, "Keeping the family’s ethos going and retaining our values will never cease to be at the centre of our vision." "I listen to what my children have to say," adds Torres, "it’s nice learning that they have listened to me."

He smiles, "The biggest change since I have entered the family business has been marketing.  I meet with Miguel every week and I always come away with something new.

"The Old World wine producing countries didn’t use marketing before the advent of Australia. We were only production oriented, making the wine we liked and going to market to sell it.

Perhaps the new method of marketing-oriented wine production has meant that the industry has lost some of its charm.  The one thing it has done, though, is make us become much more efficient.

Now my son, the marketing team and I tend to discuss any new products that we are considering for launch and agree the parameters before we go into the vineyard."

Does Torres Sr. retain any lessons that have influenced the way he does business? "I learnt many business lessons from my father and the way he did business has obviously influenced what I do.

One thing I particularly remember is when he went into a restaurant.  He always made a point of talking to the waiter and the maître d’. Others would be distant from them, treating them as waiters not people.

Essentially my father was doing his own form of marketing, primitive or not, it certainly worked. It was a good lesson – those are the people who sell our wines day in, day out."

Miguel Torres Sr. is a modest man, but he admits he thinks that his father "would have been proud of what we have achieved.  I’m not sure that he would have backed me in my initial decision to work in China, though," he smiles.

He is however quietly confident about what the future holds, for him and his children.  He  ust be, given his vision.

"I don’t believe in strategic plans. I believe that for a company to work well we need to establish a vision first and work towards that.  Our vision is to be one of the top 10 wineries in the world.

In order to make this vision possible you build on the key factors of any good business:  research, finance, human resources etc.  Each year we establish targets in each of these areas.

But apart from this our vision is very simple.  The most important thing is that you have to be flexible and be prepared for change.  For me being flexible is essential to being a success in business."

Continued growth and success are very much on the cards for the company.  "We are continually investing, building an €8m winery in Priorato, putting over €11m in a new winery at Villafranca we buy over 4,000 new barrels each year, we invest over €3m in research…" The list goes on.

"We have to keep up with the changes in technology if we are expected to perform and fight on a global scale," says Torres Sr.  "I mean why shouldn’t European companies be allowed to grow like their antipodean competitors? If we were a small company producing 20,000 cases per year then growth would be an issue on many different levels, but we employ 1,000 workers and we have commitment to them and to ourselves to grow."

If nothing else, it looks as though Mireia and Miguel will inherit a lot of work.

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