Born in Barcelona in 1927, Mariano Puig, one of founder Antonio Puig’s four sons, became a chemical engineer and is also a graduate of IESE Business School. He held different positions at Puig prior to becoming its chief executive officer in 1957, at age 30, and served in that role until 1998. The executive was chairman of the Puig family holding company, Corporación Exea Empresarial, between 1996 and 2003, and president of the Puig Foundation until this past May. He reflects on some key memories here.
This story first appeared in the July 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How would you describe your father?
Mariano Puig: He was an open-minded person, a hard worker. He always listened to people and [after] asked questions. He was a great father and a great member of the family.
WWD: Was there pressure for you to join the family business?
M.P.: No. It was understood.
WWD: What are some of your earliest memories of Puig?
M.P.: We had to work in the company in a very depressed moment for all of Europe — after the [Spanish] Civil War and World War II. The late Forties was a very depressed time for our country and all of Europe in general, and the consumer market was very, very small. So just selling something was not easy.
WWD: Did you always like fragrance or was it something you needed to learn for the job?
M.P.: Early on I realized that [mine] was not a real excellent nose, so what we did was educate [other] people for that.
WWD: What were some of the biggest milestones in the company’s development and why?
M.P.: In a family business the succession — change of generation — is a very important moment. My generation has experienced two [of them], from our father to my generation and from my generation to the next generation. I can say now, looking at that with the perspective of time, that we have been very lucky. We’ve succeeded in both, enabling us to arrive at 100 years.
[Another key moment] was when we took responsibility. The first thing we did was to put around us very well-trained people [whose professionalism we could trust]. Then we created products. In the early Sixties, we found a company in the U.S. to distribute our products there.
After three or four years, we realized that to succeed in the U.S., we needed a French product coming from Paris. We had three alternatives: Hire a French company, but we didn’t have the money for that. The second was to get representation of a French company for distribution in the U.S.; we didn’t like that [possibility] because we would work for somebody else. The third option was to create our own brand.
I remember we made this decision in New York. I couldn’t sleep at all because I thought, “How can we create a brand in Paris? We are a very small company…known in Spain. Nobody else knows us. How could we do that?” But this was the real option to succeed. By chance, we arrived at an agreement with Paco Rabanne. We started the business with very little capital and four employees in France. We created Calandre [a women’s fragrance]. It was a great success in this period.
We didn’t have the money to buy competitive companies, but we felt ourselves able to create something. We defined ourselves as being brand-builders. So we were lucky enough in the early Eighties to find Carolina Herrera, when she started her fashion house in New York.
WWD: How has Puig maintained such healthy growth, even through Spain’s recent economic hardship?
M.P.: Our domestic market represents less than 15 percent of the company’s global revenues.
WWD: What are some characteristics that most define Puig today?
M.P.: The two assets we have are first, people, and then being able to develop brands — creativity.
WWD: What preparations are under way for the young fourth generation of Puig family members?
M.P.: We’d like in this period of time that they know the company…and be able to follow what is going on. We have people preparing them, meeting them. They can be more profitable in the governance than in the executive structure. We are preparing [them] to become responsible shareholders.