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17 abril 2024

Fernando Rodrigo, president of ADEA: “Companies need to be trusted and allowed to work”

Fernando Rodrigo holds a degree in Economics and Law from the University of Zaragoza, and a Master’s degree from the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra. Current president of the Association of Directors of Aragon (ADEA), Rodrigo has collaborated with the Government of Aragon as economist to the president under different governments, as well as cabinet director of the Minister of Agriculture and Environment, at which time he was also a director at the Aragonese Institute of Development. Fernando Rodrigo has been director of companies such as Nurel and Brilen and director of Real Zaragoza. He is currently a director of an Aragonese family office.

Fernando Rodrigo holds a degree in Economics and Law from the University of Zaragoza, and a Master’s degree from the IESE Business School of the University of Navarra. Current president of the Association of Directors of Aragon (ADEA), Rodrigo has collaborated with the Government of Aragon as economist of the president under different governments, as well as cabinet director of the Minister of Agriculture and Environment, at which time he was also director of the Aragonese Institute of Development. Fernando Rodrigo has been director of companies such as Nurel and Brilen and director of Real Zaragoza. He is currently a director of an Aragonese family office.

Since December 2022, Fernando Rodrigo has been president of ADEA, a multidisciplinary space that aims to consolidate itself as a forum for independent opinion, a meeting point for executives and an agent for the reinvigoration of the role of business in the economy and society. Member of the Company Program of the Aragonese Institute of Development (IAF), as well as of the Technical Commission of Approval of the project ‘Design more’, of the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism of the Government of Aragon, ADEA faces great challenges for the present and the future, among which is to facilitate bridges between University and business. All this always paying tribute to those Aragonese businessmen who are already a national and international reference, thanks to the cycle ‘Aragonese companies with tradition’, dedicated to make known to society the initiative of Aragonese entrepreneurs who began their journey more than fifty years ago.

First of all, congratulations on your recent appointment as president of ADEA. You take over from Salvador Arenere in an association with 63 years of history that, in the last five years alone, has almost doubled the number of members. To what do you attribute this exponential growth of the organization?

ADEA is an organization (and this is the work of Salvador and the entire team that has preceded me) that has been able to generate a name, and has been able to earn respect as an independent, benchmark, autonomous organization that says what it thinks. All for the benefit of something as important as companies, which are the lever on which a more prosperous society must be built.

ADEA is a transversal association of managers and executives integrated in all types of companies (self-employed, SMEs and large corporations) that is represented in all sectors (logistics, chemical, construction, distribution, agribusiness, energy, automotive, pharmaceutical…), and integrates all types of professional profiles (human resources, operations, purchasing, commercial, financial, general management…), so it has become a multidisciplinary forum of independent opinion, which addresses current issues. It thus provides value and useful information to our members in their decision-making process, all of which contributes to the success of our companies.

ADEA has also achieved something to which we attach great importance, which is to attract people to events that we organize, which are of interest, and which allow us to create a networking and interaction effect, which is extremely important in the corporate and business world. A coach once told me: “managers are worth as much for what they know as for what they have in their contact book”. Managers are not asked to have the immediate solution to any problem, we are asked to be people who know how to manage problems, and also how to manage opportunities. The important thing is to know where to go, to have a good network of contacts who, at any given moment, can advise you or collaborate with you in the development of a product.

The fact that ADEA is a multisectorial organization allows, then, to get an accurate and updated vision of the reality of the Aragonese economy.

In ADEA you interact with all kinds of people who transmit you their concerns, you receive inputs permanently. We also get an opinion indicator. And, for example, in the latest indicators, what businessmen are transmitting to us is not exactly in line with the messages we receive at a macro level. For example, in the last indicators, when it seemed that last autumn the economy was going to sink, what we received from our managers was the message that consumption was holding up and exports were growing.

AT ADEA WE ARE GOING TO START THE CYCLE ‘ARAGONESE COMPANIES WITH TRADITION’, TO MAKE VISIBLE TO SOCIETY THE INITIATIVE OF ARAGONESE ENTREPRENEURS WHO STARTED MORE THAN 50 YEARS AGO.

They told us that they had a brutal cost pressure due to the impact of inflation, that they had had to cut profit margins very significantly and that they were not going to have reinvestable surpluses, but they endured, without making ERTES, and maintaining employment. These inputs, when you hear them from different people from different sectors… you think that maybe we are not so bad, that we are better able to hold on. And this is what has been happening.

The events that have taken place during this period of ADEA’s expansion, such as the pandemic or the war in Ukraine, have conditioned the development of Aragonese companies. How have these health and political conditioning factors affected the companies led by ADEA’s members?

In a globalized economy, such as the one we live in today, Aragon cannot ignore the major global trends, or the economic cycles of expansion or contraction. Or international events that have an impact on the economy, such as a ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal or a war. Having said that, we are in the world economy and, therefore, we are affected by all this, it is true that Aragon has some singularities. And when we compare ourselves with Spain, as an inland community, we see that the specific weight of industry is greater than in the Spanish economy as a whole. And the events we have experienced lately have had collateral effects that have affected industry more than services.

For example, as a result of the pandemic, there was a bottleneck in the supply bottlenecks of many chains, which has had a much greater impact on industry. And many of our companies have run out of supply to develop their products. There was also a very serious logistical problem with the lack of containers. When you depend on chips or supplies coming from China or the U.S., and there are no containers, or the price of containers increases tenfold, you have a serious problem.

And the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, and the impact it has had on energy, has a much greater influence on the profit and loss account of an industry than on the service sector. There are companies in Aragon, especially in capital-intensive sectors, and with a high demand for energy, whose energy supply has been multiplied by six or seven times, and they have had to stop lines due to their inability to cope with it. Because another of the peculiarities of industry compared to services is that it is more exposed to international trade. That is why it is much more difficult for it to pass on to final prices the increase in costs it has to bear.

Fernando Rodrigo interview
Fernando Rodrigo

Will we go back to producing more in Europe?

The concept is changing in Europe. We have lived through a context in which the international specialization of work has been very much guided by economic issues. And now geostrategic issues are going to be on the table, and the final decision will not be purely economic.

For example, China has scales of production and costs that make them capable of doing everything at a lower cost than we have here. And since they were looking for the lowest possible cost, in order to be able to provide most of the goods to most of the population, the determining factor in the decision making process regarding the location of supplies has been cost. And I believe that now Europe is going to change, and will think that, if a product has a strategic impact, even if it is more expensive to manufacture it in Europe, we will manufacture it here, we will not depend on anyone. I believe that there are going to be certain sectors that are going to be qualified as strategic for the economy, no longer Spanish, but European, and they are going to stay here.

You have been vice-president of ADEA since 2019, and a member of the Board of Directors since 2011, so you know first-hand the transformations that the business fabric of Aragon has been undergoing. What have been, in your opinion, the keys to the growth that the economy of the autonomous community has been experiencing in recent years?

As I said before, Aragon cannot ignore the trends that mark the cycles of the economy, or the events of global impact. But I would emphasize that the best thermometer that measures the competitiveness of our industry is the strong growth of our exports (16,400 mm), which already represent 40% of our GDP, compared to 30% in the case of Spain.

But beyond the competitiveness of our automotive or chemical industry, in recent years we are beginning to value the endogenous resources of our territory. For example, the income situation we enjoy due to our privileged location at the epicenter of 70% of the Spanish GDP, is positioning us as a logistics hub of reference in Spain and southern Europe. On the other hand, we are witnessing a process in which agricultural and livestock resources are beginning to be valorized through industrial transformation, advancing in the most profitable links of the value chain.

THE BEST THERMOMETER THAT MEASURES THE COMPETITIVENESS OF OUR INDUSTRY IS THE STRONG GROWTH OF OUR EXPORTS.

We have also improved in the exploitation of our tourist resources, since, although we do not have a beach, we do have snow, heritage, culture and an extraordinary natural environment.

Finally, Aragon must be one of the great beneficiaries of the energy transition due to its potential in renewable energies, since we have wind, sun and a lot of land. And I say the latter because there are many locations without a special landscape value in which renewable energy can be developed without compromising the natural jewels we have in the Pyrenees, in the Iberian Mountains or in the Maestrazgo.

Is there less dependence on giants like General Motors or, on the contrary, is the growth of Aragonese companies still linked to large companies?

Fortunately, Aragon is no longer a monoculture of the automobile industry, as it was in the 1990s; we are now a diversified region and strong in many other economic sectors.

However, General Motors has been a catalyst for the growth of our region, because a powerful auxiliary industry has developed around it, which has consolidated a company culture that we have taken advantage of to grow in other sectors.

Our recent economic history shows that we should not be afraid of large companies, because it is these investments that attract resources and talent that generate virtuous circles for our economy. And in the same vein, we must make progress in finding formulas that allow our companies to gain size, both through organic and inorganic growth, because size is essential to compete internationally.

According to several experts, the entry of Spain, first in the EEC and then in the EU, had a relevant impact on the internationalization of Aragonese companies, which, at the end of the 20th century, were more internationalized than those of the rest of the country. How has the internationalization of Aragonese companies evolved since then?

As I explained earlier, industry in Aragon is more important than in the country as a whole, and since manufacturing has a greater presence in foreign trade than services, Aragon’s exports exceed the Spanish average, and this greater exposure to international competition forces us to continue innovating in products and improving costs in order to maintain our competitiveness.

The services sector has been gaining ground in Aragon over industry, with a growth of 16.6% in 2022, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE) What role does this sector play in the economic growth of Aragon?

It is logical that the services sector will grow above average in 2022 because 2021 was the year of the exit of the pandemic, and because services can more easily pass on to prices the rise in costs, because they are not as pressured by international competition as goods.

WE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF LARGE COMPANIES: THEY GENERATE VIRTUOUS CIRCLES FOR OUR ECONOMY.

Aragon is no exception to modern economies, in which the service sector is the most important. In Aragon, 60% of our GDP comes from services, mainly due to the role of public administrations and all the expenses related to the Welfare State. However, the weight of services is lower than in Spain, where it represents 76%.

Another of the mainstays on which the Aragonese economy is based is the logistics sector, with Aragon Logistics Platform as its flagship. In fact, for example, PlaZa is Europe’s largest logistic enclosure, which has also contributed to the consolidation of Zaragoza airport on the goods transport podium. How do you think this Aragonese commitment to logistics is affecting the consolidation, creation and growth of companies in Aragon?

Traditionally, companies have developed by specializing in sectors in which they had competitive advantages over other territories.

Well, this is the case of logistics in our community.

Aragon enjoys an exceptional income situation, as it is located in the center of a circle of 300 kilometers radius that brings together 70% of the Spanish GDP.

We also have sufficient (and therefore cheap) land and good communications by road, rail and air. With dry ports, we are able to move port customs to our own industrial parks.

In addition, an educational ecosystem is being developed to specialize technicians and managers in this discipline.

All the ingredients are in place for logistics to be a successful venture in Aragon.

And not only PlaZa, but also many other industrial parks in Zaragoza and the rest of Aragon, where there is a large public and private investment in industrial parks that should be made profitable before continuing to build new logistics infrastructures.

The agri-food sector currently generates almost 14% of employment in Aragon. Within this sector, pig production has its own specific weight, which is at the head of national production, with 25.9% of the national total, above the neighboring Catalonia. How do you consider that this sector pulls the overall economy of Aragon?

If we look at the environment around us, we can draw conclusions and learnings that help us to understand how the world and the economy will evolve.

The pandemic showed us the vulnerability of our microchip industry that was manufactured in China. The war in Ukraine has revealed the need to make progress in the development of renewable energies to reduce our dependence on external sources. The drought highlights the importance of water as a transcendental resource for the future.

THERE ARE MANY INDUSTRIAL PARKS IN ARAGON THAT SHOULD BE MADE PROFITABLE BEFORE CONTINUING TO BUILD NEW LOGISTICS INFRASTRUCTURES.

Well, the world population continues to grow geometrically. In the year 2000 there were 6,000 million inhabitants on the planet, and since then we have been growing at a rate of 100 million a year.

In view of all this, geo-strategy experts point out that food production is going to become a key factor in the development of countries.

Aragon has an enviable position in this field, because we have soil, climate and water, so that agriculture and livestock are set to gain specific weight in our GDP in the coming years, especially if we are able to transform these products in our own territory through a modern agro-industry, which is the one that captures more added value in the food chain.

The university-business relationship has borne interesting fruits for the Aragonese economy, as in the case of the induction stove marketed by Balay, which was developed within the I3A (Aragon Engineering Research Institute). What role do you think the university and its research institutes have in the creation of a cutting-edge business fabric?

That is precisely one of ADEA’s lines of work, to build bridges between business and universities, for mutual benefit, and not only so that we can influence the academic orientation of our universities, and have the professional profiles we need available to companies, but also so that the prolific research work of the university can be applied and transferred to companies in our community.

I believe that the path has already begun in recent years, but there is still a long way to go.

Fernando Rodrigo interview

What role do you see for public institutions in facilitating and promoting economic growth in Aragon?

We have recently held a series of presentations of the candidates for the presidency of the DGA of the nine main parties represented in the Aragonese institutions, and we have sent the same messages to all of them:

  • We do not need subsidies, but we want to be guaranteed that we compete on equal terms with the rest of the companies in Spain.
  • The best way to boost investment is to streamline administrative processes, and the advantages of the Aragon Interest Plans (PIGA) should become a general rule for any company and any investment.
  • Reinvindicate the leading role of companies, not only as generators of investment, employment, profits and taxes, but also as levers of change in society on issues that concern us all, such as parity, solidarity and sustainability.

ADEA is one of the oldest associations of managers in Spain and Aragon. After 63 years of experience, you have witnessed first-hand the social, political and economic transformation of the autonomous community. What are the milestones that have had the greatest impact on the development of the companies led by ADEA members?

I would dare to say that the progress of our community and that of Spain as a whole has gone hand in hand with the consolidation of a social, market economy that is open to the world.

As Churchill said, capitalism is the worst economic system if we disregard all the others.

The economy must be deregulated. In 2022, 1,189 regulations with the rank of Law were approved in Spain, and the BOE published 1.3 million pages.

Companies need to be trusted and allowed to work.

The easier it is to start up or invest, the more economic growth and employment there will be.

THE BEST WAY TO BOOST INVESTMENT IS TO STREAMLINE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESSES AND MAKE PIGA BENEFITS THE GENERAL RULE.

In the face of those who demonize company profits, ADEA defends that without profits there is no reinvestment, so there is neither growth nor employment generation.

Company profits and workers’ salaries accrue taxes and Social Security contributions, which are necessary to maintain the Welfare State services we have provided for ourselves.

Public Administrations must ensure that the rules of the game are complied with so that no one abuses the system, and that our taxes are properly managed to continue investing in infrastructures, improving essential public services and supporting the most disadvantaged, because we cannot allow anyone to be left behind.

ADEA actively participates in the promotion of entrepreneurship in Aragon. Not in vain does it belong, as a manager, to the Enterprise Program of the Aragonese Development Institute (IAF), as well as to the Technical Commission of Approval of the “Diseña más” project, dependent on the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism of the Government of Aragon. Is Aragon an entrepreneurial community?

Undoubtedly, it is. We Aragonese are very humble and we tend to exalt the achievements of others without realizing that our history is full of success stories.

In ADEA we are going to start a cycle of presentations of `Aragonese companies with solera` to make visible to society the initiative of Aragonese entrepreneurs who started their journey more than fifty years ago and have managed to turn their companies into referents of the regional, national and even international economy.

I believe that there are many examples of which we should be proud, and which should serve as an example to the new generations of entrepreneurs.

The power of example

If you present these projects to a group of 20-year-olds, you show them that it is possible. When you have a project, when you are prepared to develop it, when you bet on it, when you are tenacious and believe in it, it will go ahead. And if you fail, you learn from that too, but you persist.

What does a new project most need to succeed and consolidate over time?

Although it may seem a cliché, the formula for success in entrepreneurship is formed in equal parts by preparation, knowledge, daring and tenacity, but always seasoned with a pinch of luck.

IN THE FACE OF THOSE WHO DEMONIZE THE PROFITS OF COMPANIES, AT ADEA WE DEFEND THAT WITHOUT PROFIT THERE IS NO REINVESTMENT, SO THERE IS NO GROWTH OR JOB CREATION.

And now that technology and capital are no longer insurmountable walls, the distinctive value of successful projects that last over time is none other than the talent and commitment of the human teams that the entrepreneur is able to attract in his environment.

What are the objectives that you set for yourself as president of ADEA for the coming years?

The people who work in ADEA have the illusion of consolidating our position as a forum for independent opinion, a meeting point for managers and an agent that vindicates the role of the company, not only in the economy, but also in society, to encourage the entrepreneurial vocation of the next generations.

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