“ Know what you want to do, don’t lose your hard ”Cristóbal ColónFounder, La FagedaSummaryAs one of Europe’s leading social entrepreneurs, Cristóbal Colón has grown his Catalonian dairybusiness into a company that takes on multinationals while providing dignity and meaning to the livesof individuals suffering from mental illness. Colón believes that in addition to having absolute clarityand consistency over the vision of their business, an entrepreneur has to assess their own personalityin order to succeed. This means being able to look objectively at their own skills, to understand thatyou don’t know everything, and to ask for help whenever required. “Try to be surrounded by peoplewho know more than you,” Colón explains. “A lonely entrepreneur doesn’t go too far.”
La Fageda 142Timeline 1971 Colón joins the staff “Imagine someone wanting to set up a business, except it will be of a mental hospital employing crazy people and is run by a psychiatrist whose name is 1982 Founds La Fageda as a social enterprise in rural Catalonia This was the unconventional business plan psychiatrist Cristóbal 2005 Named Spanish Colón took to the mayor of a small rural town in Catalonia over Social Entrepreneur of the Year by 30 years ago. Despite the protestations of the local authorities, the Schwab Foundation over 10 years of experience initiating work therapy treatments in a Spanish mental hospital had convinced Colón that mentally ill or 2009 La Fageda annual turnover exceeds handicapped people needed to be given real work, paid jobs that €9.8m were meaningful and involved making products recognised by the 2011 La Fageda employs over 250 people, market. of whom over 140 suffer some form “I did not know what a social entrepreneur was, or anything like of mental illness or handicap this,” Colón explains. “These concepts have been developed later need to look for a solution to a problem.” La Fageda was founded at a time when Spanish legislation did not consider that people with disabilities could work. Things have changed since then, but the labour market continues to regard people with mental disabilities with suspicion and fear. “A key skill for me and probably for all entrepreneurs is perseverance. When things don’t go well, try again but keep changing your strategies – if you always do the same thing you keep failing. Many times we have gone wrong and many times we have changed direction, but we never ever thought about giving up on the project.”“What inspired me was the need to look for a This commitment and dedication enabled La Fageda to overcome solution to a problem” the obstacles that any new business faces, as well as those unique to the particular project. “It is very important to have failures along the way in order to learn, but you don’t have to look for reverses, they come along just by living. It is because of this that being realistic is so important – the better you analyse the situation, the better you will sort the problems out.” Colón’s efforts and energies may be directed towards helping
143 La Fagedaothers, but there is no doubt that he is uncompromising when itan entrepreneur has to have is objectivity, to interpret reality as it is,not as I want it to be,” he says. “Being honest to oneself and othersis vital, as is the quality of humility: to understand that you don’tknow everything, and ask for help from people who know morethan you about those things you don’t know.”Far from being a negative experience, for Colón this approach is entrepreneur has toactually extremely liberating. “When you understand what you don’t have is objectivity, toknow, what you then do is learn every day, and try to be surrounded interpret reality as it is,by people who know more than you. That is fundamental: all or not as I want it to be”most entrepreneurs end up building a successful team, because alonely entrepreneur doesn’t go too far…”A dedicated teamLa Fageda, best known for its excellent dairy products includingwhom suffer from some form of mental illness or handicap. So whatdoes Colón ask for in his staff?“I ask mainly for commitment to the project, and the same attitudeof objectivity and honesty, which are the fundamentals. When youhave people like this, these are very powerful forces to drive yourproject.”compensation. “When one is committed to a project like ours, inaddition to remuneration you have a big reward on another level,which is being proud to participate in a social project, where not onlythe strict economical dimension,” Colón explains. “Commitmentalways comes with the important satisfaction of being part of andfeeling like a key player in the project.”Now that the business has been running over 30 years, competingwith giant multinationals such as Danone and Nestlé and withan annual turnover of close to €11m, can Colón recall any of theof great effort and many doubts – we didn’t know if it was goingto work.
La Fageda 144 “For example, we didn’t have a settled business plan, so we have tried many things that haven’t worked. When we started with the dairy products, we made mistakes because we didn’t have things clear; they could be huge mistakes, or tiny mistakes which, if you don’t correct them, become very important ones. “What is crucial is to observe very carefully what you are doing well and badly. We did well and grew because, even when we did badly, Commitment to the vision What is also clear about La Fageda is that, while there may have been no settled business plan in the early days, the vision for the project has never been in doubt. “Our project has a great virtue which is consistency; we have been 30 years knowing what we wanted to do and have never digressed from that,” says Colón. “This is absolutely essential for any company or entrepreneur. You have to know what you want to do, you have to be very coherent and not lose your path. “After that, it comes down to building a team of competent and committed people – and praying to have luck. Luck is a very important element. You can do things very well and have bad luck and then they don’t work.” Colón is not the type to trust everything to luck, however – good or bad. “There’s another element too – work very hard. To be honest, I think the general trading conditions for businesses are getting“We did well and grew worse, much worse, which means entrepreneurs will need to push because, even when harder and make greater efforts.” we did badly, we Given that he has such a passion for the project he founded, does have to be working always. Work is a very important part of life, but it is important that work is not everything in life; you have to complete life with other things. Most of the productive moments of often when I’ve gone for a walk in the mountains.” www.fageda.com