December 6, 2013
Renata Jacobs, entrepreneurSunday, November 3, 2013
‘‘Two years ago, I didn’t know what a cartonero was’
Born: Zurich, Switzerland
Education: International commerce at University of Zurich
Profession: Businesswoman, entrepreneur
Companies: Addeco, Barry Callebaut
Newspapers: Financial TimesWhen German-born Klaus Jacobs — chocolate magnate and billionaire philanthropist — died aged 71 in 2008, he left his personal fortune to his Swiss wife, Renata. Amongst other things, she inherited Adecco (a huge international recruitment agency based in 26 countries around the globe) and Barry Callebaut (the world’s largest choclatier). Her late husband bought land in Bariloche two decades ago and she fell in love with the country after spending lots of time here. For the last two years Renata has been working with the cooperative Las Madreselvas to provide and improve education for the children of cartoneros. She has also funded the private education of many children in Bariloche.
Why do you choose Argentina to carry out this project?
I have been visiting Argentina for many years now. My husband did business here and we bought land in Bariloche more than 20 years ago. I love Argentina... my father was Italian, so I feel I fit in here as I have that Latino side to me.
How did you come into contact with the cartoneros?
I met Lidia Quinteros who works with them in the foundation Tren Blanco. I wanted to help out with their children but we couldn’t come to an agreement and I ended up working with another cooperative: Las Madreselvas in Maquinista Savio (Zárate, in Buenos Aires province), where we created a support centre for the cartoneros’ children.
What relationship did you have with Lidia?
A few years ago I read an article about her in the newspaper and I was very touched by what I read. She’s a woman that didn’t have an education when she grew up, but thanks to her strong character, she has achieved many things that have improved other people’s lives.
Have you been able to see how the cartoneros work?
Yes, a couple of years ago I came to Buenos Aires with some friends — it was in March 2011. They wanted to visit the recycling plant in José León Suárez to see how the cartoneros recycled rubbish. I didn’t even know what a cartonero was then. I obviously had to change my clothes! I put some jeans and a T-shirt on and off we went.
What was it like?
I was very shocked at first. I was surprised at the conditions they were working in, with all the dirt and rubbish. But like anything in life, you get used to it. But I think that they are happy because they have a job. They are proud of the fact that they don’t live off the state. They don’t turn to crime like many people do.
What work have you been doing?
I have been working with their children, from five to 16 years of age, to support them in their education,three hours a day, from Monday to Thursday, with the help of three professional teachers. Fridays we have recreation.
How did the cartoneros react?
They are very happy. Their kids now have a place to learn and be whilst they are working, collecting throughout the city. The school is located next to the recycling plant, it is lovely. I paid for it to be reformed.
Why does a successful business woman from abroad want to help out in Argentina?
Because I love the country and I believe it is very important for these children to have a good education. This allows them to have a better life and gives them more opportunities in the future.
Why do you think business people and philanthropists decide to donate money and dedicate their spare time to philanthropy?
I think we have realized that we should have social responsibility as business people. But I think we all have to learn how to help each other in general, and to help those that have less.
Does this work generate any other type of advantage for you?
No, I do it because I believe that everyone deserves a good education and because I love this country.
You inherited the biggest chocolate company in the world...
Yes, when my husband passed away in 2008. There are other shareholders but I am the majority shareholder.
What was it like to take over?
I didn’t have any previous experience. I always talked with my husband and I helped him to make some decisions, but I had never run a company before.
How did he start out?
He founded two coffee-export companies before joining his family’s coffee business, Johan Jacobs & Co. (in 1961). He expanded it into chocolate and grew the company into Europe’s biggest chocolate and coffee seller, acquiring (Swiss) firms Tobler and Suchard (makers of the famous triangular Toblerone chocolate bar) along the way. He sold the combined company, Jacobs Suchard, to the US conglomerate Philip Morris (now Altria) in 1990 for 3.1 billion Swiss francs (US$2.2 billion at the time). He later acquired the Belgian chocolate producer Callebaut from which he went on to create the world’s largest choclatier, Barry Callebaut.
What did you learn from your husband?
He was very generous. He created the Jacobs Foundation which is now active in many countries all around the world. He was passionate about education and improving other people’s lives.
And you are only the owner of the recruitment agency Adecco...
Yes. In 1996 my husband merged the Swiss company Adia Personnel Services with French firm Ecco to form Adecco. I am now the director of the company.
What changes has Adecco experienced during the financial crisis?
We still work with people looking for a job. When the economy suffers a blip, companies tend to make cuts and people end up losing their jobs.
Has Adecco had to make cutbacks as a result?
One has to keep an eye open and be prepared for when an economic crisis hits, to remain a step ahead of things. If you have 100 offices and can see that a difficult period is coming, it is necessary to reduce the number of offices to 80, for example.
What do you think about temporary contracts? Are they on the rise?
It is something that is happening a lot in Europe, jobs with reduced hours as well, which is an option some companies take to avoid laying people off.
But isn’t this the wrong approach?
Yes, but we can’t change the way the world is. We need three or four years more to completely recover from this crisis.
Do you feel those temporary workers have lost their rights?
No. When you are an employee of a company you have your rights like anyone else. This doesn’t change at all when you have a short-term contract. The worker’s rights have to be respected as it’s the law.
Do you think business people and bankers have earned themselves a bad reputation in recent years?
Some have, especially with the bonuses that some bankers received after the crisis broke out. But now there are new rules and they have to publish their salaries.
Do you have more projects in Argentina?
Yes. I have been working with children in Bariloche where I have a ranch. I have been sending many of them to private schools so they can receive a better education.
Is Argentina a good country to invest in? Many foreigners have bought land around the country.
I can’t answer that. I am not going to get into politics. It is well-known that there are difficulties here.
What do you think about the actual government?
I don’t want to talk about politics. I have my opinion but I would like to keep it to myself.
What changes have you seen since you first came to Argentina all those years ago?
There have been many changes. There are now lots of good restaurants. People here speak more than just one language nowadays, not just Spanish. There is a lot more crime than before, more violence. I read The Financial Times, for example, and there are always new stories about the social problems in Argentina and the president, of course.