The heroic years of a small man

In a modest village near Manresa, near Barcelona, the birthplace of the industrial revolution in Catalonia, lives Pere, a boy from a wealthy landowner’s family. By 12 years of age he’s driving the Ford T owned by the mayor of his village. Due to his father’s gambling addiction, the family is ruined and the eldest son Pere has to leave school aged only 14 years and go to Barcelona to look for work. His drive and working mentality leads him to find a job as a waiter at a bar in the district of Gràcia. In his few spare hours he distributes heavy bottles of wine in the neighbourhood, sells tobacco and starts doing business with everybody. A few years later he owns the most important grocery stores in the city and a taxi company with American vehicles, among other businesses, when cars are still rarely seen on the streets of Barcelona. Among the many anecdotes it is noteworthy that Pere regularly holds business meetings at the Ritz hotel in the city centre of Barcelona, where he is called “Don Pedro”, and he receives letters from Seville, addressed only to his name and “Barcelona”, being sufficient to find him.

Pere’s father manages to save a small truck freight business and at the beginning of the 1930s Pere arrives with his father and brothers in the Principality of Andorra, transporting stones to build the walls and facilities of Fhasa (Forces Hidroelèctriques d’Andorra SA, today known as FEDA), the country’s most important public project in the deployment of energy infrastructure and the road network connecting the borders of Spain and France. This adventure allows him to discover the small “country of the valleys” and he falls in love with its beauty and the business opportunities it offers. This at the time of the Franco dictatorship in neighbouring Spain, when the country spirals downwards into loss of freedoms, poverty and isolation from abroad. Pere’s family settles in Les Escaldes and Pere takes advantage of the lack of marketed goods in post-war Spain to introduce products on a grand scale from France and beyond through Andorra, a practice at that time known as “estraperlo”.

His various businesses in Barcelona having long been fruitful, in 1943 he builds the Rosaleda hotel in Encamp to establish a permanent base in Andorra, and directs his business from there. The Rosaleda hotel is designed by Adolf Florensa, the best architect of Barcelona at the time. Thanks to the help of Pere’s wife, Yvette, of Swiss origin and having studied hostelry in Lausanne, they turn it into the best hotel in the country and a luxury establishment of reference in Andorra and among Barcelona’s best families, who spend whole summers enjoying our valleys. (Nowadays it is classified as a ‘public interest’ building by the Government of Andorra and houses the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture.) The Rosaleda is the first guesthouse in the country with a pool and party room where numerous Andorran couples meet and many are married, in a time when Encamp houses have no running water. The Andorran national road from the Spanish customs is asphalted to the door of the hotel because it “deserves it”, the rest remains a stone path until the French border for several years to come.

In spite of everything, Pere keeps another base in the Spanish territory in Tàrrega, in the province of Lleida, where he sets up a grocery store and an almond factory business that sells by the wagonload to France. Pere is a pioneer in many fields. His courage and business vision leads him to found in 1953 Andorra’s first public transport company, Clipol, today known as Cooperativa Interurbana, together with Climents and Pol Partners of Sant Julià. Yvette travels regularly to Germany with her small Messerschmitt car to look for new buses to incorporate into the fleet. Later, Yvette settles in the 1960s in Barcelona and creates a Swiss watchmaking company, distributing prestigious brands such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Favre-Leuba and Ebel, a feat in those times of shortage.

Pere’s entrepreneurial activities extend further to the automotive sector, and leads during the years 1950-60 to the first representation of Auto Union (now Audi, Auto Union Deutsche Industrie) in the Principality. Operating in the automotive fuels sector he is first, with an Andorran partner, to introduce the brand Total to the country, and by himself also brings another brand, Elf. Through these businesses he imports, transports and distributes automotive fuels, launching gas stations distributed through the capital, Encamp and Port d’Envalira. Later he returns to the tourism industry, and in 1968 inaugurates the first gondola of the Principality of Andorra, uniting the centre of Encamp and the lake of Engolasters with the construction of a building in the pure and innovative German Bauhaus style of the time. He imports the mechanism from Switzerland and carries it up the mountain with mules. (Now long gone, it is still the only private investment gondola ever built in Andorra and for Andorran tourism, is comparable to the first investments in skiing infrastructure in the country; the second apparatus, publicly funded, starts only 30 years later.)

Pere’s other business activities include investments in electronic commerce, jewellery and butchers shops in Andorra La Vella, as well as numerous real estate transactions in Andorra, Tàrrega and Barcelona, extending to stakes in a casino in Toulouse and the acquisition of the main bingos (gambling sites) of Barcelona. Finally, at an advanced age, he builds the three star Pic Maià hotel, with more than 100 rooms, at 2400 meters above sea level at the Port d’Envalira, currently still the highest hotel in the Pyrenees.

My own entrepreneurial spirit has been inspired by a few but intense family gatherings, and the idiosyncrasies of Andorra and Pere’s business ventures have reached my soul, as those of many other Andorran businesspeople. This is my legacy.