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What’s It Take to Succeed in Family Business? Alumnus Who Heads Spanish Wine Business Offers Advice

January 19, 2012
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Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo (MBA ’84), president and CEO of Grupo La Rioja Alta S.A.

“A family business can only survive if one member of the family is accepted and respected as the leader.” That is according to Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo (MBA ’84), who discussed “Leading with Innovation: Building a Thriving Family Business” as part of the University’s Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series in January.

Aranzabal is president and CEO of his family wine business, Grupo La Rioja Alta S.A., in Haro, Spain. He became president and CEO in 2005, the fifth generation to manage the company since it opened as a bodega in 1890.

Aranzabal discussed the tradeoffs of working in a family-owned and operated business, adding that separating business from family and acting as a mediator, no matter how challenging, is imperative to keeping both intact.

He also advised avoiding the pitfall of hiring family members for the sake of bringing them on board to the family business. “You need to find the best people for a job, you can’t hire people just because they’re family.”

While numbers may play an important role in countless businesses, Aranzabal’s family prefers not to concern itself with the company’s net worth.

“People ask me what the value of my company is, but I don’t care to know,” he said, explaining that the production of wine does not bring instant gratification. The long-term process of harvesting, fermenting, filtering and bottling can take anywhere up to 16 years from start to finish before making a profit. 

In addition to patience, he acknowledged that being diplomatic, paying a dividend to shareholders and keeping his family together by going on an annual vacation has helped keep the business afloat and his priorities in perspective.

Aranzabal also received degrees in law and economics from the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, and studied management at the University of North Carolina before receiving his MBA from the University of Miami. In 1995, he was inducted as the youngest member of La Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino, an order established to recognize those in the UK Trade who have shown an unwavering commitment in promoting Spanish wines.

The Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series was established in 1995 through the support of the Honorable Julia Chang Bloch and Stuart Marshall Bloch (AB ’64) to recognize alumni who have distinguished themselves through lifetime achievements and personal accomplishments.

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