With Women’s Day on March 8th, what can we learn from Spain’s female gourmet leaders in business? We talk to Rosa Vañó, Cristina Forner, and Carmen Corcuera to get their perspectives
If you’re looking for inspiration from women in business this March 8th, please tip your hat to some of Spain’s leaders in gastronomy - Rosa Vañó from Castillo de Canena olive oils, Cristina Forner of Marqués de Cáceres wines, and Carmen Corcuera of Quesos Corcuera. What can we learn from these women in their roles in fine foods and wines from Spain?
Carmen Corcuera from Quesos Corcuera.
Can you tell us about your background in this sector?
Rosa - “I come from a long line of olive producers, with land that allows us to farm olives and olive oil presses. I worked in USA companies in marketing and, when I turned 40, I thought it would be a good time to join the family business from our home at Castillo de Canena, to create a high profile brand of Extra Virgin olive oil”.
Cristina - “In 1984 I joined Marqués de Cáceres - founded in 1970 by my father Enrique Forner - in the heart of the Rioja Alta region, following the wine production knowledge he gained in France. He created the business from scratch, having been exiled in France during the Spanish civil war. Our family history and their resilience determined my full commitment when I decided to move from working in real estate in Paris, to taking over the global aspect of the company”.
Carmen - “Quesos Corcuera is a family business, founded in 1945 by my parents Eusebio Corcuera and Julia. As we (the children) grew, we started to be incorporated into the family business. I studied before joining the company, although I was elsewhere for a few years before I fully committed to the role. When my brothers and parents died, I assumed the leadership role and, today, the third generation is already involved, to continue the legacy of the brand”.
What are your secrets for success?
Rosa - “The 4 pillars of our success: Tradition, as our setting is several centuries old, then sustainability - trying to leave a better world than our forefathers. Innovation has been key, transforming the olive pressing procedure and, finally, our experience in olive oils, maintaining parameters of excellence, right down to the final product”.
Cristina - “Sacrifice, hard work, resilience and motivation have been the key to never giving up. At that time, I was a dynamic young woman, who spoke Spanish with a French accent. I moved from Paris to a rural environment where I had to embrace both the local way of living and also the different cultures and sensitivities when traveling around the world. This was a stressful period of great concentration - it was like a continuous intensive course on life and the world!”
Carmen - “There are no secrets: consistency, work and the strength to resolve everyday problems. Watch what the consumer wants, so you can adapt to changes and circumstances”.
How would you describe your role within the company?
Rosa - “I create brand positioning, we have a very characteristic portfolio with original gastronomic concepts, and with offers of menu pairings that have not been done before. I develop them and export these ideas to the 60 countries of the world where we work”.
Cristina - “When my father retired in 2007, I took on the Presidency of the Company at a time when the worldwide economy was facing a serious crisis. I greatly valued the support of our excellent team, developing a long term strategy during this period. We have since been in expansion, incorporating other Spanish DOs, such as Rueda and Ribera del Duero, to offer a greater portfolio of prestigious wines”.
Carmen - “My role in the company is to organize and plan the strategy at all levels, such as production and finance, and to motivate the employees by treating them as family members - depending on one another to achieve targets and goals”.
If any, what obstacles have you faced as a businesswoman during your career, and how have you overcome them?
Rosa - “I’m lucky to come from a background where I have not felt disadvantaged. However, back when we started to develop the brand, the industry was quite “male”. The warmth and respect within the category comes by working at it, along with the normalization of women in this sector. Just by coincidence, around 90% of our workforce is female, from the sales through the lab analysts. Because of this we have gained a Leader in Integration and Equality prize”.
Cristina - “Being a woman, assuming the continuity of the family business has not been at all easy. I was scrutinized during the first decade and had to be patient enough in order to show that my experience would prove that I was serious, looking for sustainable and consistent results. This builds you up with a strong profile to go through changes and experiences”.
Carmen - “I had to take the reins of the company and learn in giant steps, it was a hard task that helped me to grow as a person and become prepared for what was on my shoulders. I had never managed a company, but I was always certain that I would not fail anybody. This gave me the strength to go forward and I was surrounded by a good team that knew a lot more than me - I am still learning from them!”.
What were your biggest obstacles when expanding into the US market?
Rosa - “The US is a fascinating country and number one for olive oil. Italy has created an exceptional image for Extra Virgin olive oil that has since become acknowledged worldwide - Spain should always appreciate this. Secondly, the US is incredible and enormous - each region has its own cuisine and its own understanding of Extra Virgin olive oil. Thirdly, distribution is difficult to find and manage. These things for me are crucial for understanding the US market”.
Cristina - “The US is our first export market where our brand is one of the most recognized. You have to work hard to pursue excellence and maintain your market share while developing the business. We have a very tight relationship with our importer and his team who are fully committed to our brand and share our values, and we work very closely with our national distribution in order to evolve the style of our wines for the consumer”.
Carmen - “We were the pioneers in the US market by sheer coincidence. In a tradeshow my brothers attended in Barcelona, some influencers showed up, very interested in Manchego cheese and from that moment on we created family bonds that are still strong today”.
How has the world of business changed since the start of your career?
Rosa - “The world of business has changed a lot thanks to the internet. The traditional distributor cannot navigate this online channel, it is not the same as offline. The high quality olive oil sector is easier to sell as the consumer becomes more aware of what they’re paying for, what’s behind it all. Gastronomically speaking, the chefs are like Hollywood stars! Food has become culture and fun, people are willing to wait months to eat at a certain place and are capable of paying for it. Also, fundamental for modern business, you need to get on a plane and go - international business can’t be done at home, you have to put in the mileage and see how it works elsewhere”.
Cristina - “We work hard to maintain consumer loyalty, especially when customers like to discover new experiences. This is part of the task - we need to define new ideas and experiences to keep our wines popular. It is an exciting and challenging business that keeps us on our toes”.
Carmen - “My parents started out with a donkey and a moped in a very basic factory. With a lot of work and strength, we have grown and been able to keep a traditional practice that unites with modernity. Now we are in all of the important channels, being one of the biggest Manchego sellers - for this we will always be grateful to the Forever Cheese brand and their influencers”.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women in business?
Rosa - “Prepare yourself, and don’t assume that, being a woman, you are disadvantaged. The better prepared you are, the better you can execute your work role and overcome any obstacles as a woman in the workplace. Also, never turn your back on your family life for work. For me, being a mother is one of the most important things that has happened to me in my life, more than anything else, so don’t put work above that”.
Cristina - “Never give up. Professional or personal objectives should always be kept in mind. Consistency, resilience, optimism and organization to manage home and work, relying on people who help. And be yourself, do what you love, with passion, consideration, this is the way to fulfill a happy life”.
Carmen - “I can only talk from experience but we should not feel inferior - women have always worked but it has not always been valued. I lived a small town life and I’ve seen women go out in the fields with their husbands and then do all the household chores and look after the kids. My mother worked my whole life, but in her case she was valued, at least by me - she was an important pillar of Quesos Corcuera. Luckily, today women are more prepared to take up the same work roles as men. It’s very important to study, to achieve the status that women can be and to want to be on the same level as men, because we are of the same worth”.