Come Fly (to Paraguay) with BertoMEu

Valencia’s award winning regional airline, Air Nostrum, has spread its wings outside of Europe and set up Air Nostrum Technics America (ANTA) in Paraguay.
From there the company will offer maintenance services and components from October 2015 to Bombardier, ATR and CASA Airbus which fly from Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.

In the spring of 2014 company CEO Carlos Bertomeuacquired54.41% of Valencian regional airline Air Nostrum, while a group of company directors acquired another 6,25%.

But who is Carlos Bertomeu?

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Like Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Bertomeu is the boss, and was born to run, although in his case, born to run a highly successful airline rather than a rock band.

It’s doubtful whether Bruce Springsteen could have started an airline with six employees and after ten years increase that number to the of almost 1,700, although I don’t suppose Carlos Bertomeu could keep a stadium full of rock fans enthralled for three sweaty hours either.

When you arrive at Air Nostrum’s headquarters at Valencia airport you can’t escape the feeling of being on a military base. You inevitably find yourself expecting a marine corps to go trotting past chanting a song about “whupping some goddam ass” before setting off on a cross country run of 200 kilometres carrying fifty kilo backpacks.

And the fact of the matter is that it used to be a Spanish Air force Base before Air Nostrum opened shop here.

If you’ll forgive the pun, Air Nostrum has really taken off since its early days. In the first ten years its income rose from 17 to 437 million Euros, flights from almost thirteen thousand a year to almost a hundred and thirteen thousand, and from 8 original destinations to 60. Furthermore the company has received international recognition as Europe’s best regional airline five times, and currently flies to seven countries outside of Spain.

I spoke to Carlos Bertomeu, in English (I mean him as well as me) in his office flanked by photographs of himself with the King, with ex-President Jose Maria Aznar and Valencia Mayoress Rita Barberá. But in pride of place were photographs of his wife and three sons. With a true businessman’s sense of efficiency in cost cutting, the youngest two are twins.

The children attend an English language school near Valencia, fitting in with Carlos Bertomeu’s own philosophy of giving maximum importance to the English language as a vital tool for doing business anywhere in the world. Many of his company’s aircraft for example, come from Canada.

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In Spanish, the words ‘win’ and ‘earn’ are the same: “ganar”, and for Carlos winning and earning are synonymous; he has always been a winner and he freely admits that he loves money and intends to earn as much of it as he can.

His father was an engineer involved in the construction of dams, which meant that his childhood was spent moving around as one project finished and another began. His father also participated in the building of Valencia’s only nuclear power station at Cofrentes.

Like so many of his contemporaries he was educated in religious schools until starting university where he studied Economics. From the beginning he was an active participant in student affairs, but put theory into practice during the summer holidays when he set up and ran a restaurant at the local swimming pool at the inland village of Turis.

Another thing he learnt at University (as well as a little Economics) was how to organise a party, something he has been famous for throughout the Valencian business community.

After university he decided to do an MBA, for which he discovered it was necessary to learn English. With a few not very successful private classes under his belt, he set off for Chicago, staying at a house in River Forest, near where Al Capone used to live. It’s not clear if it was here that he learnt how to make his competitors disappear.

There followed a series of courses in Madrid, Boston, Florida, Oxford, Harvard and France, during which he honed his skills learning all he could and teaching what he knew.

Family is important for Carlos Bertomeu and his eyes light up when he speaks about his wife and children. His paternal grandfather seems to have played a key role in shaping his outlook. It was his grandfather, who he describes as a “gentleman”, who used to take him to bullfights and then to good restaurants afterwards. He was a man who stood out. Very tall for the epoch, unusually blue-eyed and always in hat and tie; his love of talking has left its mark on Carlos who is not what you’d call “the silent type”.

From his grandfather he learnt to love the good life: good food, good wine and good conversation in amenable places like the Alcazar Restaurant in Valencia, one of his favourites.

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Carlos Bertomeu has very clear ideas about tourism and especially Valencia’s Costa Blanca, which he recognises to be a key factor in the economic development of the Valencian Community. He feels that Valencians have made two key mistakes in the last 20 years; over-building and a negative change in attitude towards the Europeans who live here or visit. He feels that the new generation of Valencians haven’t realised that the North European attraction for this area is not a matter of sun, sand and sangria, but a genuine love of the character and lifestyle of the people here. He also believes that local people must realise that mass tourism isn’t an eternal right, but something that each generation has to work to earn.

He used to spend his own holidays in Moraira, and still remembers it as a place with 20 odd houses, mostly occupied by Swedes. He also has fond memories of Campoamor, the last village in Alicante province heading south.

Nowadays his time is spent travelling around the world, setting up deals and maintaining the contacts vital to any successful company, and of course picking up awards. But even today, his priority when setting up a meeting is to make sure that there’s an excellent restaurant close at hand for the important work.

As I left his office, the lawns were being cut, the fountains were splashing and one of Air Nostrum’s planes was taking off over the state of the art maintenance hangar that had been inaugurated by Valencian Regional President, and during the interview more than one well-known personality interrupted us by phone.

Just at that moment a squad in uniform trotted by chanting something about “busting some butt”, although I think it was only the flight attendants going through some basic training.

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