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Grupo Bimbo chair says socially responsible business is good business

Sara Lee, Wonder bread, Entenmann’s, Oroweat -- these companies have been bringing bakery products to the American people for decades, and are household names all over the country. Aside from gluten, they all have another ingredient in common: Mexican parent company Grupo Bimbo, which acquired these brands and more, making it the largest producer of bread products in the world.

If Grupo Bimbo’s impressive scale and economic success aren’t enough to wow you, consider that they’ve accomplished this dominance in the industry while practicing and preaching social responsibility. This applies both to employees and the environment, and is accomplished by following Christian social doctrines of respecting the dignity of the human person.

Roberto Servitje Sendra, co-founder and chair of Grupo Bimbo, spoke about “Making Business Truly Efficient and Truly Humane” at the University of San Diego Thursday. He stressed how vital innovation was to a company’s success, but added that doing so in a human-focused way is just as important.

“I am firmly convinced that a company not constantly improving productivity and innovation will fail,” Servitje Sendra said in Spanish through a translator. “But the most important thing in a company is not represented by profitability or technology, but by the human being. If this is done, everything else comes naturally.”

Servitje Sendra said following Grupo Bimbo’s guiding principle of a highly productive, fully human company begins with the employees. He said too many companies use employees like machines instead of integrating them into the work process, but at Grupo Bimbo, employees must be treated with respect and justice. This culture stems from management, which Servitje Sendra said is a critical component in realizing the dream of a socially responsible company.

“A company is what its people are, and people are what the management staff is,” Servitje Sendra said. “This leads to tremendous care and attention to selecting those who will be in management.”

He cited several examples of just how deep this respect and justice to employees can run. There was one instance where the wife of a long-time Marinela employee who had recently retired came to the company requesting a uniform because her husband wanted to be buried in it. This type of loyalty to the company isn’t uncommon.

It’s not just employees either. It’s everyone from customers to suppliers and consumers that Grupo Bimbo aims to please. Servitje Sendra sees the impact of this respect going far beyond the individual person.

“People in companies with a soul incorporate positive values into their lives,” he said. “In a social environment where, if all companies were dynamic and respectful, the social climate would be similar to that.”

In addition to the human aspect, Grupo Bimbo takes care to respect the environment in which it works. This includes 45 windmills with the capability to make Grupo Bimbo’s carbon footprint in Mexico neutral, rain catchment systems in all facilities, constantly reduced levels of waste, and the creation of Reforestamos Mexico, a group that plants trees by the million and cares for existing forests.

The company’s dream of following Christian values in the business world has become a reality in Mexico, but still has a ways to go in other parts of the world, according to Servitje Sendra. He said the United States is a particularly difficult country to achieve this in, because the corporate culture is so different.

Grupo Bimbo has several depots in San Diego, but no plans to expand in California anytime soon. Servitje Sendra said the amount of regulations in California make doing business here less than desirable, so the company chose to open a new factory in Phoenix instead.

“California is very difficult,” Servitje Sendra said. “We are not very happy with California. There’s a lot of problems to work here, in terms of regulations and everything. It’s very difficult and expensive. And then unions are difficult. We have three factories in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco, and we have many problems.”

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1 UserComments
Eze 10:48am October 26, 2012

Thank you for this article! I am doing a research paper on Grupo Bimbo for ethical and social responsibility and your interview questionnaire helped a bunch.