He is one of the most recognised business leaders in the country. The architect of the largest family business, the Spanish company with the largest number of employees and the supermarket with the highest turnover in Spain.
The president of Mercadona, Juan Roig, is not only the boss of more than 90,000 workers, he is also one of the main players in the Spanish business fabric and the most respected spokesman in the distribution sector. He has succeeded in rooting the Mercadona brand in principles such as proximity and trust under a business philosophy studied in business schools.
A large part of the recognition that Roig has garnered from his customers -whom he calls bosses-, workers, suppliers and society, lies in a meticulous communication and reputation strategy.
Roig’s communication is part of a low-profile strategy. The presentation of Mercadona’s annual results is, in fact, one of the few public appearances the businessman makes in front of journalists. The writer and journalist Manuel Mira, author of a biography of the businessman, Juan Roig, el emprendedor visionario: De cómo Mercadona devino en imperio (La esfera de los libros), argues that, in general, in these appearances “his communication is always terse and formal, he never loses his manner. His style as a communicator is directly related to his personality: hieratic, inaccessible, serious, opaque. Nobody knows what goes on in his head. He is inaccessible. Even I, his biographer, don’t know him”.
Discretion is one of the traits most highlighted by experts. The executive communication coach and professor of communication at Nebrija University and IESE, José Manuel Velasco, believes that his style “corresponds to the profile of a discreet businessman who, when he speaks publicly, talks mainly about his company. He is not brilliant in his presentation or his content, but he is simple, direct and authentic. He is very measured in his public appearances”.
Velasco also highlights the authenticity of Mercadona’s founder. He points out that in his appearances “he does not pretend to be someone else, as is the case with many businessmen who allow themselves to be carried away by vanity. He is authentic, direct and uses a language that is close to that of his customers and employees”.
His naturalness, a double-edged sword
Although spontaneity and naturalness are components that can contribute to closeness, experts warn that these qualities that Roig fulfils in his speeches can be double-edged weapons. The director of the Corporate Communication Course at the European University of Valencia, Joseca Arnau, describes his use of “everyday and popular expressions as a strong point, with phrases such as ‘we have raised prices a lot’. Society easily understands his ideas”.
However, Arnau sometimes detects in this style an excess of informality that “we could call folksy”. In his opinion, “the president of one of the most important business groups in Spain could be much more formal, as is the case with most of his colleagues in large companies. Although he has worked on this aspect to some extent”.
The academic regrets that in his appearances “he has always highlighted an improvised and natural comment that could be made in a bar chat”. For example, he recalls an act of the Valencian Businessmen’s Association that “when greeting everyone, he made a jocular comment about the use of inclusive language, demonstrating that he was not self-censoring in the face of political correctness”.
The director of Valencia Plaza, Javier Alfonso, agrees that this “excessive spontaneity” has become a weak point. He thinks that “on occasions he seems to express himself in a way or say things that he would not want to have said”, and considers his comment in 2012 encouraging Spaniards to “work like Chinese” to get out of the crisis to be unfortunate.
With the naturalness that characterises him, the president of Mercadona has occasionally commented on political issues in the past. Sometimes, with statements considered controversial. The CEO of Over The Rainbow Comunicación, Juan Pajares, has the impression that “he has learned his lesson and is now more discreet in this respect”.
The specialists consulted applaud Roig’s reaction to the harsh criticism recently levelled at him by the Minister for Social Rights, Ione Belarra, calling him a “usurer” or a “ruthless capitalist”. Pajares appreciates that “he has known how to be prudent and bite his tongue for the good of Mercadona’s reputation”, and Velasco that “he did not directly respond to these disqualifications”.
Juan Roig and Mercadona are the leader and the company with the best reputation in Spain, according to MERCO.
The supermarket chain and its maximum shareholder head the ranking of companies and business leaders with the best reputation in Spain, according to MERCO’s 2022 edition. This is the result of a complex strategy developed by Mercadona’s Communication department, headed by Dircom Toni Martínez.
Roig’s biographer, Candel, believes that one of his strengths that adds to his reputation – and creates a reputational transfer between both parties – is his positioning as “one of the businessmen who creates the most jobs in Spain. Mercadona’s workers are the best paid in their sector”.
On the other hand, Arnau believes that one of the keys to its reputational success has to do with its status as a large family business. “The closeness of a family business, a company that despite its large size is captained by a family with a direct structure where it is known who makes the decisions and also who assumes the responsibilities.
Velasco recalls that the podium of the MERCO Líderes ranking includes, in addition to Roig, Ana Botín and Amancio Ortega. In the opinion of the professor, “it is symptomatic that two of the three most renowned business leaders are quite or very discreet in their public appearances. They communicate more with the deeds of their companies than with their own words. It is an option, as long as you have alternative spokespersons who respond to the demands for information”.
One of the questions regularly raised in the press is how the future succession to the presidency will be managed. A crucial episode, with Juana Roig’s name on the ballot, where the management of the communication and reputation of the largest supermarket chain, whose guidelines are currently a mystery according to the experts, will be decisive in preserving the consolidated trust and closeness.