Speech made by Verónica Maldonado to kick off the 150th anniversary of Samuel Darío Maldonado’s birth.
February 8, 2020. Headquarters of META, Miami.
Verónica Maldonado presides the MEG (Maldonado Economic Group) board of directors since July 2018, as well as the non-profit La Compañía Humana. A Cornell University graduate, she also has an MBA in Family Business from the Coles College of Business in Kennesaw State University, Atlanta. She’s a family business adviser and speaker, and member of the most important organizations of family business owners.
Good afternoon everyone,
It makes me very happy to be here with all of you. We celebrate Samuel Darío on the 150th anniversary of his birth. We also celebrate his wife Lola, his sons Iván Darío and Ricardo and the rest of their descendants.
It brings me joy and pride to have the privilege of being with you tonight; it fills me with humility and love. We are here with people we admire and respect, with the people who made us and made this experience possible.
I also want to thank all the partners and friends who have accompanied us throughout this journey.
I look at the work done to preserve our legacy and I feel immensely grateful to project leader Dharla as well as to Natalia Díaz, Milagros and Alexander, who were in turn supported by the legacy committee—Elsa, Samuel Zarikian, Fe, Ricardo and everyone else who participated. All this makes me think of one word: Resilience.
It makes me see our capacity to survive our darkness as well as the violent, difficult and traumatic situations we have been through. We have adapted in a positive way to adverse circumstances despite all the pain and conflicts. We are enterprising and audacious; we are travelers; we are curious, educated, spiritual and courageous.
They say we have a strong character and well-defined personalities. We are good and hardworking people; we’re from the country and the city; we are simple. We love art, but nature is what we love the most. We are a family of values, love, and LIGHT.
I thought our family governance had started with my grandfather, my dad and my uncles in 1995. But during the research for the legacy, Natalia brought a document to my attention: my great-grandfather Samuel Darío’s succession certificate. It was a wonderful find. Now I see that Iván Darío inherited that organizational way of thinking, because he —along with his children and grandchildren— led the process of putting our heritage in order so it could be handed over to the next generations.
After decades of work and many specialized courses in governance and family dynamics in prestigious institutions like Wharton, the first meeting of the Maldonado Family Council took place. Among the people invited to participate were Dharla, Ricardo, Juan Carlos and Fernando, who were the designated members of the Junior Council. My uncle Marcos was appointed “steward” of the Group because of his leading role within the family. Finally, Alberto Quintana was made secretary and advisor because as a reward for his righteous trajectory in the Group’s companies, and his constant search for consensus among the family.
The terms of the Trust were established that day, along with the family structure upon which we have kept building until today. After lunch, my grandfather Iván joined the meeting, and Alexander wrote in the minutes that he was in a radiant mood. Juan Carlos then presented the conclusions drawn after Wharton. My grandfather closed the meeting by insisting on the importance of establishing the Trust, as well as an Education Fund for future generations. The meeting ended at 6:15 PM and it was followed by a celebration in the cinema bar La Previsora. That’s how we are—we work hard in the meetings, we have intense and hard debates, but then we love to go out, celebrate and have a good time as a family. Some have called us a clan.
While all this was happening I was working in Japan, but my dad always talked to me about everything that happened. I also audited the Council meetings when I visited Venezuela.
In April 2000 the Trust was signed, as well as the rules of the Maldonado Economic Group (MEG) and the Education Fund. The papers were signed by my grandfather Iván, Grandma Elsa and their five children, as well as Alexander and Martha Santeliz–who is with us today celebrating the birthday of her father-in-law, which makes us very happy. It’s amazing to see all those signatures together because it wasn’t easy to get there. It was a long and difficult journey, but it was traveled with conviction and the determination to move forward.
That same year a Family Office that would deal with all matters related to the Trust was installed on the 13th floor of the La Previsora building. We started with only one secretary, Patricia Angarita –who reported to Alonso—, and Rómulo Álvarez, my grandfather’s personal driver. They’re both still involved with us today.
I also remember visiting the Previsora Foundation and being amazed by the exhibits. My aunt Milagros was a queen of the arts—she floated among her magical creations, which filled both us and the public with wonder. She elevated us, took us away from day-to-day life and nurtured our souls.
In 2001 my dad started going into more detail with me about the Trust project—he was working to get me recruited in the Family Office. I was very happy living in New York at the time and returning to Venezuela wasn’t part of my plan. But, as you all know, my dad has great powers of persuasion. And I had a dream in my heart, of which I had talked in my Cornell application –to use my education, which I got thanks to my father’s work in Venezuela, to make my contribution to the country and build a school in the El Frío ranch named after my grandmother Elsa.
In 2002 I told my dad I would do it, and he said I had to send my CV to Marcos—as leader of the family, he needed to interview me and approve my recruitment. We had three interviews which were the toughest of my life, and when he finally told me I was hired… I almost cried with happiness!
I admire this family because when we don’t know about something we make it our mission to educate and prepare ourselves, to learn. That’s what we did with the subjects of governance and family dynamics. We applied ourselves to understand them and put that knowledge to use; we learned from our mistakes and took corrective measures.
After Wharton, we collectively completed over 40 courses in the Farmers Business Network (FBN), Campden BRI, Reddin, the Family Business Consulting Group, Network Management System (NMS), Mesoamerica and the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), among others. Also, five of us got an MBA in Family Governance after studying with the world leaders of the field.
We’ve also worked very hard on healing spiritually. We take it very seriously! Thanks to that, following our Trust’s rules and the leadership of our family Council, we have survived against all odds. We have been through two generational transitions (one in the year 2000, and a second one in 2009); two liquidity events with INLACA and La Previsora; we endured the confiscation of the El Frío ranch in 2009; the Venezuelan diaspora. We left Venezuela for the US in 2010 and established a Family Office here in Dorissa, Miami. We invested in real estate, bought an operational business in Florida and trained a first-class external board of directors where all members are American.
Wow! It’s easily told but statistics say that the chances a family has to survive just one of those events are less than 5%—and we’ve survived six of them! So here we are, celebrating, with great challenges ahead and ready to take them on.
Resilience: El Frío was taken from us, but we have remained true to our conservation and environmental values by creating a natural reservoir in South Africa—the Ven-Africa Private Game Reserve, run by my brother Samuel and our cousin Iván Darío. We had to give up the Previsora foundation, but we established META [Maldonado Education through Art] in Miami, directed by my aunt Milagros.
Resilience: Yesterday we held the 241° Family Council meeting, where all the members of the fourth generation –17 first cousins— were reunited. The main members of the Council are Alexander –the chairman–, Fe, Juan Carlos, Elsa and Samuel Zarikian; the substitutes were Dharla, Iván Darío and Ricardo Iván. The board of directors worked under the Council, and it was composed of Fernando, Samuel Zarikian, Ricardo, Jack Conn, Joe Astracham and Taylor Smith, with me as chairwoman. This board deals with our business affairs.
Because of all the experience we’ve gained, both positive and negative, we are considered an example in the family governance world. We’re invited to international forums to talk and describe our case, which in turn creates opportunities for us to enter in collaboration and make investments with other successful family businesses.
I want to thank Samuel Darío, Lola, Iván Darío, Ricardo, Elsa, Marta, Marcos, Lucila, María Antonieta, Milagros, Ricardo, Álvaro, Elizabeth, María Cecilia, Juan, Beatriz, Isamar, Alonso, Lilian and Kerry. Because of you there’s a fourth and fifth Maldonado generation, and there will be more. Here with us today we have Sofía, Nicolás, Shera, Lani, Siena and the little ones Ian and Felipe… but there are many more!
And what about my dream of contributing something to Venezuela? Well, we ended up building the Elsa Blaubach Maldonado School in El Frío through the non-profit La Compañía Humana, but it was taken away from us –along with the Biological Station—when El Frío was confiscated. But thanks to our powerful legacy, to the MEG, to the family’s drive and vision, to all the people who could be here today and to those who couldn’t, to La Compañía Humana and its leaders Sol Rivero and Fabiola Inostroza, we were able to recover the Barrera ranch’s casona and there we built the Samuel and Lola Maldonado Music School.
I leave you with this video that shows the impact our LIGHT has had.
With all my love, determination and immense gratitude. Thank you.
Verónica Maldonado Degwitz
Miami, February 8, 2020.
 Maldonado Education Through Art.
 The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
 Big, stately house.