In Memoriam: Don Eugenio Garza Sada

Born in 1892 and assassinated in 1973 by terrorist communists, Eugenio Garza Sada was the greatest industrialist in the history of Mexico. Brilliant, frugal, and generous he was the perfect refutation of Ayn Rand’s selfish doctrine. Father of eight and founder of Mexico’s top university, without speeches and without public office, he did more for Mexico than all of the politicians put together.

Monterrey, the city where Don Eugenio was born, lived, and conducted business, was able to capitalize and industrialize because during the US Civil War, the Governor at the time, Santiago Vidaurri, defied a Mexican Federal Ordinance and allowed for trade with the Confederation. Thus, all of the South’s cotton during that war passed through Monterrey.

Don Eugenio’s father, Isaac Garza Garza, was the founder of a brewery, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc, which by 1912 produced more than 16 million liters of beer per year. When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910 the family had to exile itself in the United States. Don Eugenio was one of two Mexicans admitted as regular students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1910 and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1914. 

The brewery was taken by revolutionary forces in 1914, so he didn’t return to Monterrey but until 1917, when he started working at the brewery during its reconstruction. It was until his father’s death in 1933 that he became part of the company’s board of directors.

Under Don Eugenio’s leadership, the company grew into a conglomerate as they attempted and succeeded in assuming production of the brewery’s key inputs. Together with his brother, Don Roberto Garza Sada, they setted up companies specializing in the production of the glass bottles, the tin bottle caps, the malt grain, the cardboard boxes, and the technical and logistical services. 

During WWII the US banned the exportation of tin, which the conglomerate imported to make the bottle caps, so in 1942 they started producing the tin themselves, thus becoming the main steel producers in the country with activities that went from mining and up to the final product. In 1957 they also established a company specialized in printing the labels and other materials.

During this time, Don Eugenio also made investments in newspapers, radio stations, and television channels with the intention of fortifying a press independent of the government and other influences. By 1970, the conglomerate had 90 companies with more than 33 thousand employees working for them.

Throughout his tenure as the country’s undisputed business leader, his companies practiced what today is considered a golden standard in management. From the very beginning, there was a polytechnic school inside the factory to teach the laborers to read and write. He made arrangements so that the companies would help the employees save and own their own houses. One of his main messages to his workers was “you take care of your job, and I’ll take care of your wage and your welfare.” He would also give scholarships to the families of his employees for the university he founded in 1943, the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. There was absolutely no need for government involvement.

Just a few days ago, a public servant in the present administration characterized as “brave” the people involved in the assassination of Don Eugenio which resulted from a kidnaping attempt. At the time, the Mexican business community speculated that the pseudo-socialist president was responsible. The public servant resigned his position after his comments provoked a scandal of big proportions.

Today, Don Eugenio’s legacy is evident throughout Mexico. The conglomerate, now known as FEMSA and traded in the NYSE, has a larger market capitalization that companies like HSBC and McDonald’s. His university, Tecnológico de Monterrey, is number 178 in the QS World University Rankings, has 26 campuses and more than 93 thousand students between high school, undergraduate, and graduate.

Notwithstanding his accomplishments and the wealth he accumulated, he lived a very frugal life. There is a very famous anecdote of a man who was on his way to the Governor’s house seeking funding for a library so that the poorer students of the state university had access to textbooks. His car broke down in front of Don Eugenio’s house and a gardener helped him repair it and told him that if he didn’t have any luck with the Governor, he should ask in the brewery’s offices. When the man went to the brewery’s offices they already had the check ready for him. The gardener was in fact Don Eugenio himself.

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