There are always a small number of individuals who make a disproportionate impact on one’s life and career. I have been fortunate to have many good colleagues over the years that have taken me under their wing and given me counsel which has always been much valued. From Philip Byrne at Barrow Hepburn, through Loris Guidi at Rosati/David, Mac at Pierpoint and Bryant, to John S.M.Booth at the Booth Group. Yet there is one who for me stands out as very special.
That is Don Roberto Palomo of ADOC in El Salvador, who died last week. Our time as a family in El Salvador was very short in reality as it was impacted by the onset of a Civil War that made it too dangerous to stay with a young family, and pretty much impossible to stay even without. We had arrived in El Salvador largely by accident as a result of my working for the Rosati Group in Santa Croce in Italy who had a number of Central American relationships which they wanted to build on to extend their dealings with the USA. A clever idea, but in the 1970s before its time.
We had to work for some months in Costa Rica to help out with a management problem and while there Don Roberto did a deal with Italy for us to move to Salvador and for me to run his tannery. It was all rather a shock when you expect to be going back to our home in Florence and to work in Tuscany. Yet these challenges are always exciting and to be given total charge of a sizeable bovine tannery before you are thirty is not one to say no to.
ADOC is essentially a shoe company. Founded in 1953 by Don Roberto using expertise he bought in from the American company Genesco. His ambition was to put affordable footwear on the feet of the Central American population and the decades long success of his work boot remains testimony to his success. When we went ADOC had shoe factories and stores throughout Central America and the company was already experimenting with new retail concepts. It also exported some footwear to brands in the USA and elsewhere. This formula, adjusted to fit modern demands remains the formula today and I believe ADOC is still the largest the private employer in El Salvador. Because of its semi-isolation Don Roberto wanted to be vertically integrated and he built a rubber plant as well as a tannery, which was pretty new when I joined.
But it was not the plant, nor the overall company, nor the country, marvellous as they all were that made the difference. It was Don Roberto Palomo himself. He would never argue that he was perfect and often he could be stubborn and quite infuriating. Yet he was consistently straight and consistently direct. And more than anything he listened and he cared. It is nearly 35 years since the situation in Salvador forced us to retreat back to Europe yet the days there feel like yesterday. Every time I return to El Salvador it is like going home, and although there have been many changes in many respects there have been none at all. Friendship, hospitality, kindness and consideration are always there as was the enquiring mind that wanted your opinion of the world, the technological changes and thoughts on all the developments in ADOC.
So I always felt that in Don Roberto I had not only had an exceptional boss but a mentor for life. Someone who would always remember you always be willing to take your call, always ready to offer assistance and the hand of friendship. No need to find the ADOC alumni on LinkedIn to stay in touch, and no matter how long you have been out of touch.
I look back on Don Roberto Palomo as one of the strongest influences on my life and career. I am proud to have known him. Now ADOC needs new leadership to allow it to prosper in a new business environment. I hope and am sure that in changing culture to adapt to this new environment it will retain the elements of integrity and caring that characterised the business for the decades while Don Roberto was at the helm.