Not even Gaudí labouring over his la Sagrada Familia could claim to be as devoted an architect of empowering others as Luis Figueiredo, CEO of Atlantis Foods Group.
Atlantis may not be Barcelona, but for the hundreds of people who work at Atlantis Seafood Products, South Africa’s third-largest fresh and frozen seafood processing and packaging factory, it holds the potential for a bright future.
That’s because these workers own it outright.
In a ground-breaking empowerment deal, the Atlantis Workers Trust assumed ownership of, and derive the benefit from, the R200-million plus factory, with 100% of its profits accruing to its workers – a real example of how true broad-based black economic empowerment can benefit both parties, says Luis.
But it wasn’t an easy road. “We could have ticked a box and that would have benefited one or two people, whereas in a broad-based structure the benefits would be incremental for many. We took a moral decision against all the advice we were given and went the broad-based route because our aim was to uplift the community and leave a legacy by establishing something that could be built on. Instead of a handout, we’ve made the investment work as a business that generates revenue for many, over a sustained period. That’s the legacy we want to leave as shareholders of Atlantis Foods.”
For Luis, a life’s passion is that this successful company, built from scratch, is fully managed and operated by the empowered workers of Atlantis Seafood Products. “Empowered companies with trusts do exist, but you’ll have to search hard to find one our size that is 100% black owned where all the benefits and profits accrue to the workers. The next step is for it to be fully run by the workers themselves,” says Luis.
The game changer for ASP’s workers, many of them single mothers, will be achieving a fishing quota that is commensurate with the size of the factory, the investment that has been made and the employment it already generates, not to mention its potential to expand on this.
And they deserve it, Luis says passionately, having already attained profitability and an operationally sound factory without a viable quota. “They have shown they have the ability to take a quota and extract the maximum value of that scarce resource to benefit the value chain and government through income tax.
“They’re not asking for a handout because they’re transformed. They have the tools, the ability, and the capital to take their investment forward. The win for us as Atlantis Foods is that we have an empowered company from which we can source high-quality processed and packaged seafood and, for them a sustainable business which is truly empowered and not dependent on outside resources and supply of seafood,” explains Luis.
While the benefits of a quota would be split amongst hundreds of workers, it would still offer substantial upliftment for the families of ASP’s workers. That’s what keeps Luis up at night.
But why does he care so much? Why do the lives and livelihoods of these Atlantis workers mean so much to this principled man who got his start in the fishing industry 30 years ago packing bait in Namibia for his lifelong friend and acknowledged super lifter, Diamantino Correia?
The answer lies in a rather unusual habit Luis has developed over the years; that is, praying for those less fortunate and suffering every time he flies overseas. “I’m not scared of flying, but my ritual just before the plane takes off is to pray for the poor and needy, the women who are single mothers and have to work. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be, and I get extremely emotional about it. Deep down, I’m a big softie and want all of us to work together to help those who are suffering in our country.”
Family is important to Luis, and so are factories. He loves to tinker with systems and workflows and simply understand how things are manufactured, how factories are run and machines work.
From packing bait and processing the Spanish delicacy cochocas, to building the largest processer of large pelagic species in the southern hemisphere, Luis has had plenty of first-hand experience getting the operational recipe right in the various factories he has built up over the years.
And yet, he continues to tinker.
“My Spanish colleagues like to joke that we’re building our own la Sagrada Familia, because like Gaudís cathedral in Barcelona we’re always enhancing our factory.
“But the constant drive to make improvements over the years, the need to make things turn on a dime and be agile has set us up to run Atlantis Seafood Products successfully and become one of the largest seafood processing and packaging factories in the country, all without having a viable quota.
“Our supply has never been guaranteed like other big factories in South Africa and yet we’ve managed to be profitable. Can you imagine what our empowered ASP workers could achieve if their supply was guaranteed through attaining a quota. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff.”