October 25, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: The Fanjul Brothers

Alfonso 'Alfy': Chairman/CEO, Florida Crystals; West Palm Beach; age 73, and, Jose 'Pepe': Vice Chairman/COO/president; age 66

Mike Vogel | 5/1/2011

[Photo: Scott Wiseman]

» Alfy: My grandmother was American. Alfy's not basically a Hispanic name. She named me with that when I was a child, and it stuck with me.

» Alfy: My father had a business in New York, a sugar trading firm that owned sugar mills in Cuba. So they would come up on a continuing basis. The United States has been really a second home. Really, it was the first home originally because most of the family went Spain-United States-Cuba through our father's side ...
(Pepe): We go back to 1851. Fifty years here. We started the Florida business from scratch.

» Alfy: From Jan. 1 (1959), when Fidel came in, there was no law. I've seen people come in and take my father away just because they wanted his car.
(Pepe): Our family was not involved in government. The first thing they did was go after the Batista people and then they went after the big business people. The Batista people, they executed a lot of them. Like a million other Cubans, we were able to rebuild our lives here and make this our home and frankly been very happy here in this country.

» Alfy: I hope they consider us men of the future because that's what we have to be. You can never stop being that. What should be our next move? What should be our next opportunity? The day I don't have that I think I will tell them that it's time for me to go.

» Pepe: If you look at our lands, what water we receive is dirtier than the water we take from our lands.
(Alfy): Our lands are on the south end of Lake Okeechobee. You can do all in the world you want underneath the lake and until you solve the problem of the water coming into the lake, you're never going to solve the problem.

» Pepe: The true environmentalists, we have no problem with. And then we have the group I call the professional environmentalists. They like the problem because they're making money out of it. We have some of them, for example, that have told us, after we go through the explanation of what we're doing or not doing, 'You guys are right, environmentally, but you're the only deep pocket we can find, so that's why we're after you guys.' When someone tells you that, well then, you worry.

» Alfy: We had a philosophical objection to the way (the state's original U.S. Sugar deal) was being done. We would be left with the problem, and they would be left with the cash, and the state would be more in debt and the water management district would have no money. We think you should just concentrate on trying to restore rather than add land and land and land. We have in Florida an enormous amount of land that actually can be used for restoration projects. What we need is money to do them.

» Pepe: I have a ranch here in Florida, nothing to do with the sugar business, where I ride. Quail shooting. To me it's really peaceful to go out there.
(Alfy): I like the ocean. My problem is that I've done so much out there in the Glades, that when it comes to the weekend, I'd rather if I can go on the water.

» Alfy: I grew up in Florida, business-wise. It was a Democrat state, so I was a Democrat. To me the difference with both parties is really not that great. Fundamentally, I think that I tend more to what the Democratic Party basically stands for. Pepe, on the other hand, came in later.
(Pepe): I was in school, in college. I was always active in Republican politics in those days. My father used to kid me I was for Reagan before Reagan was for Reagan. When I came to Florida to work, there were no Republicans really.

» Pepe: It's going to be jobs, issue No. 1. I think in this country we have to somehow or other encourage American industry to keep jobs in America as much as possible.

» Alfy: Give a businessman a set of rules he learns to play with. You start moving those things around, where he doesn't know where those things are going, and everybody starts to get nervous.

» Alfy: My father used to tell us all the time, 'Listen' — he'd take, I think, four or five sticks, which there are five of us — 'you take one at a time, break them very easily. Put them together, much harder to break. So stick together.' I think that has been instilled in us since the day we were born.

» Pepe: I think we're lucky the next generation is really good. Every generation has to do what it can. I'm not a believer in saying you have to be in the sugar business. Hopefully they will. If they want to do something else, they should do something else. You can't rule from the grave, you know.

» Pepe: The way the (sugar price support) program is run is at no cost to the government. When people talk about the candy companies leaving the United States because of ... that's all a bunch of hogwash. The price of sugar as part of a candy bar or anything like that is immaterial. The reason they're leaving is because they're paying someone in Mexico a fraction of what they pay someone in the United States and they have other advantages. It works as an anti-dumping program, basically, because it is subsidized in other parts of the world. One bank will take more than the sugar program has taken in its history.

» Alfy: Life evolves, and that's the way we used to cut sugar cane. Now these people sit in machines. It's one of the better jobs out there in the sugar industry, probably one of the best-paying jobs in Palm Beach County.
(Pepe): It's now been a long, long time we don't have cutters. When the heat got so high, we decided to get rid of it and go totally mechanized and provide these, which are better jobs. In the end they did us a big favor. We saved a lot of money. We created better jobs.

» Alfy: My father was totally dedicated actually to going back to Cuba to the day
he died. That's what he really hoped he would do. Well, you know, life goes on. (Pepe): And a dream is a dream, and you don't get rid of your childhood memories easily.

» Alfy: We still eat rice and beans.
(Pepe): We still like the Cuban food. We're Americans. We're happy with it. We love Italian food, too.

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