Report

Interview with Mr. Jaume Freixas, European Controller for Velcro Europe SA


Your firm has a long business tradition in Catalonia. Could you tell us more about its origins and evolution over these years?

April 2013.- It was the Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 who saw, on returning from a day’s hunting, the properties of some flowers covered with thousands of small barbs that stuck to the skin of animals and clothing. From that moment he investigated and researched this characteristic, determined to find a way to reproduce artificially what he saw in nature. Finally, in 1955, he patented his invention (the name Velcro comes from the combination of the first syllable the French word for hook velour and crochet). Today VELCRO® is a registered trademark owned by Velcro Industries BV.

In 1958, José de Navas Esaider, after living for 10 years in the United States, decided to return to Catalonia. He acquired the licence for the product for Spain and Portugal and went back to his hometown, Argentona. There, in 1959, interested in furthering the growth of the town, he set up Velcro Española SA, its first major industrial factory.

Today, the European headquarters is still is in Argentona, Barcelona, with a manufacturing plant and office space, equipped with the latest technology. Velcro Industries BV is at the forefront of a global, technology-driven organisation that provides elegant and innovative fastening solutions for companies and consumers all over the world. With over 50 years experience behind the Velcro companies, we are proud of our innovation legacy. Velcro Industries BV owns over 400 active patents and numerous trademarks, including the world famous VELCRO® brand. The group also has manufacturing plants in the US, Canada, Mexico and China.

Velcro

It’s unusual that decision-making centres in Catalonia / Spain provide service to Nordic countries. What is the importance of the Catalan office within the Group’s European operations?

Velcro Europe SA, is the Velcro company that manufactures and provides client service, either directly or through other sales companies of the Group in Europe, to the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa). Furthermore in Argentona we also centralise the areas of warehouse logistics and marketing, for example.

As I already mentioned, the distribution of the Velcro® brand products to the EMEA region is done through different channels: via other group companies in Europe (France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain); via large distribution groups (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Israel and South Africa); and directly to end users (manufacturers).

Can the diversification of your product applications in alimentation and building sectors represent new business opportunities for Catalonia and the business sector in general?

Our product has a wide range of applications. Although we try to work in all of them (clothing, footwear, wiring, furniture, etc.), our focus is on six main high-potential sectors: personal care (diapers), transportation (automotive and others), packaging (especially in the food area), construction (solar panel installation and other applications), medical (orthopaedics and other medical devices) and end consumer uses.

The packaging and construction sectors are the newest areas we are concentrating on. In packaging we are offering fastening solutions for flexible packs whilst in construction we are taking a bolder approach and we offer fastening systems for photovoltaic panels, tiles or flooring systems. Our focus is to offer solutions that go beyond the mere fastening aspect for any application that needs to be opened and closed more than once.

In all cases our fundamental pillar is innovation, where we often develop products in collaboration with the clients as a way to help them grow effectively with unique, highly added-value products.

Velcro

What role will the Catalonia branch play in your company’s future strategy?

The Catalan branch plays a key role in making decisions affecting the rest of the Velcro companies in Europe, always in line with the company's overall strategy and in coordination with other regions, the Americas and APAC.

Velcro as a group is present around the world, organized into 3 global areas: the Americas, EMEA and APAC (Asia Pacific). The EMEA market is very important and Velcro Europe SA plays a key role.

Your company has opted for diversification and internationalization as a way to deal with the crisis. What other instruments are available to companies -in your opinion- to increase their activity in the current context?

Innovation is vital. Listening to and understanding the needs of our customers, talking with them and being able to identify their needs and then offer solutions most adapted to them.

In this highly competitive and constantly changing world innovation, in its broadest sense, is essential: developing new products and applications, searching for new ideas, exploring new global markets, new ways of organizing the business or of reaching out to potential customers. It all boils down to staying open-minded. You cannot stay still, you have to constantly look for opportunities not just to grow, but sometimes to survive.

Velcro

From the point of view of a foreign multinational company, what are Catalonia’s competitive advantages when it comes to attracting new investment projects?

Catalonia has often been one of the main beneficiaries -in a Spanish context- of direct investment of foreign capital from large industrial firms: many companies with several factories in Spain began their activity with the installation of plants here in Catalonia or through acquiring local companies here, and later expanded to other regions of Spain. In fact, this process still continues, and Catalonia is still, by far, the leading region within Spain in terms of industrial foreign direct investment. Undoubtedly the combined traditions of Catalan manufacturing and entrepreneurship are a major asset behind the consolidation of this trend.

The extensive industrial ecosystem of small and medium-sized exporting companies, the added simplicity of being able to receive and send goods via the port of Barcelona, the transport network infrastructure connecting us with the rest of Europe (although we still lack the appropriate rail network) and the power of the Barcelona brand are all factors that give true competitive advantage in Catalonia over other regions.

From your position as Catalan Business Ambassador, what role do you think local managers in multinational companies should play to ensure the continuity of multinational presence and to attract new projects to Catalonia?

Often the strategic decisions of investment or disinvestment are related to issues beyond the reach of local managers. However, the role they can play, and a very important one, is that of ensuring that the operations carried out within their area of responsibility are positive for the company, and that they demonstrate the vitality of Catalonia in the field of innovation while also acting as an example for other units. This is the best way to ensure continuity or to attract new investments. Facts speak louder than words.

Finally, what advice would you give the managers of foreign companies who are currently considering the possibility of doing business in Catalonia?

Well, the first thing I would say is that Catalonia is a modern country, with a desire not only to work but to work well, with extensive experience in manufacturing companies, a relatively important area of scientific research, open-minded to other cultures while preserving their own, technologically prepared for future challenges and, last but not least, with an excellent quality of life on all levels, from gastronomy and entertainment to climate and diversity.

Velcro
Velcro Europe, SA set up in Argentona in 1959. Today, the company employs 300 workers and has a turnover of 38 million Euro.
The Catalan branch plays a key role in making decisions affecting the rest of the Velcro companies in Europe, always in line with the company's overall strategy and in coordination with other regions, the Americas and APAC.
JFreixas

Short bio

James Freixas’ career has always been linked to multinational companies, particularly in the financial area.

He began his professional life in Novalux North America, Inc. subsidiary of the Dutch multinational Philips. Later he joined Philips Informática y Comunicaciones SA. Finally, in 1993, he joined the European Headquarter of the multinational Velcro Industries NV, Velcro Europe SA (Argentona), which manufactures and sells mechanical contact fastener systems.

Jaime Freixas has a degree in Business Administration and MBA from the Graduate School of Business Administration (ESADE). Among other specialized studies, he has completed the Financial Management Program at the Institute of Financial Studies (IEF) and ADE Program (Senior Company Management) at ESADE. Jaume is a Business Ambassador, appointed by the Government of Catalonia, in recognition of a distinguished career that has contributed to making Catalonia known around the world for its talent and international work.

Catalonia in Business