All fired up
The passion and verve with which Rosa Sugranes tells of how she founded her small ceramic tile business and slowly turned it into a multi-million dollar venture is what immediately strikes you when chatting with the ambitious girl from Barcelona turned respected member of the Miami business community. Her hands are as expressive as her flurry of words, and her enthusiasm is outdone only by her Spanish charm. Rosa is open and smiles often as she reveals how she brought her father’s tile company from Barcelona to the “New World.”
Rosa arrived in Miami with her father at file age of 22 armed with a diploma in Economic and Business Sciences and an eye to studying for an MBA. Her father’s plan was to open up a US branch of the family’s thriving ceramic tile business, and Rosa was there with him to study in the mornings and lend a hand with the business in the afternoons.
The original partnership soon fell through after the partner admitted he was penniless. Faced with a failed project before it had even begun, Rosa’s father turned to his daughter with a whole new proposition that left her nervous but thrilled: “He told me, ‘I don’t have a partner, and I’ve already signed a warehouse lease. Why don’t you do your master’s degree in practice, rather than theory, and instead of going to university you can be president of the company?’ It was a proposition I just couldn’t turn down.”
With $100,000, an empty warehouse, and a couple of phones on a bare floor, Iberia Tiles was born.
Young and with only limited experience in the tile business, Rosa set to work with an enthusiasm bolstered by what she calls “the dumb security of youth.” “You think you know everything at 22, but really you are very stupid,” she says, reminiscing over her first years in Miami.
Blind confidence, hard work, and the thrill of being the first to bring the art of ceramic files to the semi-tropical land of art deco architecture that is Miami, were the driving forces in the beginning, explains Rosa, who feels that if she had had a greater understanding of the risks involved, she would have never even attempted it.
Absorbed in the company’s progress, she admits that she barely noticed the new culture around her and only managed to learn English by bringing in teachers to her office while she juggled the ins and outs of creating. a showroom that would catch the eye of Miami homemakers.
“Europeans can show Americans many things about the ceramic tiles industry,” she explains. “They [Americans] are maybe 40 years behind us in tile malting, and this means, unlike pretty much everything else, we can teach them something.”
Established suppliers to the family business in Barcelona were happy to curtail demands for payment when the company needed to extend its credit. Also, an eye for the beautiful art of European tiles helped Rosa as she nurtured the business. “I knew more than I thought,” she admits. “I found I could hire people and easily explain how to create a beautiful showroom that people here had simply never seen before.”
The lack of bureaucracy in the United States, unlike Europe, was a refreshing change to Rosa as she started up Iberia Tiles: “It was boom, boom!” she said, slapping her hands on the table for effect. “You have your company all set up–it’s all very easy.”
The hard part was making the business a success, says Rosa. The secret she says is to work as hard as you can and to keep the bottom line in sight at all times. She laughs at the follies that led to the bursting of the Internet bubble and has shied away from the trend of basing companies on investment bank cash. She admits that maybe she is a little old fashioned in how she runs the business: “There are three things I’ve learned about running a company: hire good people; lead them rather than trying to manage everything; and watch the bottom line,” she says, emphasizing every word.
After live years of running the business, Rosa married and had two children. During this time, her husband helped to run the business as president of the company. By the early nineties, as the company started to make a name for itself and their children were in school, Rosa says she finally had a moment to relax and began to look around the country that had helped her develop into a respected businesswoman.
As she explored the culture, she found an aspect of American life that appealed to her sense of justice and gratitude at being given the chance to give back to the community. Rosa is enthralled by the “go get it” attitude of the Americans and believes the US’s relative classlessness, compared to Europe, produces levels of social responsibility not seen in Spain:
“In Spain, if someone makes a lot of money, they buy five houses and travel around the world; but here they want to give back to the country that gave them so much. This kind of personal responsibility is fascinating, and has been a valuable learning experience.”
As Chairman of the Board, Rosa still runs the company’s various warehouses and showrooms, but has also become an active member of charities and chambers of commerce in Miami.
But will she ever go back to Spain?
“Our life and home are here, and we feel like we are Americans. We still have many Spanish traditions and friends, and maybe, now that we’re middle-aged,” she says, laughing as ff the possibility had only just occurred to her, “we’ll start thinking about a little house in Spain to visit when we retire.”
But listening to Rosa discuss her plans, it’s hard to believe that retirement will he coming any time soon.
Founder & Chairman
Iberia Tiles 2975 NW 77th Ave Miami, FL 33122
Paul Day is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American business news.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Ferraez Publications of America Corp.
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