Having presided over some of the most prestigious and valued public and private enterprises in Spain, Mr. Santiago Foncillas, former state attorney, is considered by experts in the financial and construction sector as one of the key protagonists in the economic history of the country. Entrepreneurial, firm and well-mannered from head to toe, Mr. Foncillas momentarily sets aside his current responsibilities as Advisor of Santander Investment and BANIF, and member of Santander’s International Advisory Board to reflect on what he knows best.
Many consider you as part of the financial and entrepreneurial history of this country. How do you recall your professional career?
Former Vice-Chairman of SANTANDER banking giant, Cofounder and first President of the Circle of Entrepreneurs of Spain, Former Secretary General of INI (National Institute of Industry), Former Chairman of DRAGADOS (Spain’s largest construction conglomerate), Former CEO of TELEFÓNICA, among other prestigious professional titles; what has been the biggest lesson learned and what do you have left to learn?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is no such thing as good or bad companies, but rather good and bad businesspeople and good and bad teams. A businessman cannot be good if he doesn’t know how to select an excellent team, and this excellence must be defined by competence, motivation, honesty, and always loyalty, but more loyalty toward the company than toward the boss. For me, this is fundamental in order for the other qualities to result useful to the team and the company. Unfortunately, sometimes intelligence goes hand in hand with personal ambition, which places personal interests above those of the company.
I’ve yet to learn how to distinguish with clarity who is loyal to the company and who is not, which is like saying that I’ve yet to learn in depth the human being. But these days, who can say they’ve learned this lesson?
Independently of your position as former State Attorney, you’ve been a significant businessman in different branches of the country’s economic sector. What do you think about the current situation?
Today there is no one that doesn’t think that our current situation is of total crisis, and not just in the economic sense because simultaneously there are other types of crises like in education, which results in academic failure and insecurity in schools; identity crisis, which scraps the country’s model; cultural crisis, with our exaltation of the ugly and the coarse; religious crisis, which aims to erase our Christian roots; and of course political crisis which affects the independence and prestige of our institutions.
Being the most painful and pressing: the economic crisis, of which we will naturally beat but not without great and costly sacrifices on all levels. From the other crises we will leave with more difficulties and in a longer time because they are ideological, and with them, political parties don’t tend to yield anything. They trust everything to their voting assemblies, which doesn’t make for a solution, and rather favour absolute majorities, something quite infrequent.
In any case, for me the most serious is the education crisis. We are suffering from technological despotism that captivates youths’ minds and prevents them from being free: mobile phones, videogames, mini computers and the Internet are making them all dependent.
Spain has suffered an important transformation on many levels since the beginning of the 1970s to today. What would you emphasize about the evolution of our country throughout the decades?
This country’s transformation has been complete in large part by help from the European Union and in large part also by the increase in entrepreneurial spirit in Spain. But also because of the success of government applying our own resources and those provided by the EU toward investments in modern infrastructure that today can be seen as an advantage compared to the European average in terms of highways, shipping ports, airports and high-speed trains.
The Spanish businessman has had the vision to diversify its activities introducing new products and new markets. And this is not only true for the large corporations but also for medium-size companies that are gaining a place in international markets, depending solely on their own recourses. Renewable energy and the electronics sector are one example. Models of business management have been modernized and executive teams are now highly qualified and are at par with those of other developed nations.
For its regulation and supervision, the Spanish financial system is serving as a model in Europe in terms of new norms that will try to fill the gaps that have facilitated the current crisis.
The tourism industry has extended beyond the comfortable era of exploiting the privileged areas of our country and has made great leaps by investing outside of Spain to offer more modern and sophisticated services.
Graduate schools in Spain are among the best in the world and are decisively contributing to improving business management.
In summary, today’s Spain would surprise those who visited us some time ago and return.
This reality is what maintains our founded hopes for the future if the economic policies of our government succeeds in balancing our public debt, implements the much-needed labor reform, reduces the public expenditure and adopts fiscal measures that stimulate saving and investment.
Once again we need to put into practice those measures that allowed us to enter the European Union and the Euro zone when no one believed in us. But this time, we must achieve it without the aid that was so necessary before.
On the other hand, we must also recognize that in past decades our country has gone backward in two fundamental areas of economic activity: education and market unity. Both can condition our future. The first requires decades to reposition itself and the second depends entirely upon political will.
What challenges do you think face Andalucía?
When it comes to Andalucía, the most populated autonomous community in Spain and the second in size, it generally needs the same remedy as the rest of the country but more adapted to its particular necessities, which are many.
I do not know Andalucía entirely well, but I would dare to think that the service sector is over-inflated and with a poorly qualified work force because of the massive exploitation of the ‘beach and sun’ tourism. This sector should be intensely stimulated with regional and cultural tourism. In this way, projects with an added value like La Zagaleta, would be a reference.
I think it is necessary to promote vocational training, and I am aware that very interesting projects exist in the private sector, but they are not enough.
The Andalucían industry also counts with other interesting projects, like from the aeronautic sector, the second most important in Spain. Of relevance is the importance of companies that produce renewable energy, but it is symptomatic the little weight in the Andalucían economy that signifies such important sectors as textiles and electronics.
Andalucía has so many economic possibilities that by planting the seed of the good entrepreneur, soon it could reap profits.
Political will and the civil society also have a voice, because of all
the Spanish regions, as Ortega used to say, the one with its culture most radically integrated is Andalucía. We can recall its painters, its literature, music and gastronomy without forgetting its handicrafts, it’s equestrian talent and its bullfighting culture deep-seeded in tradition and the countryside. More than 50 percent of Andalucían territory is forest spaces of great interest that should be promoted. Andalucía’s fishing fleet – if I remember correctly – is amongst the most important in Spain.
In these times of trans-border tourism, Andalucía offers an unbeatable appeal that, unified with its hospitality, makes it one of the most privileged destinations of the world. All of the peculiarities are comparative economic advantages that constitute a true challenge when it comes to turning them into possible pools of profit.
In 2002, you foresaw the end of Spain’s ‘Golden Age’. How and when do you see the end of the current state?
As an explanation for the end of this Golden Age as you call it, I must say that the presence of abundant and cheap money promoted competition between all of the financial entities and this released a sort of investment fever both in property and in stocks. We lived well above our possibilities thanks to an enormous debt rooted in the public administration, from business and properties; debt that now we must return with the added problems of refinancing: obtaining it and its subsequent cost.
We find ourselves now in the position of getting used to living by our own means, which means in an impoverished economy thanks to our external debt. This new era which we should start to live as soon as possible will be long and not without sacrifice. It is the sad consequence of having stretched the arm longer than the sleeve.
Before, countries would come out of crises like these devaluating the currency – now the single currency of Europe doesn’t allow for it. Therefore, the solution is in working more and better in spending less; in other words, increasing productivity in all sectors of economic activity and in this way recuperating our competitive spirit for our products and services both abroad and nationally. This way we can stabilize our public accounts, strengthen the balances and business account results, and individuals will be able to meet the deadlines of their obligations.
All of this is very easy to recommend but very difficult to achieve because sacrifices – when you’re coming from a privileged lifestyle – are painful, but they will be necessary during an extended period. It’s not a matter of one year or two; it’s enough to keep in mind the magnitude of our deficit and the total value of our debt as a country, not only of the
State and Public Administrations, but also of our businesses and homes.
Being from the Costa Brava (in the northeastern region of Spain), why did you decide to purchase a home in La Zagaleta (southern Spain)?
Our family has always been fond of the Costa Brava, and continues to visit during the summer.
For us, the sandy areas of the Pals beaches in the Bajo Ampurdan are a tranquil place where one can practice all sorts of sports, thanks to its peaceful climate during the month of August, although the season is very short, but very nice for a family vacation.
During many years in the 1980s, we spent a few days during the last of August and beginning of September in Estepona, invited by some close friends of ours, José Luis and Lala Ballve, who had a magnificent home where they enjoyed an extraordinary microclimate and beautiful views of the [Gibraltar] Strait. When our friends were gone, we maintained hope to have a home along the Costa del Sol.
A lifelong friend, Enrique Pérez Flores, invited us to visit his home in La Zagaleta and we verified that this was the perfect place in terms of what we were looking for, so we decided to acquire a home in the estate because it was the best we had found at that point. Strayed from the beach at some 400m of altitude with a perfect infrastructure and a service range that guarantees our comfort. A place like this isn’t easy to find.For one reason or another we come very little, but we always leave wanting to return soon.
How has La Zagaleta fit into your idea of luxury and excellence?
We weren’t looking for luxury, and fortunately, at La Zagaleta you won’t find ostentation, not even signs of it. Above all, we were looking for peace and tranquility, and here you definitely find it. Excellence for us is found in an almost silent environment where you only see whom you want and no one bothers you.
We found all of this in these former hunting grounds where the surroundings have been preserved. They contribute in maintaining within this environment – so unusual nowadays – the professional attitude of the entire staff that secures all services, from its sporting facilities to their administrative team, on to their restaurant, maintenance and gardening teams.
In summary, La Zagaleta provides an answer for all those looking for aplace to rest during different times of the year, not only during summer.