Orit Pollak struggled to convince her father to hire her. When he finally did, she was able to grow Reyemsa, the family’s cold-rolled steel manufacturing business, in ways that he never imagined. Later, when she contemplated leaving the business to pursue an MBA, it was her father that persuaded her to stay – her contributions to Reyemsa were indispensable – and when he passed away two years later, he left the business in her capable hands.

Orit is now the President of her family board, which oversees three companies. Reyemsa is a leader in the manufacturing industry of steel drums and containers. Orginor Natural specialises in the development and manufacture of dyes, extracts and natural ingredients for a wide range of commercial and consumer applications. Her first addition to the family group, Magico, is a new Reyemsa line that leverages the family’s manufacturing experience with her late father’s passion for food to deliver cooking products and accessories.

We had the opportunity to speak with Orit Pollak about her perseverance to join the family business, the changes she has implemented since and the entrepreneurial satisfaction she gets from building something for future generations.

Orit Pollak, image courtesy of Reyemsa.

When did you first know you wanted to join the family business?

I always knew my father was a businessman – it was a fact of life growing up. He used to discuss business trips and other work at home with family and friends and, very early on, I dreamt of joining him in business.

In the beginning, however, my father didn’t want me to work with him. I was excelling in the corporate world, and he was worried I would resent giving that up in lieu of the rigours of factory work. He was trying to protect me, but he also had difficulty imagining a woman in steel-toe boots and a hardhat. Finally though, through tenacity and even a little begging, I convinced him to hire me.

Reyemsa Peru: Achieving Entrepreneurial Momentum
Aerial picture of the steel drums plant, courtesy of Reyemsa.

What gave you the confidence to convince your father to hire you? 

Belief in my vision for the business kept me going. Both my sister and I knew Reyemsa and Orginor were our future. The way of managing businesses had changed over the years, and so had consumers’ interests. Protecting Reyemsa’s legacy and ensuring its sustainability for the next generation had become our responsibility. I fought for the opportunity to lead the business in much the same way my father had fought to build it.

I fought for the opportunity to lead the business in much the same way my father had fought to build it.

How did your relationship with your father evolve when you became colleagues?

We got along so well that, when I wanted to study for an MBA in the US, it was my father’s turn to convince me to stay. He didn’t think he could maintain the business without me. The irony of the situation was palpable; I reminded my father that I had to beg him for my job in the first place. By then, however, he had come to realise the extent of my contributions and the necessity of my role in ensuring Reyemsa and Orginor’s sustainability. I chose to stay and didn’t pursue my MBA. My father passed one year ago, and I was able to oversee the transition. I think everything happens for a reason.

Reyemsa Peru: Achieving Entrepreneurial Momentum
Processing line, courtesy of Reyemsa.

How has the business changed under your leadership?

When I first joined the company, the factory had been doing very well for many years. Still, however, having another family member inside the business inspires sustainability. I identified improvements and created new positions to ameliorate them. Since then, I’ve also created an external board of directors, which we didn’t have before.

Some of these changes are small but have made a significant impact. Between both our factories, we have around 200 workers, and we want them all to feel like they are part of our family. Addressing culture was my first priority. They knew changes were coming, and I needed to reassure them that the processes they were used to would only improve as a result. I knew streamlining our operations would benefit everyone in the company.

Reyemsa Peru: Achieving Entrepreneurial Momentum
Processing line, courtesy of Orginor.

Under your leadership, Reyemsa and Orginor have both expanded and diversified. Can you explain your strategy?

The establishment of additional lines in both factories and Orginor’s state-of-the-art factory were a goal of mine from the very beginning. For instance, with Orginor, we started 40 years ago extracting crucial natural ingredients used in the food and cosmetic industries. We’ve recently developed a process to extract heme iron from an organic source to fortify food, which will help fight child malnutrition. The Orginor Natural factory has tremendous potential, and we are currently ramping up its output, not only in partnership with private companies but also with universities and the government. Together, we hope to develop new products that will contribute to society. So far, diversifying through a brand that caters to new sectors is the business achievement I’m most proud of.

I’m also very excited about Magico, a personal project that uses Reyemsa’s pre-existing manufacturing infrastructure to access yet another industry. My father loved to cook, and he realised that Reyemsa’s industrial barrel factory could manufacture smokers through the same process. Magico began as a hobby, but we’ve now expanded our line from three products to almost 30. We’ve gotten exposure throughout South America, and we’ll soon be in Central and North America as well.

Reyemsa Peru: Achieving Entrepreneurial Momentum
Processing line, courtesy of Reyemsa.

How has Latin America’s business landscape changed over the last two decades? 

Latin America is in a privileged position. Commercial trade agreements both regionally and with other countries worldwide keep our economy growing and provide opportunities for the manufacturing industry. For the most part, we live in democratic, open-market societies. Our economic landscape is continually improving, and with it comes a marked appreciation for our quality of life.

Reyemsa Peru: Achieving Entrepreneurial Momentum
Image courtesy of Reyemsa.

What challenges do family businesses face in Peru and what steps can they take to ensure sustained multigenerational success?

Family businesses play an integral role in the Peruvian economy; they are the engine that drives the country’s main industries. In terms of sustainability, innovation is crucial. To maintain their viability, family businesses need to stay abreast of the latest trends and keep up with the needs of their consumers. To that end, we listen to our clients. For us, offering unparalleled quality and service are the foundations we continue to grow on.

Desire is another critical factor when it comes to success in the family business. Family members have to want to work, and not just because they are expected to by their parents. Apathy can have a tremendous negative impact.

My sister is a natural nutritionist and lives in Israel. My mother owns her own greeting cards business and creates beautiful cards for UNICEF. They both help me a lot with innovative ideas for new lines; their support is crucial in maintaining my father’s legacy.

The three of us have a very open relationship – good communication between family members is imperative. Conflict is avoided through communication. A family business will only succeed if the family is united.

Life as an entrepreneur, defined by work for yourself and your loved ones, means building something for the future – something for the coming generations to enjoy, and not strictly in a monetary sense.

What does the future of your business look like? Will the third generation play a role in its continuance?

Every entrepreneur dreams of this scenario: next-generation family members extrapolating on the founder’s legacy. My sister has a four-year-old daughter – I’d be delighted if my niece wanted to pursue opportunities in the family business. One day, I also hope to have a family. I’d love for my children to join the business, but I’ll also respect their decision not to.

Life as an entrepreneur, defined by work for yourself and your loved ones, means building something for the future – something for the coming generations to enjoy, and not strictly in a monetary sense. Instead, it’s about drawing pleasure and inspiration from the passion that previous family members put into the business. That satisfaction, as well as the satisfaction of my family and the progress of my whole team, is what motivates me.