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Florida Crystals / Okeelanta Corporation

Profile: Florida Crystals / Okeelanta Corporation

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Florida Crystals' story has been intertwined with the sugar industry for five generations. It began more than a century ago in Cuba and has helped shape the industry in three nations since then.

When a hard-working Spaniard, Andres Gomez-Mena, arrived in Cuba in the mid-19th century, sugar already was the island's main crop. By the time he died in 1910, Gomez-Mena owned four sugar mills, was a major property owner in Havana and one of Cuba's prominent business leaders. His vision advanced under his son, Jose "Pepe" Gomez-Mena who reorganized the family holdings into the New Gomez-Mena Sugar Company.

Pepe also emerged as an international industry figure. He served in the 1930s as Cuba's Secretary of Agriculture and was president of the National Association of Sugar Mill Owners and the Cuban Institute for Sugar Stabilization.

Meanwhile, a parallel story was unfolding as Manuel Rionda founded the Czarnikow Rionda Company in New York and the Cuban Trading Company. Operating six sugar mills in Cuba, the family business was carried on through nephew Higinio Fanjul Rionda and great nephew, Alfonso Fanjul, Sr.

These two families formed an alliance with the marriage of Alfonso Fanjul, Sr. and Lillian Gomez-Mena in 1936. The combined family holdings included interests in ten sugar mills, three distilleries and the Czarnikow-Rionda Company, as well as major real estate holdings throughout Cuba.

Fidel Castro's seizure of power, and of the family's holdings, in 1959 interrupted the family story. The Fanjul family became political refugees in the United States and set about rebuilding the family's resources through enterprise and hard work. Joined by other recently dispossessed Cuban families, Alfonso Fanjul, Sr. launched a new venture in Florida in 1960. The group purchased 4,000 acres near Lake Okeechobee for $160 per acre and sections of three small sugar mills in Louisiana, which were barged to Florida and reassembled as the Osceola mill.

Starting over was a challenge the Fanjuls tackled step by step. Alfonso Fanjul and his eldest son, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul, Jr. oversaw the building of the original sugar mill and development of the land. In the late 1960s, a second son, Jose "Pepe" Fanjul, joined them in directing the company. Two younger sons, Alexander and Andres, joined the business in the 1970s and 80s. The family philosophy that launched the business remains intact: continually reinvest in the company, focus on quality and value the dedication of employees.

 

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