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We are at the origin of all this: the history of the Silva family at Corticeira Amorim

Portugal 30/4/2020

The history of the Silva family and that of the Amorim group first intertwined last century. Norberto Silva, a humble lad from Fiães, Santa Maria da Feira, joined the group in 1937. Today, more than 80 years later, the Silvas are one of many families who are proud to have maintained a long association with Amorim, endorsing it from generation to generation – with five children, a son-in-law, two grandchildren, who have many stories to tell, including factory fires, weddings, crises, distinctions, dating, travel, promotions, dreams, blunders. Memories like so many others experienced by thousands of employees who, regardless of their surname, have helped build our success over the past 150 years. Thank you all!

 Norberto, the patriarch of the Silva family, is now 94 years old. “He finds it difficult to use his mobile phone,” explains his youngest daughter, Ana Maria. His former dexterity and physical strength, with which he “carried trolleys, carrying piles of cork on his back”, has been replaced by the strength of the words that his children and grandchildren use to tell his story. He joined the Amorim group in 1937, at the age of 11. He left the company, but returned a few years later and stayed until his retirement. Norberto Sr., let us call him that, was “in charge at the construction yard” and was the only source of income for a family with five children. There were four Marias, “because in the past all girls were called Maria”, and Norberto Jr..

Maria Clara was the eldest, then came Norberto, the son, followed by Maria Filomena and Maria Fernanda, the middle daughters and, finally, Ana Maria, the youngest. Everyone says that Norberto Sr. was always a man of “few words”, he “was a hard worker, who would come home late”. “He talks more now, he talks a lot now”, says Maria Fernanda, recalling the days when her father “put the food in the pot and heated it up in the water from the boiler”, when “they went to fetch the cork and even crossed the river, in Montijo, when the boat was so loaded that they thought of throwing some of the cork planks into the river, because they were afraid the boat might sink”.

Norberto was always “a good father and a very good person.” He was and is "very good for his children, and grandchildren". Even in the factory, "nobody has a word to say against him". Even so, from time to time "he raised his voice there", says Maria Clara, "but they said it was only for show, that he was a good person". Looking back at her father's nearly 50-year experience with the group, the balance is very positive, explains Filomena, "there are many moments, but the positive things far exceed the negative". “A few months ago,” adds Clara, “he told my son and my brother that he really wanted to talk to Dr. António, that they were very good friends”. In the group, little by little, “he got his children to work there, which was something he didn't really want at the time, because he was afraid something might happen to the company and the whole family was there.”

“What are we going to talk about?”

Maria Clara was Norberto’s first daughter to join Amorim. “It was in 1977, I was 14 years old, soon to be 15, I joined the company on May 16”, she recalls, “43 years ago”. She began “in the cork blocks sector, which is where Christmas parties are now held”. Today she works for Amorim Top Series, that she “joined 23 years ago”. She is the only one, of the four sisters, who doesn’t work directly for Amorim Cork. In family lunches and dinners, work is therefore a recurring subject. “What are we going to talk about?”, jokes Filomena, “some people talk about one thing, others about another, but it's almost always work, even if we want to change the subject, we can't, there are always stories to be told”.

Norberto Silva - the son - was the third member of the family to join Amorim. “I have worked for the group for 42 years, I joined on January 5, 1978”, I was 14, but “even when I was 13 I was already doing a lot of work for the company”. He only completed four years at school - “that was the law back then”. Over the years he has grown and learned new things. “My father told me to open my eyes. One day they will choose the best of the best. That was true.” He entered the cork blocks unit, replacing his sister Clara, who moved to the factory. He remained "there for a year, in front of the slicing operations". "I enjoyed that, I liked working in the cork sector, it was a good way to start", he adds. In 1980, he moved to the metalworking department, where he still remains “on the maintenance side”.

Nineteen years later, he was put in charge of a team. He travelled. He spent “a month in Australia, setting up a factory”, then spent some time in Tunisia, and followed all the technological developments in the world of cork stoppers. Above all he recalls his memories from his early days. Sometimes, “I left for Alentejo the day before, at 8 pm, and arrived there at 3 am in the morning. I used to stay at the Abrantes factory on my own. I lay on top of some hammocks, waiting for the sunrise. ” On other occasions, “I went with Mr. José Amorim, at 6 am. We got there by 8:30 am, 9 am. We talked on the way. I remember he often asked me cigarettes. He smoked a lot. He knew that I smoked. We arrived in Abrantes, stopped and went to have some breakfast.

After Norberto Jr., Maria Fernanda, joined the group in 1980, when she was 14 years old. “I’ve been working for the company for 40 years”. She wanted to be a hairdresser, she says, and even thought seriously about the career, but her father pointed her in another direction. “I took a hairdressing course and started doing it part-time, at the time I thought of leaving Amorim, but he advised me against it”. "Think carefully, think carefully, he said, and I really thought and today I’m very grateful". She started in the cork stopper sector, “where the cork was treated, marked, packed in boxes and shipped to the customer”. Back then, she recalls, with a smile, there was little transportation. “We used to hitchhike on the trucks that collected cork, that’s how we got home. Sometimes there were many of us, we couldn’t all fit in the front cabin, so we sat in the open section in the back, but we were all happy ”. Later, when the cork processing sector moved, Fernanda stayed in the filling sector, where she remains today. After her shift, which ends at 2 pm, she goes home to take care of her father.

Dating in secret

In 1981, a year after Fernanda joined the company, Maria Filomena also entered the group. She was 16 years old. She had worked for two years in another company, but “every day it upset my father because he wanted me to join Amorim”. Mena, as she is known in the company, joined the cork selection sector and stayed there. “It was the art I learned, and I like what I do.” At the company she met Fernando Soares, her husband, who has also worked at Amorim for 40 years. Meeting Filomena “was the highlight of my journey in the company”, explaining Fernando. They always had to date “in secrecy, during break times”. Even today, he remembers the first time he met Norberto Sr., who later became his father-in-law. “There are funny moments, the first time I arrived here, I went to check some damage to the boiler. I was a bit naïve and I turned it off. Mr. Norberto reprimanded me for having switched it off - because I messed up ”.

Ana Maria, the youngest sister, was the last of the children to join the group, in 1983, at the age of 14. But even when she was 12 “she was already coming here, to bring lunches for my sisters, and for my father and brother.” She immediately joined the cork selection sector, “which at the time was done by hand, on a counter, and then passed to the rolling machines”. She then moved to Amorim 2, where she worked for another 10 years. Afterwards, she returned to Amorim Irmãos, where “at that time, they no longer worked with counters”. Everything has evolved. Looking back at the past, she says, “You always miss things a bit, don't you?”

The present is being forged by Norberto Xavier, the son of Norberto Jr., and Jorge Guedes, the son of Maria Clara, grandchildren of Norberto Sr.. They are the third generation of the family to work in the group. Norberto Xavier joined in 2014 and today is part of the management control team of Biocape.

Jorge was the last “Silva” to join the group, in 2017. He works for Amorim Distribuição, and hopes to finish the accounting and administration course he is attending at night.

A second family

It is true that for the Silva family, there have been difficult moments. The factory fire in the 1980s left its mark on the older brothers and the son-in-law, Fernando, "who was down there, in the construction yard was, with everyone involved, removing the piles of cork." Ana Maria and Maria Clara talk about job changes, beginning in new places, within the group, where everything was unknown. For all of them - father, children and grandchildren - the balance is very positive and the good memories far outweigh the bad ones. “I always remember the good things, I don't dwell on the bad times”, underlines Filomena. Ana Maria, in turn, clearly highlights a date. “What I really liked was when I received a watch for completing 25 years with the company. We went there to the big house, to the museum, and had a little party”. Working in the group is the only thing she has done so far in her life that "is almost like a family, it’s a second family".

The Silva family has many years and a long history in the Amorim group. Over those years, the company has grown and evolved. “Machinery, robots, technology, computers”, lists Maria Clara. “It was a wheel that never stopped,” explains Norberto Jr. “We are at the origin of all this, but we don't even notice it. It’s funny.”