Myths and Utopias for a Never-Ending Project: An interview with Jaume Tomás Carulla
“I am an entrepreneur, because I don’t know how to do anything else,” is one of the phrases from the interview that might help to define Jaume Tomás Carulla’s versatile nature. Today he runs a small, but very successful business in Barcelona. Nonetheless, due to his intrepid pioneering spirit, Jaume has also left his fair share of a legacy in the family business consulting and philanthropy fields.
The pioneering spirit side of his personality does not come as a surprise, due to the fact that he is a third-generation member of Agrolimen (founded in 1937), one of the first Spanish family-owned companies that implemented family business governance knowledge and structures.
It was back in the late 80’s that Jaume’s parents and uncles, members of the second generation of Agrolimen, (one of Spain’s largest family businesses) first attended a conference-seminar in Lausanne. Switzerland, at which Ivan Lansberg spoke. What they brought back home with them “…was the idea that you can actually do something to create the context that favors the generational continuity of the ownership in the family business,” Jaume recalls from those times when not much knowledge was available on what you can do in the context of your family.
Since then, Jaume has received more than 25 years of education as a family member and has provided consulting services to other family businesses. The sum of these experiences has resulted in Jaume’s impression that family business knowledge implementation requires a utopian setting.
Boris Matijas: In your opinion and from your experience, what would be the greatest myths related to family business?
Jaume Tomás Carulla: For me, it would be that regulation with documents, such as family business constitutions, help family businesses achieve success in the succession process. It is a myth that defining rules and creating protocols is going to help. What will help is to invest time and resources in the education and awareness of all the family members. They need to be aware of their roles and their influence and how these can have a positive impact. To succeed in these tasks requires work on a regular basis, throughout the years. Only then, will this knowledge become part of the family culture.
BM: What are the main roles and responsibilities as seen from the family side and which would be the ones seen from the consultant’s side?
JTC: I believe that the major responsibility lies on the family side. The family needs to be willing to do the work, to expand its mentality, and to accept new ideas in order to create structures and work experiences on a regular basis. This allows for the culture to evolve and educate the family members. It also helps to implement this knowledge into their set of beliefs. If the family is not willing to do this–and from our experience I must say that this requires a lot of work–then the consultant’s task is going to be worthless.
Seen from the consultant’s side, apart from a somewhat obvious requirement that the consultant must know the trade in order to guide the family, the main responsibility is to be honest. This means to assume that if the family is not willing to do the work that is expected to be done, then, no matter how appealing it might be to send the invoice and get the check, the consulting process cannot succeed.
But I must repeat once again, the main responsibility is on the family side.
BM: From the perspective of the process that your family has been through, what have been the main achievements?
JTC: If I look back at all the effort and resources that our family has invested, I realize that it has been an amazing process. To educate the family, to educate the ownership, to create the structures, to make the structures evolve and fit the reality, to allow the reality to change the structures of the government – this has been truly an incredible process, but it is still an ongoing process.
However, I have also realized that it is very rare to find a group of people who would put themselves through this kind of process.
JTC: Mainly because it is a never-ending project, and people like to have projects with a clear ending schedule. At the same time, these kinds of processes don’t come with a guarantee that it is going to end well. It is life and reality that will prove to be right or wrong, but some 30 years from now.
In the sense that it requires such a great amount of work, willingness, vision and understanding, I believe that one has to believe in utopias to think that this knowledge can help business continuity. Most of the families will not do what it takes to implement this knowledge in the ways that it might help them.
BM: Why is that so?
JTC: We live in a world where it’s commonly accepted to get things fast, easy and cheap and working towards family business continuity is not fast –it’s a very long process. It’s not easy –it requires sustained effort. And … it is not cheap — it requires a lot of resources.
BM: What kind of resources?
JTC: First you need economic resources to hire professional assistance. In our case it also requires putting resources into the family office which is not an investment family office, but an educational family office.
Additionally we have created many family committees in which most of us have participated throughout the years. Most of us work outside the family business and this highlights another resource –time.
For instance, right now we have two ongoing committees. One is working on the design of the future family business government structure. Another committee is working on what kind of philanthropy we want to do in the future. The members of these committees don’t receive a salary for participating. Most of them live outside of Barcelona and the process represents two years of work.
BM: What is the most important driver for you to participate in this process?
JTC: In the family business the most important driver is the emotional driver. Of course, money is a driver. But in my personal case, the proportion of money to emotion would be around 30-70%.
Money is good. I enjoy money. But it’s not really this that makes me want to be a part of the family business. First is the sense of pride of belonging to this group. The second thing is the sense of responsibility towards making this group as attractive to others as it was to me. Finally there is also the responsibility towards the stakeholders.
I am a businessman. I run three small businesses that are very successful, but very small. I created them and I can do whatever I want with them. But with the family company it’s a completely different thing. I didn’t create it. I didn’t work on it to make it grow and I am not going to work there to make it continue being successful in the market. Of course I feel that in part it is mine by being a shareholder, but that ownership is diluted. It is shared with other people and especially with the stakeholders who have a talent to make is successful. And I would also say that this feeling is quite mutual among the cousins.
BM: How would you describe this feeling?
JTC: It is something that you can’t manufacture. It’s like growing a garden. You need to put in the seeds, you need to water it and eventually you’ll get a nice tomato. But you can’t make tomatoes by just reading the book or by simply hiring the lecturer. It’s you who must do the work.
BM: From your experience what would be the most important elements to keep in mind while planning family business continuity?
JTC: I believe that there are three things when it comes to creating the structures that maximize the possibility of continuity in the family business:
- Size of the company
- Generation running the company
- Culture and the mentality of the family
When you put these three things together, you get a certain context in which you’ll have to do certain things.
BM: What would be the most difficult part?
JTC: For me the most difficult thing is to maintain the vision and willingness. But it is nothing special — it’s like getting fit.
If you want to get fit, it is not about hiring the best dietician and personal trainer. It’s about really doing the work. It’s about eating what you need to eat and doing the exercise that you need to do. It’s all about remembering the goal and making a consistent effort.
Eventually, there are no big mysteries.
About the Contributors:
Jaume Tomás Carulla is founding director of the Nexia Foundation and was a member of FFI’s first Family Enterprise Advisory Committee. Jaume can be reached at [email protected].
Boris Matijas is a member of the executive team at Archipelago in Barcelona, the first publishing platform producing and distributing media focused on family businesses and business families. He is also a director of Laempresafamiliar.com, a Spanish-speaking family business site. Boris is a journalist and has a focus on family business research. He is a member of the editorial committee of The Practitioner. Boris can be reached
at [email protected].