When Dean Donna Rapaccioli introduced Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul (GSB ’59) as an accomplished executive, caring businessman, global leader and true son of Fordham, she wasn’t exaggerating.
Owning five major companies, from Domino Sugar to Tate & Lyle European Sugar — as well as an airport and some resorts in the Dominican Republic — Mr. Fanjul, as CEO of the Fanjul Corporation, leads some of the largest agriculture companies in the world. He delivered the International Business Week keynote address on Tuesday night in Keating.
Despite having businesses all around the globe, Mr. Fanjul was very down-to-Earth. With five grandchildren between the ages of 19 and 25, he said he understood Gabelli School students’ concerns and ambitions. “Your first job is a very important one,” he said, describing college as a crossroads in a student’s life.
As Mr. Fanjul spoke, he showed a presentation that featured photographs from five generations of his family’s business. The images transported his audience of nearly 200 people from Spain to Florida, touching the gorgeous shores of Belize in between.
Yet the moral of all these international stories came to a point about home.
You couldn’t be at a better place, Mr. Fanjul advised the students, saying that “America is, has been and will be the life of the future,” especially in this time. He said he would give up his entire past just to do what today’s students will do in the next 50 years.
Even more, Mr. Fanjul told the students, we’re lucky to have the privilege to choose Fordham University. Cracking a grin, he reported that his parents sent him to Fordham.
In terms of advice, Mr. Fanjul counseled his audience to play by the rules. He said he feels an enormous sense of responsibility as a businessman: to consumers, to the land he uses, and to employees who count on him. Business ethics is extremely important to him, and he wants Fanjul Corporation to leave a great legacy that incorporates hard work, sustainability and community support. Offering scholarships and opening 60 schools in the Dominican Republic have been key efforts toward that goal, as has reducing phosphorus in his company’s operations by 79 percent last year alone.
The most important thing for entrepreneurs, he said, is to have a vision. “Plan a way to justify your presence” in the business world, he suggested. ”Why are you there? During a deal, what is your contribution? What do you see your company doing? This is the vision you have to sell to the people who are with you.”
During his presentation, Mr. Fanjul even found time to tell a story about narrowly escaping death by dodging bullets. Hearing his tale of emerging from a childhood in Cuba for an education at Fordham — and an eventual move to the United States, for political asylum — was inspiring to everyone. From adversity can come astounding success.