Please note, your browser is out of date.
For a good browsing experience we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera or Internet Explorer.

António Ferreira de Amorim: I´m 91 years old, but I´m still learning with everyone

Portugal 29/5/2020

He has spent over seven decades with the group - lived with profound dedication, a great passion for cork and respect for everyone working in the field. A journey marked by many unforgettable, amusing, emotional or ingenious episodes, which António Ferreira de Amorim recalls in a conversation filled with great wisdom and confidence in the future.

António Ferreira de Amorim, the third son of Albertina and Américo Alves Amorim, began working in the group in 1949, after completing his military service in Tavira, where he served as a Corporal. He had already had his first contact with the family business, at the age of 14, while he was studying at the Colégio S. Luís in Espinho and, later, at the Escola Académica do Porto. He had always been curious to know what was going on behind the doors at Amorim & Irmãos.

Of the four brothers dedicated to developing the group (José, António, Américo and Joaquim), he was the one who spent the most time with the workers, with whom he socialised, and had profound admiration for all his colleagues. He was always a man of action, who liked to work in the field. Someone who was used to listening and talking; who liked to feel the company pulse from the inside. He is still the same today.

“I always enjoyed working in the factory; I like the factory environment, mingling with the factory workers.” He recalls: “I followed all loading and unloading operations. In the past, the piles of cork and shavings were weighed individually and their weights were noted. The buyers and sellers wrote down the weights, one pile at a time, and then they were taken to the warehouses, or sent to be exported, via Vila Nova de Gaia, Matosinhos or Lisbon.”

António Ferreira de Amorim amusingly recalls the period when the Portuguese state banned any cork exports: “There was a time when we could not export our products, but we were able to export via Spain. So we produced the export documents in the Port of Leixões. The documents accompanying the cork specified that the point of origin was Vigo, but in actual fact it was sent from the Port of Leixões, right here. For us it was more practical to send the material directly to Leixões, rather than to Vigo. We produced the documents here, as if they had been sent from Vigo. And I didn't give them anything ... they treated me well, it didn't cost them anything and that’s how we resolved the matter”.

He has many joyful memories, for example in relation to a strategic historical retreat: “In the past, the boats entered the estuary mouth of the River Douro and docked in Vila Nova de Gaia, where we loaded the products. There were no containers - the materials were shipped in the hold and decks of the vessels”. He admits that if he were in charge of a factory today, he would like to be in charge of logistics: “I always particularly liked these functions, because I like to see people move, help them and hear their opinions”.

People come first

António Ferreira de Amorim has a deep respect for all the group’s past and present employees, who, through their dedication and commitment, gave their all to take cork further. He had great talent for organisation, rigour and efficiency that within the different companies, always fostered peace and social tranquility that is sometimes worth more than all the money in the world. That is why, when he recalls his most vivid memories from his time with the group, that it is always people who appear in the foreground: “A few years ago, technological advances made it possible to develop electronic machines for sorting cork stoppers. This had been a specialised task, always performed by women. At Amorim & Irmãos, we had a few dozen female employees - the choosers”, he says. “Some women spent their entire professional lives in that factory. Some had worked there since they were children, with more than 47 or 48 years of service. The decision to dismiss them was particularly painful. Although they received a very good compensation, I was very sad to see them leave Amorim & Irmãos. I was profoundly moved, but that’s the way things go. We have to respect our workers and, when these difficult situations arise, we have to be the first ones to talk to them, explain the reasons and try to resolve things as best as possible, with the least possible damage, compensating them and thanking them” he says. “I did this, although it was very painful for everyone involved. I talked to all of them before they left.”

He also has much happier memories. For example, when Corticeira Amorim Indústria (now Amorim Cork Composites) was founded in 1963. “I couldn’t believe my eyes, when we advanced with the works, that would enable us to process cork shavings and cork waste in Portugal, which until then we had exported,” he recalls, with great emotion. “The day I saw the mills processing the cork shavings and making granulated cork, was like a dream come true. That was only possible thanks to the capacity and work of my uncle Henrique Amorim, of my brothers Zé, Américo and Joaquim and also my own personal commitment. ”

These were exciting, but also demanding, times, in which people worked for many hours to ensure that the company reached a safe harbour. “At that time, I was working day and night. We had two or three foremen, who virtually never left the factory, only to get some sleep - Mr. Evaristo, Alexandre, Serafim and Zé the Electrician” he recalls with a smile. He says that Amorim Cork Composites’ genetic code was based on “the effort and the desire of the factory staff, of uncle Henrique and us, the four brothers, plus 10-11 office workers.” He then notes: “You have to deserve this effort and do more and better than we did. I'll be watching!”

An intense way of experiencing his work achievements, for which he never claimed laurels, even when they were due. One only has to recall the recently inaugurated new APA (Amorim Cork Composites’ finished products warehouse), which is the direct result of his inexhaustible perseverance. “APA used to have 4000 m2. We now have 12,000 m2. Before, we loaded three trucks. Looking at the development of Corticeira Amorim, we had no room for anything. So we had to buy materials. Today we have space to load eight trucks simultaneously. It was the only possibility that we had to grow. Production obliged us to ensure an outward flow for our products, we had to expand. But everyone contributed to the idea. I just saw that we were facing a bottleneck and that was the only opportunity.”

Having dedicated his life to the group, there is always one more story to tell. As António Amorim says, “there were many adventures, some were amusing, funny, or ingenious ...” That’s when he remembers the story of his uncle, Commander Henrique Amorim, who spent a good part of the year in Abrantes, where he stayed in a boarding house in front of the railway station, from where he could watch the cork being loaded. “At that time, most freight transport was done by rail and it wasn’t easy to arrange carriages to transport the cork. But given that my uncle was staying in Abrantes (and then my brother Zé), he invited the station manager to play cards almost every night, in the boarding house. Between conversations and playing cards, he managed to get the station manager to find him some more carriages, to be able to load the piles of cork they were preparing at our factory in Abrantes.”

Decades of great challenges and work ensued: a period of great growth and diversification of activity, with increasing levels of production and exports to customers in the four corners of the world.

António Ferreira de Amorim stresses the unity and cooperation between the brothers, with visible pride and affection. José, the eldest, was responsible for supplying the raw material, and even today, at 95, he is the person who understands and knows the most about cork and the cork oak forest; Américo, the leading figure of the third generation, endowed with a unique vision and tenacity, whose performance radically altered the cork industry in Portugal and around the world. And António himself made a key contribution - with his characteristic care and enthusiasm - to definition and implementation of the strategy, in particular accompanying the creation and consolidation of the manufacturing facilities, carefully listening and ensuring implementation of the best production and safety practices.

The importance of family ties

Cooperation between everyone and the importance of family ties are a constant element in António Ferreira de Amorim's memories. “I remember the times when we had lunch every day at the Casa do Fundador and took the opportunity to talk about the business: Aunt Rosa used to spice up the menu when we had foreign customers. On those occasions she made two or three types of soup and at least two dishes: a fish and a meat dish. On those days we had a feast! On other days, the meal was quite simple and almost identical to that served in the factory canteen”. He then recalls emotionally: “I remember many colleagues who have died, and with whom I worked and had a great time together. I remember with great affection my aunts Ana and Rosa, both of whom were very demanding, but also affable and attentive.”
Because memories are like cherries, a new episode inevitably emerges: “In the past we used to fill the bags of cork stoppers by hand, directly from a big pile of stoppers. On one occasion Uncle Henrique, started to fill and mix the cork stoppers, putting in some handfuls of inferior quality cork stoppers into the bag. When Aunt Rosa saw Uncle Henrique trying to pull a fast one, she gave him a sermon: “Listen! If you do that again and mix up the qualities, I'll be the one who will be stuffing you into that bag! ” It goes without saying that Uncle Henrique never did that again; at least, not in front of Aunt Rosa ... That day, he walked as far away as he could from her, because he didn't want to be embarrassed in front of everyone else.”

At the age of 91, António Amorim maintains an incredible youthful spirit and humility. “I think I did my part well; I liked my work; I am always available to support others and give my opinion to our youngest colleagues and teach them the basics, because they leave university with a lot of knowledge, but cork is a very special and particular material. Younger people need to learn and listen to the older people and give their opinion. If it's a better idea, I just clap and thank them. At 91, I’m still learning from everyone! ”

Looking ahead to the next 150 years, he leaves a message inspired by his own life, in terms of his proximity and close relations with people: “I’m not much for giving advice; I like to talk and to listen; I like everyone to take part in decisions and give their opinion”. He then adds: “But, if I may, I’d just like to give one piece of advice: technicians, engineers and economists have to listen and speak to those working on the ground; it is important to value the workers; I like them to express themselves and say what they think. It’s important to pay attention to them and listen to them.”

“The group has everything it needs to succeed. And it will!”

His in-depth knowledge of the business, of the people who make it possible every day, and the wisdom with which he regards life, makes him look forward with optimism towards the future: “The new generation is prepared; it is well served; it has great vision and work capacity ”, he stresses. “Times aren’t easy at present; but they were never. New managers must always be the best and always be willing to make sacrifices and set an example. The group has everything it needs to succeed. And it will!”