Ricardo Migueláñez. Agricultural Engineer. @rmiguelanez
Our Who's Who section this week highlights one of the most influential businessmen in Spain's agri-food sector: Pedro Ballvé Lantero. Born in 1954 in Burgos province, Ballvé has a law degree from the Autonomous University of Madrid. He studied in the US and trained at General Foods (Chicago) until, following the death of his father and the company's founder, he became Chairman of Campofrío Alimentación in 1985.
A lot has happened since then, and the Campofrío of that time is quite different from the current-day Campofrío Food Group. The original company, founded by his father around 1952, only achieved growth in Spain. Pedro Ballvé spearheaded its international expansion, and just two years after taking over the company, he made his first major financial decision: he bought back his shares of the company from Beatrice Foods in the US, and in 1988, he floated 10% of Campofrío.
In the 1990s, Campofrío fully launched itself internationally, becoming a multinational meat company with a foothold in places as diverse as France, Portugal, Russia, Poland, Romania and Argentina.
It acquired Omsa and Navidul in 2000 (the latter included Revilla), devouring its greatest rivals and reinforcing four of the leading meat product brands.
US group Smithfield Foods acquired 22.4% of the company in 2004, and Campofrío Food Group was created. The group acquired Italian company Cesare Fiorucci seven years later and, in 2013, the company's core shareholder, Smithfield, was acquired by Chinese food company Shuanghui International Holdings. Later, Mexico’s Sigma bought the stakes in Campofrío held by Oaktree Capital Management and CaixaBank, becoming the core shareholder.
Pedro Ballvé has always been at the helm of group businesses (alongside his brother, Fernando, who passed away in 2009), and not only Campofrío, but also other family investments, such as Telepizza (of which the Ballvé family acquired a controlling stake in 2007).
The company currently has 30 plants in Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Russia, with more than 7,000 employees, but its heart remains in Spain and, more specifically, in Burgos. There lies the plant that was recently destroyed in a fire, as well as the company's slaughterhouse and storage for Carnes Selectas. Close to 40% of the company's sales are in Spain, where it has a market share of 20%.
Up-close and personal
The first time I met Pedro Ballvé was at the Alimentaria food fair in 2012. When I first saw him, I thought "This is my chance!", and I handed him our newspaper and explained our editorial project, which at that time was on paper. He listened to me politely, but when he realized I was talking about communication and marketing, he directed me to the heads of those departments at his company.
A few years later, when Russia banned meat products, I had the chance to sit beside him at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment when the Russian authorities came to explain their government's decision. This time, I asked him for his opinion about the Russians’ explanation. He was serene and skeptical, and told me he saw no solution: "There's nothing anyone can do; the decision is based on other political motives".
Despite these interactions, those who know him well say he isn't always so serious, and behind his serene demeanor is a wonderful sense of humor, though I haven't seen that side of him as yet.
He's well-known for his ability to close a business deal, and despite the entry and exit of foreign capital in Campofrío, he has ensured that the Ballvé name is still associated with it, helping rank it 57th out of the 100 most valued Spanish companies.
It became clear that, with the fire at the plant this year, the company has a notable influence and is viewed very favorably by the people of Burgos, although today it's a global company. After many acquisitions and divestments, the Spanish firm is now in the hands of Americans, Mexicans and the Chinese.