You could almost call José Luis Bonet a 'bubbly' businessman (he is joint president of Freixenet), and he is also the president of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. He has just been re-elected to that post for the next four years and chose Malaga as one of his first visits, to see the advances in the province's business network at first hand. Despite a busy schedule, he also made time for this interview with SUR. Bonet says he knows the city well and is very complimentary about the changes it has undergone. During the interview, he often repeats the words 'digitalisation' and 'internationalisation', like a type of mantra for business owners.
Were you aware of the changes which have taken place in Malaga in recent years?
I have links with Malaga because one of my sisters-in-law and her husband live here, and my daughter and son-in-law live in Torremolinos, with my three grandchildren. I like Malaga very much and I believe it is one of Spain's most up-and-coming cities. The growth in recent years is very evident.
What is the main purpose of this visit?
I came for a meeting with the executive committee of the Malaga Chamber of Commerce, but I've also taken the opportunity to make some visits, such as to the Digital Content Hub, which is impressive and, I believe, ahead of the rest. I think it is a great initiative which will have very positive consequences for people, and that's what is important. Digitalisation is extremely necessary and those who don't adapt to it won't do as well as they should.
How do you see the business network in Malaga?
My view is that Malaga is a thriving, forward-looking city which is well oriented and those who are responsible for that, fundamentally the mayor, deserve to be congratulated. What they are doing is obviously going in the right direction, and of course we mustn't forget tourism, which is evident everywhere you look.
When you mention digitalisation, what do you mean?
In Malaga they are doing a great job in this field. In fact many companies have survived the crisis thanks to this process of digitalisation. Those that don't join in will be left out of the game. The chambers of commerce can do a great deal to help with digitalisation, especially for small and medium businesses, because the major chains are already doing it and have been for some time.
Do you believe that at present there is an equal balance between different commercial models?
No. It is unbalanced because Spain is a country of small and medium businesses, but you're talking to a businessman from a medium-sized family firm which is run by relatives and has become a world leader, above all thanks to my uncle José Ferrer Sala. And that is the aim for businesses: to survive, make progress and win.
How do you see the future of small businesses? In Malaga many are closing down.
More traditional types of business mustn't disappear, they should reinvent themselves and adapt to the times. It is very clear that they need to come into the digital world if they are not to disappear. What we need to do is make small and medium businesses aware of this so that they take that step.
How do you convince them?
Businesses need to realise that everything is digitalised these days, and they should trust institutions which support the business world such as the chambers of commerce. We, in the Spanish one, have set up a digitalisation committee which, among other things, has produced a small guide for business owners and informs them about all the assistance which is available to them. It is also good that there are synergies with institutions like, for example, the Digital Content Hub in Malaga.
What do you think are the main challenges for small businesses?
Above all training, because that revolves around people's talents; globalisation, to which they must adapt, and digitalisation. They should also put into effect processes of innovation such as creating their brand, which is where the added value lies, and realise that strong entities are necessary to represent them. The chambers of commerce work on their behalf with the institutions, and that is very important in a system which has functioned the way the Spanish one does.
How has the business world, which is very vulnerable to changes, been affected by the recent elections?
Any changes affect it, but what is good is that the business sector works on its own initiative. It is always best if there is certainty in the political sphere; a company needs governments which are not volatile. Businesses did their homework, but it is best for us to have a stable political framework.
How have they reacted to the change in the Andalucía regional government, in particular?
With normality, because that is what democracy is about. We'll have to see what happens now. Companies will carry on as usual and see how things go, and then decide whether to vote for them again or not. It's too early to evaluate yet.
And what about things like Brexit? On the Costa del Sol many people are worried about the effect that could have.
Brexit is a very bad thing. It is stupid. It is trying to say something, but it's not very intelligent. You have to respect that there was a referendum, but they should reconsider. My impression is that this will end with a second referendum, so people can choose sensibly once they have seen how bad it is. It would be very bad for the Europeans and for the citizens of the UK.
Is it similar to the Catalonian situation, which you are very familiar with?
It can be seen that the independence process isn't going anywhere, but there are people who are determined that they want independence and it is important to reach an agreement. We all need to work together on things which help people, such as training, internationalisation and digitalisation.
Does this sort of thing affect local businesses?
Of course, it affects everyone because it impoverishes. It is very important to work as hard as possible on achieving dialogue so that people act rationally.