Every Christmas, the Fisas family won’t miss the trip that Gloria Vergés, the head of the family, plans. This trip undoubtedly serves to strengthen the "glue" that holds them together. The family has grown up hearing the story of how their grandfather founded the skincare brand, NATURA BISSÉ and how they live by the term “all in” which expresses the values embedded in the brand’s DNA.
Exclusively, and for the first time, we’re sharing a day with the whole family, in the typical Spanish way with paella and table talk after lunch to celebrate their 40 years of history.
Joaquín Serra (the teddy bear) and José Borrell (the jokester), are the ones who roll up their sleeves and cook for everyone on the weekends. Verónica (Fisas), is the one who gives good advice and encourages them reflect on it. When the family wants to take a trip or have a good laugh, they call Patty (Fisas). Ricardo (Fisas), who has just arrived after living in Dubai seven years, and his funny anecdotes, are their greatest discovery. Their grandmother and eternal protector is always looking out for the family. This is how the third generation of the Fisas family defines some of their family members just before they hop on a plane in the morning with friends to travel through Europe on Interrail.
So, I ask myself, what holds a family together like this? A day together with them is more than enough time to figure it out. They live by a mantra of “shared projects, legacy, long term, and all in”. At least, these are the most repeated words by each of the family members on the day we spent with them in the Costa Brava, a coastal region north of Barcelona, known for its delicious seafood and breathtaking views. By joining this family on a Sunday, with traditional Spanish dishes, dances, and a volleyball game, I observed no sign of quarrels, rivalries, or lack of harmony. Everything flows among the members of the Natura Bissé saga. It must be because they are masters in strengthening that "glue" (as they call it) that brings together and unites the people of the house.
Natura Bissé just celebrated its 40th anniversary since patriarch Ricardo Fisas (deceased in 2012), founded the Spanish luxury skincare company and expanded the brand worldwide with subsidiaries in Spain, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the Arab Emirates United along with having a presence in 35 countries. The brand has accomplished great international exposure and success from starting out in an apartment in Barcelona with just five creams to having Mohamed Al Fayed announce Natura Bissé as one of the 25 best companies in the world, during the inauguration of the Harrods White Hall in 2002. I was told that when Gloria heard this news, she was noticeably moved.
Now, they have five subsidiaries all over the world and are about to launch their new headquarters in Barcelona. Natura Bissé is the exclusive, and only, Forbes Travel Guide Official Skincare Brand and, in 2018, was chosen “World’s Best Spa Brand” at the World Spa Awards. In addition, they have the Ricardo Fisas Foundation, through which they perform aesthetic treatments for oncology patients and host a program to help children with learning differences such as dyslexia.
AT FIRST THERE WERE TWO… AND NOW THEY’RE EIGHTEEN
Behind the project there are three generations involved: the first (Ricardo Fisas and Gloria Vergés), who founded this company when he became unemployed at age 50. "We had 4 children, the oldest who was 14. He tried to find another job, but nobody called him. He realized that at that age no one would hire him. So, he decided that he didn’t want to work for anyone and that we were going to start our own company. I was running numbers through my head and things didn’t add up: schools, the house, etc. But I always trusted him, "Gloria recalls. The second generation (Verónica and her husband Joaquín Serra, Patricia and her husband José Borrell, and Ricardo Fisas Jr.), are responsible for the brand’s internationalization and are now in leadership of the company: Verónica, as CEO; Joaquín Serra, Business Development Director; Patricia, Innovation and Product Development Director; José Borrell, Financial Director, and Ricardo, Corporate Communications Director.
The third generation (a total of 10, between the ages of 13 and 23), are being guided with the help of expert advisors to be developed as good shareholders.
#NaturaBisseWoman: Natura Bissé was founded by 12 women and 2 men. As Gloria says, “we began the #MeToo movement years ago”. Today, 87% of its workforce are women, and three of the five subsidiaries around the world are run by women.
They are very clear that "working in Natura Bissé is not a right or an obligation." Their childhood has passed hearing the ongoing murmurs of the family company: when their parents arrived from work, on the way to school, and during the weekends. However, when you ask them about Natura Bissé, they associate it with “being a comfort zone, existing as a family place, our grandparents’ place, and providing an outlet to enjoy effort and hard work.”
Alejandra (Patricia and José’s daughter) remembers how her mother wasn’t always home on her birthdays because it coincided with Natura Bissé’s National Conference in the US, but she also recognizes her mother’s perseverance and sacrifice. The entire Fisas family share this series of values. As Verónica says, "the family business makes you think about life issues. Family or company? What am I working for? What do I want to leave for the next generation? Ultimately, profitability and the emotional support within the company are equally important because everyone is involved.” Mar Raventós (former president of Codorníu) told me that she devoted most of her time to this, to family cohesion."
No doubt, Ricardo was a visionary, introducing the "Family Council" and "Family Protocol" into the company. This was triggered by a lecture he attended given by a Harvard expert on these issues in Madrid. He learned it was important to understand the rules of the game: the cohesion plan, the shared vision, and the road map. Gloria remembers, when he returned to Barcelona, he told her: “We have to delegate duties on the next generation and take a step back. I don’t want what usually happens to family businesses to happen to us, that the children are unclear of their role in the company’s future and are anxiously waiting to take over.” He gathered everyone and shared he was retiring. The children agreed that Verónica would take over the reins. The next day, he emptied his office and moved to a smaller one near her. He was very kept together and very generous. Ricardo said to his daughter: "Whatever you decide, I will support you." And, he always did. In fact, Verónica confesses that when her father passed away, it was especially difficult for her. "Even though we had made the generational transition, he was truly always there. I knew that at 7pm I could go to his office and we would talk. Then that time disappeared after his passing and I felt the weight of the company and family on my shoulders at the same time. I understood that it was best to share that weight, to be helped," Verónica recalls.
In that conference, Ricardo also met Julia Téllez, lawyer and member of law firm Gómez-Acebo & Pombo’s Advisory Board, and who also became member of the Family Council and of Natura Bissé’s Administration. Now, she is responsible for training the third generation to be responsible partners." They are free to develop their vocation. If someone is excited to enter and work at the company, there must be a vacancy and they must compete for the position with others. There is something important to consider in this type of business, you cannot simply create jobs for family members," she explains.
Because family is the greatest asset, but also the greatest risk, studies show that 30% of companies survive from the first to the second generation, and 15% from the second to the third. “But, those that pass are almost 30% more profitable than non-family companies,” Verónica comments. The key to survival: “We are all smart enough to forget the bad moments and mistakes, which are there, but we build on them,” she declares.
OUR GRANDPARENTS: THE STARTING POINT
Ricardo’s standards are always on their mind. Gloria tells me that sometimes, when her grandchildren are debating a certain issue, they will say things in passing like: "Grandfather would not like this...” and she gets goose bumps hearing this. It is probably due to the fact that, like with many grandparents, some phrases or life lessons were especially repeated and instilled in the new generations. Sofía (Verónica and Joaquín’s daughter) remembers when she told Ricardo that she couldn’t do something, and he answered: "If I gave you 1,000 Euros, would you do it? And, I said, yes. Well, let's do it, he would answer." Lorenzo (Ricardo and Kokes’ son) fondly remembers "when my grandfather retired it was like he didn’t want to, he said to us cheekily: 'If you don’t give me a job I'll start up another competing brand!” Alejandra (Patricia and José’s daughter) read the book Ricardo wrote, Brushstrokes of a Lifetime, at 13, and acknowledges that he was a great role model, as is Gloria, matriarch of the clan, referred to as “Mother Hen” by the family. For her grandchildren, she is also their greatest protector and ally. "She has always been our defender," Sofía confesses. The grandchildren call Gloria many weekends to ask her if they can sleep over because they are going to party (and she lives in the center of Barcelona). "The next day she waits for me to wake up (usually pretty late) only because she wants to have breakfast with me, "Alejandra acknowledges fondly.
The son-in-laws also share the same sentiment toward Ricardo and Gloria. José affirms that his mother-in-law "is the soul of Natura Bissé and my father-in-law the generosity. They got me to really be part of the family. You are their daughter’s husband and you get along. But, they wanted me to go further with my involvement. The first years I gave my opinion from the distance and Ricardo told me to 'give me more'. I remember when one of the minority partners sold their shares and he said, 'go for them, negotiate, do it!' I do not know if I would be able to do the same with a son-in-law of mine. He was so generous." Joaquin, who lived in the US for many years, was responsible for implementing the brand in the US market. He remembers how much Natura Bissé struggled to enter into Bergdorf Goodman’s on Fifth Avenue in New York. "We needed a treatment room so customers could feel the products on their own skin. And once they did, they never looked back. We did not have publicity or other ways to make ourselves known. They offered me a small space on the ground floor and Ricardo asked me, 'But are you sure that this is the right place for Natura Bissé?' Nevertheless, he supported me. Because, even if Ricardo thought that it was not the right decision, if he saw that you were sure about something, he supported you. And we sure got it right!”
Soon after, we were featured on the cover of WWD under the title “Natura Bissé Hits the Jackpot”. I called Ricardo crying, “we did it!" For Patricia, her parents’ example “has been exhilarating!”
Verónica recalls seeing how her parents got home and supported each other, how they left the company’s problems outside the family and how her father had worked all his life on others’ projects, and he was looking forward to his own. “He admired the figure of the honest businessman, who creates value, who gives back to society what it has given him," she says. For Ricardo, "the soul of the company has been my mother,” and he explains how the internationalization attributed to the second generation’s success. It began "with my parents, who in the seventies enrolled us in an English school, something very rare in Barcelona at the time. Learning the English language allowed us to expand beyond our borders and become an international company,” he says.
THIRD GENERATION: HOW TO BE A GOOD SHAREHOLDER
Gloria challenges her granddaughters, who are in the middle of choosing their careers and universities: "Don’t any of you want to be a chemist? Sofía, chemistry? And you Alejandra, you neither?" Because for their grandmother, it’s very clear: "I would like Natura Bissé to remain a family business." But, nothing is given for free, because "working here is not a right or an obligation" (another extremely repeated phrase in this house).
José Borrell speaks of "responsibility, thinking long-term, common sense…these are words that I constantly transmit to my children. Facilitate yes, give lightly no. You do not necessarily have to be with us. This is not free." Ricardo believes that "the challenge of this third generation is to become responsible company shareholders. In the future, management will be in the hands of expert professionals who are not family members. Maybe not, maybe one of them gets involved, but the important things first." The girls confess to me that when they were little, they asked each other, "Who will be Aunt Patty when she grows up? And who will be Verónica? Ricardo?" But they soon understood that this approach was an error because the key is to form themselves as responsible shareholders.
They agree, “we want to go out and spread our wings, work, and then, if there is a place for us in Natura Bissé and if we have something to contribute, we can see if everything fits.”
“We will always be linked to the company in one way or another. Just being a responsible shareholder for the future project is enough of a challenge," says Pía. Lorenzo, who has just arrived from Dubai, emphasizes "that being a family business, our parents think in the long term, in children and grandchildren. They bring us together to explain how to be good shareholders, how to contribute to the company. Maybe in a non-family business they don’t think so much in the long run." For Sofía, Natura Bissé is "love, effort, and fun. There is no jealousy, there is no competitiveness. Everyone has their clearly defined roles, and that is important.” They know what they are good at and give some ground in what they’re not experts at, and she assures that "it is very nice to see how they preparing to hand us the baton in the future." Alejandra emphasizes that "if I can contribute something to Natura Bissé in the future, great, but first I think I will work in different places.” Lucía, who has been combining studies while working in the company for two years, tells me: "I have it in my blood and what I like the most is the female leadership, that everyone helps you and is interested in your general wellbeing, not just work."
THE FUTURE: MORE TALENT, DELEGATING AND LEARNING TO SAY NO
There is no shortage of plans on the family’s mind. Verónica says that "the ambition was to double the volume and turnover for 2022. But not grow to grow, but think strategically for the very long term and, particularly, in markets where we have opportunity like China and Korea, although we want to continue growing where we are present already.” And, to achieve this, they are beginning to delegate.
The family is the first to set an example by bringing in other managers. They have a new Industrial Director in Spain, a new Chief Commercial Director and a new Marketing Director. These responsibilities were previously executed by members of the family. They have realized that, either they ask for help, or success isn’t going to be possible.
Patricia highlights the objective of not losing the brand’s essence: "We are skincare. We don’t do hair, perfume... We've always been pretty true to our own area of expertise and industry. For example, now there is a boom for vegan-friendly, organic, paraben and alcohol free, products. It seems to be that the simpler the product, the better. For Natura Bissé, effectiveness, results, and safety prevail. Patricia adds: "Our strength will continue to be the ingredients, their concentration, and the art of the emulsion.”
The new headquarters are also a declaration of intentions, developed in an area without outside noise and with natural light, where the factory, warehouse and office co-exist on one property. José Borrell, who’s in charge of the project, explains his company culture. This building space will push sustainability. Several eco-sustainable systems support the perseverance of the environment, such as obtaining a LEED certificate, implementing solar lights, cultivating vegetation and meeting the requirements of an ecological park.
We are Mediterranean. We like to be with the family and to play sports. We do not want a company with a daycare, a gym or weekend plans. Pay the employees what they need so that they can take their child to the nursery they want, go to the gym of their choosing, and enjoy their friends and family outside of the office. Another challenge, according to Ricardo is: "managing talent. Before, generations were looking to have 10 - to 15-year careers in a company. Now, young people come, they are working with us for two years and they want to spread their wings more. They want experiment and personally grow and develop in our project. We have to adapt and be able to generate these projects for people to stay. "
Original Telva article
Written by Paloma Sancho | Photos: Toni Mateu | Production: Cristina García Vivanco and Almudena Carnicero.