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Bacardi family spirit: Remember your roots and be frugal

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK, March 28 Facundo L. Bacardi had little interest in joining the family business, which happens to be the largest privately held spirits company in the world, with a portfolio of more than 200 brands, including Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose and Dewar’s.

The great-great grandson of Bacardi company founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó had other plans.

“When I was young, I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “When I got to my teens, I started thinking, “Boy, I'd really love to be a baseball player.”

As Bacardi got older, his family legacy began calling him. Now 50, he has been chairman of the board of Bermuda-based Bacardi Limited since 2005 and a director since 1993. He spoke with Reuters to share some of the life lessons he has learned from his family - and the family business - over the years.

Q: What did growing up watching the family business teach you about finances?

A: In 1960, the entire family left Cuba because all of their assets were appropriated by the Cuban government. The family had to come together and rebuild the company. The lessons I learned were of being very frugal and careful with your finances - that you could lose everything you had at any time, that anything you have could be taken away. We were so frugal, in fact, that we were pretty much a single-brand company from 1862 until 1992 (when Bacardi acquired General Beverage, which owns the Martini & Rossi group).

Q: What changed to make you want to be a part of your family business?

A: It wasn't really something I thought about until my grandfather passed away (when Facundo Bacardi was 16). I felt that I really needed to step up. I wanted to make sure that my family was well-represented, and I wanted to continue growing the business so future generations could enjoy it. I have four daughters - hopefully they'll have children, and we'll all continue to grow the business.

Q: What did your first jobs teach you?

A: I pumped gas at a gas station - I was 14. Then I was a dishwasher at a restaurant - I was 15. Then I became a busboy at some rundown restaurant. All three of them embedded in me something that I still remember to this day: You've got to work hard. And that people who get ahead in life, it isn’t just because they're smart - it's also because of opportunities. I worked with good friends, some had good opportunities while others really didn't have opportunities, and their paths diverged. I saw how quickly somebody can go from having something to having nothing.

Q: What money lessons are you passing down to your own four daughters (ages 5 to 15)?

A: It's really about saving - we opened a savings account for my oldest (when she was 13) a couple of years ago. I try to tell them if you earn X dollars, this is what the difference is between gross and net, that if you save well and invest well, you'll be able to have a more comfortable life than if you're spending everything and living paycheck to paycheck.

Q: How important to you is giving?

A: When you're fortunate, you should give back - everyone should think about how to make the earth a better place as they spend time on it. The Bacardi family has a long history in Cuba and South Florida and wherever our companies are located, we try to give back.

For me, there are a few different areas I try to focus on: education, arts, the environment, and I also like historic renovations. In Cuba, once it’s completely open, I’d like to help renovate some of the existing older buildings. (Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)

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