“IN ALL MY DICTIONARIES I ALWAYS HAVE STARTED THE PAGE WHERE THE IMPOSSIBLE WORD WAS WRITTEN”
Jordi Subirana has been doing the impossible during 30 years.
In 1986 he founded Tecnología Difusión Ibérica (TDI), the first oenological analytical company that existed in Spain. “They said I was a liar,” he recalls with a touch of irony, without losing his smile, recalling the great difficulties he had to face in the beginning.
He was born by accident in a clinic in Barcelona on October 20, 1950 -”because, a little more,” she explains,”and my mother gives birth to me on a train”- but she lived and grew up in France, where she learned principles of republicanism and became a fervent pro-European. While still studying, he began working at the company BSN (Boussois-Souchon-Neuvesel) -which more later would take the name of Danone- and at the age of 24 was already director of the branch of Limoges. Shortly afterwards there were those who considered him the best seller in France. It was days of wine and roses. Pleased with the best cabarets in Paris, he shared tablecloth with Omar Sharif or Angie Dickinson and enjoyed an enviable current account. But despite his social and professional success, Jordi Subirana did not want to tie himself for life to a multinational. “I was looking for something of a human dimension, where people were more important than numbers. I’ve always been a free man,” he confesses. And in the early 1980′s it began to shape an innovative idea with the horizon set in Spain.
“THE SUITCASE AND WHEELS ALREADY EXISTED, BUT SOMEONE HAD TO HAVE JOINED THEM AND FACILITATE THE LIFE. AND THAT WE HAVE MADE IN THE ANALYTICS, USING WHAT ALREADY EXISTED AND FINDING A MOST USEFUL PRACTICAL APPLICATION”
In my house did not drink wine, my father did not drink wine and I did not know what wine was. It seems a joke of fate that the one who was called to found the pioneering company of the oenological analysis in Spain had no previous relation with the wine world. Of course, he also had no connection with food, despite working for more than 10 years in a multinational sector. He graduated in mechanical engineering, a specialty that he never got to practice. “Things often happen unintentionally, you look and you do not find and, at a certain moment, they happen without looking for them. A friend who worked with me, lived next to a person who was in the world of analytics, but of the medical like all. I began to talk to him about many things and, from there, the idea of how we could adapt analytics to the field of oenology was coming up”. TDI’s embryo was beginning to grow. From the beginning, Jordi Subirana was modeling his project guided by the signs of identity that have presided over the company throughout his career. A company made by people -”the most important thing is that they are good people”- to be aware that, at the outset, there is nothing impossible. In addition, it maintains a motto that somehow sums up its way of seeing life: the mixture of Germanic rigor and Latin flexibility. “If you do this, I tell you, it works. And then, make it simple, don’t complicate your own life , in life you must don’t complicate your life yourself”.
This simplicity translated into the professional field even leads to questioning the commonly used concept of “research and development” which, in his opinion, is not usually used properly. “Many of the things that are said to be research are not actually, but simply use elements that already exist. The suitcase and wheels already existed, but someone came to join them to make life easier, just as it occurred to someone to join a stick and an owl to dignify the work at home. And the same thing we have done in analytics, everything existed previously, but we have found a more useful practical application. Investigating, on the other hand, is something else, happens when 30 or 130 people are looking for the sex of the angels, the rest are applications, the wheels of a suitcase.”
But despite the simplicity of this innovative character, the first steps of TDI in Spain represented a small revolution compared to the usual way of making wine. The company was in a mostly skeptical and sometimes overtly hostile territory. “I was treated as a liar because in this country there was no culture of making wine analytically. There were four oenologists who came from French universities, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Dijon, as Miguel Torres, people with whom you could talk, and there were others who did not have higher education who also communicated with my ideas, but in general it was very complicated.”
“Wine is God’s thing”
Such was the immobility that existed in the 1980s, even those who believed that winemaking was based on divine designs and not on scientific criteria. “I remember, once, that I was in La Rioja with the technical director of a great winery, splendid, a fantastic thing, and when I saw all those barrels I asked him: but all this, how do you analyze it? Thing of God, he answered me. Okay, okay, I said, so, above all, behave well.” “Mr. Subirana, said goodbye, I will not spend 300,000 pesetas in the lab ever because wine is a thing of God. Then I remember that he had to answer the phone and I was alone with a young boy who was with us during the visit. He confessed that he agreed with me, that he liked what I said, but that they could not do anything until all of them retired.”
“THEY ARRIVED TO TREAT ME LIKE A LIAR BECAUSE IN THIS COUNTRY THE CULTURE WAS NOT EXISTING TO MAKE WINE ANALYTICALLY”
Time passed and, indeed, between the generational relays and the gradual opening of enology faculties -the first of them, created in 1988 in Tarragona at the Rovira i Virgili University- a change of mentality took place that favored the popularization of new processing techniques. Subirana himself called it a few years ago the “democratization” of oenological analytics. But in the beginning also had its importance the bet that some great winemakers and centers of investigation did by the newly constituted company. “My first customers were Miguel Torres in Catalonia, the Oenological Station of Navarre, where Mr. Ochoa worked, a fantastic man who totally believed in us and in the quality issue and then gave me his trust González Byass, Osborne…”.
Precisely, it recalls an anecdote in González Byass that faithfully reflects the adversities lived during that time. “I remember that the director responsible for Gonzalez Byass told me when they bought the machine: Mr. Subirana, I do not know if he realizes what I’m doing, I’m buying a five million pesetas machine and I’m betting on a French man that tomorrow can tire of the Spaniards and go to the other side of the Pyrenees, I am betting by this. It is evident that people like this have a special deal with me because they generated confidence at a given moment when it really had to have value.”
The accomplishment of those first successes facilitated the consolidation of the company that, at all times, fought to break molds and to illuminate new ways. “We have pioneered sequential issues with their reactants, in infrared, and when I say ‘we’ I mean a team of several people. I was the young man of the band, it was the sponge between them all. The only merit I’ve had has been knowing how to be surrounded by people of an impressive level, I’ve always liked being with people who know more than I do.”
This multidisciplinary team referred to by Jordi Subirana was mostly made up of brilliant professionals from Spain, France and Italy. The reagents were designed in the back country with their own formulas and infrared devices in neighboring France. For many years the strategy worked efficiently, but the retirement and death of some team members weakened that balance. “In 2010 I made the decision to take back the subject of the reagents in my hands, I decided to repatriate them, I set up some facilities, I dusted all the formulas, I hired personnel and we started to make them.” Regarding the infrared, it also opted to regain control and, for that purpose, it established in France the company TDIF.
“IN 2010 I DECIDED TO RECOVER THE REAGENTS AND REPATRIATE THEM, TO SET UP AN INSTALLATIONS, TO DISTRIBUTE ALL OUR FORMULAS, TO CONTRACT PERSONAL AND WE PUT TO MAKE IT”
But the continuous growth, the export and the demands derived from the training courses given to its workers pushed them to open a new headquarters to consolidate the new model. The old facilities did not give more of themselves, so he decided to make the leap, move to the industrial estate and double the available surface, without leaving the town of Gavà.
From there, Tecnología Difusión Ibérica provides services to all Spanish territory and also to countries like France, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Moldova, Croatia or Slovenia, among others. “We are the only company in Spain, in Europe and in the world that is only dedicated to manufacturing wine and musts analyzers. In the others there is a division, more or less great; That’s why we are smaller than many companies that do everything, although we are the largest company in the world dedicated exclusively to making oenological material.”
“Make me disappear”
About two years ago, Jordi Subirana lived one of the hardest moments of his business career. After 28 years leading the TDI wielding the credentials of innovation and creativity was charged in court to copy a patent. “In order to make me disappear a great company worldwide attacked me in Justice with an impressive montage. I was sued with great university professors. My expert and my lawyer advised me to negotiate. I said: no, no, I’m right, this is a montage, not true, I have not copied anything. Everyone thought I was going to lose, but I won. From the explanations of my lawyer the judge realized that they were going to get me to have a monopoly. We started saying things that even the opposing lawyers did not know, and pam, pam, pam, they withdrew.”
This was a huge pressure, but also a huge satisfaction when he came out unscathed. “I can tell you that when it was all over it was a Friday. I got home at three-thirty in the afternoon, after I finished nerves left me. When I got up it was Monday at eight in the morning. We really did it because I always, I always say to my men: “I do not want to hear you say never before, this is impossible.”
The vision from the twilight
Overcoming the difficulties and compliments and 30 years of that entrepreneurial adventure that took him to cross the Pyrenees to not return, Jordi Subirana feels that he is in the twilight of his life. “I can afford to say things I did not say at age 25.” Things like that can not stand arrogance. “The brightest are the simplest; The most stupid, the most arrogant. ” The quality that he appreciates most in a person is “that he is a good person” and defines himself as “hardworking, serious and with a lot of will power”. “Kennedy said it very well. Do not always ask what your country can do for you, do it for yourself.”
“TO MAKE ME DISAPPEAR A GREAT COMPANY ATTACKED ME IN JUSTICE WITH AN IMPRESSIVE MOUNT. THOUGHT THAT I WILL LOSE, BUT I GAINED”
He acknowledges that he distrusts the heroes. “I have no idols or false idols, and I do not like to highlight any historical person because if you study history, everyone has their flaws and their qualities.” But, on the other hand, I feel a sincere respect for people who have achieved extraordinary achievements. He is referring to entrepreneurs such as Miguel Torres, Jose Ferrer (Freixenet), Nils Foss (Foss), a company that is directly TDI, Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company)…, Damn, what these people have done. They had to spend nights in white, huh? What must have happened and what they have created. I say these, but there are many more. They are exceptional people, they have a plus.”
It is possible that as Jordi Subirana achieved professional success being still very young has known how to relativize the importance of fame and laurels. “My life is very simple, work and occupations of every day, walk the dog, buy vegetables and do whatever it takes at home.” When asked what his favorite occupation is, he does not doubt it. “My wife, my wife,” he repeats. And your ideal of happiness? “There is one thing very clear,” he says, “you have 100 and you are bound to spend 150. You earn 1,000 and you are bound to spend 1,500. And they have not been able to catch me, I’ve always been a free man.”
Perhaps from that same freedom, he claims not to be worried about the political tensions in Catalonia. He says that if we want to have a future, we must build the United States of Europe in order not to disappear in two decades.
And, in the meantime, he continues to work like when he started doing it 46 years ago, living every day with the illusion of someone who is aware of having done something in life that is really worth it. Something that seemed impossible… if it were not because that word never existed in his dictionary.