· Economy&Business · · T. Maria Cruz · P. ©PMC

Eduardo Rangel

«In the business world, people can't work for money»

With a smile etched on his face, he opened the door of his house to us. Simple. Polite. Eminent. And always ready to talk. Eduardo Rangel has a story, like so many others. He grew up from nothing, in Valadares, Portugal, but out of nothing came plenty. His father was a shoemaker and his mother a seamstress. His grandfather, a farmer, didn’t know how to read or write, but provide the first example of success for his grandson, becoming a professional reference in his life. It was he who helped him get into Oporto customs, through a friend. Rangel still lovingly keeps the gold watch that his grandfather brought from Brazil, «and on the day I was confirmed he gave me the watch». Rangel worked as a customs dispatcher, but didn’t feel fulfilled. He wanted to change, and changed. He left this profession to set up a business, with three other colleagues. He thus created the first company dedicated to logistics. And since then he hasn’t looked back. Today, he is the founding face of the Rangel group, which in 2000 created the holding company - one of the most powerful in the country - including all associated companies. He had big dreams. He achieved them. Now that he has passed part of the ‘baton’ onto his son, he wants to see if, three or four years from now, he no longer has to worry about work. Although, and from what we can tell, we can even dare to say: Eduardo Rangel will not stop!

In 1980 you decided to take a risk. You created your first company dedicated to logistics. Weren’t you afraid?
That’s funny, actually. In my business life, one of the times I was afraid was on that night that I had to tell my old boss I was leaving to start my business.

You worked at Oporto customs…
I did, I was a dispatch assistant. I had a dispatcher, who was very much my friend, and I was his, but I did not think there was any great future there, because he was not a man open to new ideas, he very closed. I decided...

To take a risk?
I did. «I’ll go, you don’t want to go, I’ll go!» I’d put some money to one side. At the time I remember that I had 250 contos [one conto was 1000 Escudos]; I don’t know how much this is in Euros, somewhere around 1000 or 1250 Euros. At that time it was a lot of money, it was worth much more. With that money I set up my business. I brought a colleague from the office and decided to do international transport and shipping. I set up the company on Rua da Restauração. People have no idea, but at that time I had to wait three to four months to get a landline for the office. There were no phones. But the first time I opened the office from the outset I used the telephone in the office next door, which was a music school.

36 years later, what’s your opinion of how it all went? Was it always all so easy?
No, but nothing is easy in life. For projects to be successful they have to have difficulties, because if it were very easy, they do not succeed. This isn’t a game; if you knew how to play football, you’d become a footballer and you could be a Cristiano and get very rich, not knowing how to do anything else. Not in a company; you have to have a great spirit of sacrifice, you have to work many hours. The success of a company is greatly due to the ability to work, much more than to intelligence. Intelligence is important, but above all else, it takes a lot of work. People don’t see it that way. I remember that for many years I worked all day Saturday and Sunday from four in the afternoon. During the week, until nine, ten or eleven at night, depending on the work I had.

You worked hard…
I had to do sales, the finances, human resources. I did everything. On top of that I had to study because I was not an expert. I had to learn. It was many years of work. When I got to 40 years of work I had worked 60. This was because I always worked 14, 15, 16 hours a day. The success is there, nowhere else. I wasn’t lucky. No one gave me anything. I’ve fought hard for everything. I was born fighting (he laughs).
«Still today, we continue to make money in Angola»

Have you ever stopped, looked at yourself and said: «Look at the man I’ve become»?
In the business world, you can’t work for money. I’ve never had that aspiration. If I happened to become rich, I was lucky, because that was not what I wanted. What I wanted was to have a great company, have many employees, provide many jobs, have many customers, lots of business. Sometimes young entrepreneurs think they’ll start a company and they’re going to get rich. Sometimes I hear small business people saying, «I’m opening a shop and I’m going to do this and then I’m going to make money and all that,» and I say, «it’s not all that easy.»

2000 was a turning point. You created Rangel Invest, SA, the holding Group...
I’ve never worked towards this kind of goal. My goal was: I want to do here what I dream of…

You talk about dreams, what dream do you still have for your group?
Today the group is very diversified. We even sell pharmaceutical products. We have a partnership with the tobacco industry, because of the «iqos», which is a smoking device without combustion. We have the work of art company. I have a dream to do hospital logistics, and we are investing in this area. Of course we come across problems, because in private hospitals it is easier, but in public hospitals things are not like that. Then people have no idea of the number of interests of a bearing behind this.  

Are you able to separate things?
There is no politician who can say he’s done me a favour. I can be friends, well-known, the result of the position that I assume today, with relationship to companies, in society, but I ask nothing of them.

Do you like to feel free?
I like to feel free. Roche is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and publishes an annual report, which is thus a kind of Villas&Golfe, the same size, more compact. For the first time Roche distinguished a company, other than Roche, in its annual report, and it was ours; it dedicated four pages to us. This recognition is far more important than the money we earn.

You were elected a commander, do you like to be known and addressed as commander?
No. All politicians like to call me commander. For them a commander is a person who is more like a politician. It should be more interesting for them (he laughs).
«There is no politician who can say he's done me a favour»

Are young people today as prepared as those in your day?
No, young people today, firstly, have no spirit of sacrifice. We are not going to make out that today’s young people make a lot of sacrifices, work long hours, if necessary, and leave the weekends to work. It takes a lot more today. Maybe they have different training. My training, even academic, was all done through working.

Indeed, Rangel started with three people...
And today we are 1600.

You were a revolutionary man, a pioneer in establishing a connection via x25 communication, transferring data between customs and your office. Was this already happening in other countries?
Yes. Exactly. The first time I saw the computerisation of customs procedures, with computerised declarations and dispatches was in France, with a program that the French had launched, which was very interesting for the time. I saw that one; I spent eight to ten days in France to see how it worked. I thought: why not have this in Portugal? In Portugal we were using typewriters, it was the tool used in the 1980s to make customs declarations. So I challenged a young man, who worked at a computer company, to come and do the project with me.

What made you believe in a new project?
If you don’t believe in things like this it’s better to close down. Companies can’t stand still, so I was always looking for new challenges and I believed in this one, since I had the notion that it was a service, that it had a market. I’m not mad enough to get involved in things that have no future, either. The pharmaceutical industry is a phenomenon for us, because that was how we started, from one day to the next.

This is an area that requires different treatment...
After eight years we are market leader in Portugal. So why do these things happen? Because we have to start with very professing challenges, very difficult challenges, they can’t be easy things. The worst business I have in the group is the business of delivering goods, door to door, distribution, because anyone can have a van and makes deliveries. While other businesses like logistics, stock management, pharmaceuticals, are very difficult projects to get into. When we went to Angola, for the first time, it was hard; we were the first to appear in Angola, to do logistics, distribution and transportation.

Tell us about the Angola challenge...
It was a curious challenge, because it was back in 2006, and there were some expectations here about Angola. Socrates, was still prime minister, and went to Angola, and there was a large entourage of businessmen; I was there too. But there are a lot of people who never did anything and others who went with the intention of doing things, like me. Our project in Angola came about from our ambition to expand the group. Angola, at that time, was doing very well. And, still today, we continue to make money in Angola. Of course we find it hard to transfer foreign currency, and other more specific difficulties, but otherwise, in terms of operation, it still works well.

And how did Mozambique enter your plans in 2011?
When we entered Mozambique, it did not have the same volume as Angola. Mozambique was different; we entered, not with logistics, but only with international and customs transport. We have a smaller organization and we have challenges to do more.

Do you feel more pride when you’re addressed as Sr. Rangel?
Ah yes. I do not want my image to be overshadowed by being a commander. I am Rangel and I am much more important as Eduardo Rangel than as a commander, because the title of commander is recognition that I am grateful for, and was given to me by Cavaco Silva, but it is a recognition based on what I have done.
«I am much more important as Eduardo Rangel than as a commander»
You are the president of the group, how much of its success is down to you?
Until now, yes. It is down to me, as leader of this group, for the ideas I have brought into the group. But also everything is done as a team. Each of my directors, chiefs and managers has a great responsibility. I have to admit I have very good employees.

Was it tough to pass on the ‘baton’?
It’s not an easy thing. You always have that concern that whoever follows you won’t be able to do it like you, of doing the same. Clearly I have the advantage of having a child that fit the management model. He is only a successor, not because he is my son, but because he has qualities.

People look to you as the face of that company...
I am the wise man in this matter. They think: «He was there, he set this up, so he must know better than anyone else, how to do it». So when Nuno says something, I try not to give my opinion on the matter, even if it is important, because that way I force Nuno to participate. I’ll still be around for three or four years.

And after these three or four years ... what are you going to do?
Travel more. I’ve travelled so much in my life, but I’ve never seen anything. There are cities that I’ve been to, I went in through one door and I left by another. I wish I had seen them.

Are you going to take those trips again, but in another spirit?
Not when working. Although I can’t help myself. A few days ago I went on a trip thinking, «I'm not going to work!», but then I got to a city in the United States and said: «I had an agent here, let’s see if he’s still around!» And I was able to get hold of him and arrange a lunch. There’s always this bug, but I’m going to try to rest a bit after this, and write.

Write?
I like to write. I’ve already published a book, when I had time to write...

You’ve already written a book: A Legislação Europeia e a Legislação Nacional [European Legislation and National Legislation].
It was because of integration, at the time, in Europe. It was a book that for years was a bible at customs. There were officials, critics, controversy and friction, because no one accepted that I was the brains behind it.

What has changed in the laws of this time to those now?
Sometimes I even get discouraged, because I think there are so many things that aren’t legislated! I still think that Europe has got to a major crossroads and, in my view, of the releasing of goods, processes, etc., because it created the common customs code, which is the common legislation for all European countries. And countries are not all the same. While in Germany a customs official has a diploma, he analyses things across the board and knows how to distinguish what is important from what is not, sometimes in Portugal, in Spain, they take it to the line, do not leave the site, because the same law for a German does not fit for a Portuguese. They are trying to maintain the customs union without leaving Europe, why? Because, in fact, customs, I don’t mean all of them, have many employees who are practical, objective, and others who are not. Even the laws made today are worse than the ones I read in 1980.

Business and politics aside, what does Eduardo Rangel do in his free time?
Now I have a lot to keep me busy. Right now I have three grandchildren and I enjoy being with them one day a week. It’s one of my amusements. Afterwards, I deal with work concerns, and they cause me to have to read dossiers, in large numbers. Also I go for walks around here; this area is very pretty (Foz do Porto). I go out with my friends; other times I go walking.

Do you never decline an invitation? Only if you really can’t go?
No. I rarely say no to an invitation.

Is this a lifestyle?
I really like to socialise. I feel good.

Maria Cruz
T. Maria Cruz
P. ©PMC