Cover Story Feature
Story by: Melissa Rondon | Photos by: Jesse Nogales
Victor Almeida, President of Interceramic, has it in his DNA. He is a natural warrior. Saving the company from bankruptcy three times, Almeida’s survival nature has trained him to face challenges head on and always result as triumphant.
As President & General Director of Mexican-American company Interceramic, Victor Almeida has seen the company through four decades of ups and downs. Here, he talks about developing a competitive presence, evolving with dynamic markets, and rebuilding after crisis. Victor Almeida is a family man through and through. Early on, he knew he would work with his father in one of his family’s businesses. “I never had any doubts,” he says matter-of-factly. “I was always lined up -- mentally, emotionally, spiritually -- to work in the family business, whatever that was.”
His father, Oscar, ensured that his son was well-prepared for the international business world. He impressed upon Almeida the importance of education, being bilingual, and being a citizen of both Mexican and US cultures. According to Almeida, school was the priority, but he always knew he wanted to work with his father. Ever the early starter, Almeida went straight to work at the newly-formed Interceramic less than a month after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in May of 1979. He began his career at ground level, learning the business from warehouse and factory floors before entering the marketing and business spheres. Then, in 1982, circumstances necessitated a new President and Almeida rose to the occasion.
At the time, Interceramic was a small company valued at about $10 million. After Lopez Portillo nationalized Mexican banks, the country fell into a super-recession, and so did Interceramic. Almeida took action, cutting back operations and costs to half the original volume of the business -- enough to help the company and its employees weather the storm. It took time, says Almeida, but “slowly but surely, things started to happen.” The company began to grow again, and in 1985 was able to invest in moderate expansion. The pattern of growth continued and, in the mid-1990s, Interceramic launched a franchise system that positioned them to become a premium supplier of the highest-quality ceramic tile in Mexico.
Almeida sought to differentiate Interceramic from its competitors early. “We focused the company on being different and innovative,” he says. Over the years, Interceramic broke barriers, becoming the first in the industry to advertise on television, the first to place ads in women’s magazines, the first to create a formal catalogue, and the first (and, to date, only) franchise system.
The company set up 30 wholesale distribution centers in the US, which flourished -- until the 2008 housing crisis. Before the recession, America made up 45% of Interceramic’s business. That number dropped precipitously as the housing market crumbled. These days, the US represents a growing 30% of Interceramic’s business. The pace of business began to pick up between 2012 and 2014 as the American housing market began to stabilize. In 2015, Almeida’s son took over as the President of Interceramic USA, ushering in a new era for the American branch of the business.
Today, Interceramic is a $500 million international company overhauling its presence, especially in the US. Rebranding themselves, relaunching products, building a new warehouse, implementing new systems, building a new team of professionals, and reinventing their offerings, Almeida hopes to continue to grow Interceramic in the US. One of the biggest challenges the company faces in the US market, according to Almeida, “is to service a trade market. You’re not really going after the consumers,” he explains. “You need to service distributors, wholesalers -- professionals of the industry.” In that way, says Almeida, the American market differs vastly from Mexico. “It’s a complex market,” he says. “It’s a challenge to understand, and it’s a real challenge to service it the way you need to service it.”
“The challenge we face today is competing against the world,” says Almeida of the American market in particular. 70% of US tile is imported from other countries, so in the tile business, “you’re competing with the entire world very intensely.” Almeida’s strategy to face these challenges begins with his team. “We believe that, over 40 years of Interceramic, we’ve been a company that’s focused on … the people that make up the team, … on creating good leaders that can show by example … I think that’s the foundation of the company,” says Almeida.
Ask Almeida about the past four decades leading Interceramic, and he’s honest. “It’s been a long road of 40 years … with many ups and downs.” Some of those downs have been pretty severe: “in my 40 years, we’ve been nearly bankrupted three times,” says Almeida. Yet, through economic and political changes, volatile market conditions and near financial disaster, the challenge of survival has fueled Almeida’s determination to succeed. “It’s a tradition in my family to survive,” he says. “You have it in your blood that a challenge to survive -- you have to do it. You don’t ever give up and you don’t ever chicken out.” Almeida has applied that tenacity to his business, repeatedly pulling the company back from the brink and into the black.
He also wants to encourage that same determination in others, from his children to his fellow Mexicans. “You just don’t quit, ever,” he says. On the state of Mexican politics, he asks, “How do we help? We have such a great country, and it keeps getting messed up by bad politicians … I think we need to do a much better job.” Of his involvement in helping improve conditions in Mexico, Almeida is both positive and pragmatic. “That’s a bucket list [that’s] ongoing,” he says. +
the origin of interceramic
Interceramic was founded in Chihuahua, Mexico in May of 1979 by Almeida’s grandfather, Esteban, and his father, Oscar. The idea for the business came about when Oscar looked into diversifying a family brick company. “Brick is a regional business,” explains Almeida. Due to high freight costs, “You cannot go national with a brick company … But,” he says with a smile, “you can do that with a ceramic tile factory.” Oscar traveled to Italy, where he was introduced to a new technology for ceramics unavailable in Mexico -- or in the US. “From day one, we saw that we needed to be involved in the US market,” says Almeida, so the fledgling company seized the opportunity to expand their business, opening a subsidiary in El Paso, TX almost immediately after the launch of the company in Chihuahua. Almeida began working for the company in 1979 at age 20, less than a month after graduating from UT Austin. Many young adults dream of going their own way, but not Almeida. “I was always like my father was,” he says. “It was always family business.”
Provide a good life for his family: “I want my kids to have a good life, to be successful, to be happy.”
Own a billion-dollar company: “One thing I always wanted to do is have a company that’s worth a billion dollars … It’s coming along in a good way.”
To help uplift Mexico and its people: “We need to do a lot more to make Mexico a better place for all Mexicans.”
To keep his health: (chuckling) “You have to be healthy and exercise to be able to survive these many crises.”