José Salmerón Guindos takes a European Social Fund course for entrepreneurs in Spain and learns innovative ways to run a successful business.
“I worked hard to create my own business from nothing. However, when I almost lost everything, I realised I needed to make some big changes,” says José Salmerón.
The 47-year-old heads a fast growing medium sized business, Grupo Salmerón, specialising in metalworking and building products and services. As he eats breakfast by the swimming pool at his country villa, he looks every bit the successful businessman.
However, his path to success has not always been a smooth one. He grew up in the wildly beautiful region near Sierra Nevada. The son of small-scale farmers, his early life was hard. “When I was a child, everything we had on our plate or in our house came from the land or the animals on it,” he says, “We didn’t even have electricity until I was 15.”
Although his parents wanted him to continue with farming, José had other ideas. “I saw that my parents did not evolve. I wanted to try a different way of living and earning money.”
He left school at 14 with no formal qualifications. However, being hard working and adaptable, he turned his hand to many types of works – on the land, in the military, with animals and in construction. Eventually, he discovered he had an aptitude for metal work and learnt how to weld.
In 1983, with money borrowed from friends and relatives, he started his own factory making car trailers and building fixtures. Initially he operated from a tiny 20m2 premises and, together with wife Concepción, ran all aspects of the business.
However, in the early years progress was haphazard. “We didn’t really run it as a business. To tell the truth, we didn’t even really know what a business was,” remembers José. “It was often hit or miss.”
The business took over their lives as they took a hands-on role in all operations. “I used to think I could do everything myself,” he says.
Then crisis hit. They lost their biggest client and the company was on the edge of bankruptcy. After having invested so much of himself in the business, he fell into a deep depression. “For about one and a half years, activity in the business fell to virtually nothing,” says José.
He went to see a psychologist and things began to turn around – both personally and professionally. The therapist suggested that business training could change how José ran the company and relieve the pressure.
José took a course for entrepreneurs co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund and rune by EOI Business School. The course gives entrepreneurs counselling and training on how to improve their companies and expand their markets, by bringing in innovative practices and improved networking.
He was an enthusiastic learner. “My initial course was supposed to be 500 hours. I think I must have done about 1000, ” he laughs. “I used to chase my teachers down the hallways after classes asking questions.”
The training changed how he thought about business. “I learned that it is not enough to be good at one job to run a company. You may be the best worker, but it doesn’t mean you will be the best manager. You need training to lead a company,” he says.
José applied what he learned on the course to his business and transformed the way it operated, bringing in specialist staff and new processes. “I was able to put into practice what I was learning,” he says. “I saw the results immediately.”
The business has now diversified and is growing fast. In the last seven to eight years, the staff has doubled to over 70 full-time workers.
Since 2005 there have been four divisions to the group – dealing with the manufacture of trailers and small decorative metal items; real estate and property management; larger scale engineering projects such as the frameworks for shopping centres or factories; and a distributor for aluminium items such as garage doors, frames or handrails.
Annual revenues of the company are now around €10 million and plans are to double the factory in the next three years. However, he insists that money is not the main motivation. “My main objective is doing things well and I hope that other companies can learn from my experiences and apply my methods.”
After his positive experiences José is now evangelical about training and it has become core to the company. Supporting the community and region where he has lived his whole life is another priority. “We prefer to hire people from the local area. If they have basic training they can learn more in-house and become involved in the business.”
“I’ve learned that the most important thing in a business is the people. I’m really proud of the team we’ve built. Together we are prepared for the future … whatever it brings,” he says. “I’ve got what I couldn’t have dreamt about. I couldn’t dream about it because I did not know it existed.”