Andrew Tan, the emperor of cognac, takes root in Spain
Andrew Chong Buan Lim Tan (Quanzhou, China, 1952) arrived in the Philippines as a teenager, where he built a business empire. Its businesses are spread throughout the Pacific Archipelago as apartment buildings, office buildings, casinos, hotels, or McDonald’s franchises; and make him the eighth richest man in the country, with a fortune of 2,900 million dollars (just over 2,500 million euros), according to Forbes. But among all his businesses, there is one for which he is particularly known: the Distillerie de l’Empereur. It contributes more than 40% of the revenue of Alliance Global Group Inc. (AGI), the group’s parent company, and is the world’s largest brandy producer.
Tan is credited with making the distillate a very popular drink in his host country. And at the origin of this adventure is a visit to Spain in 1983. “This first trip was crucial”, explains Jorge Domecq, CEO of Emperador Properties, the Filipino’s real estate subsidiary in Spain. “He travels once or twice a year and has kept in touch with the country. Every time he comes he takes days off and likes to move around Spain, he knows that very well,” he adds.
But in addition to tourism, Tan comes to do business. Three decades after first setting foot in the country, she would return in the midst of a Great Recession hangover to buy warehouses and buildings. And although its face among the Spaniards is much less known than some of the brands it sells (Terry, Fundador, etc.) or the buildings it owns, the Emperor Group has a vocation for sustainability and to make itself known. Last test: in September, he renamed the fourth tallest skyscraper in Spain after himself.
The Emperor’s Tower is one of the four masses that close the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid to the north. On the 28th floor is the headquarters of the Spanish subsidiary of Tan, the germ of which was, in 2014, a joint venture with González Byass (Tío Pepe) to take over half of Bodega Las Copas, which owns vineyards in Toledo, a distillery in Ciudad Real and manufactures brandy in Jerez. A discreet gesture for the bell that would come later: in a Spain where there was still an excess of bricks, in 2015 it would buy the Torre Espacio from Grupo Villar Mir for 558 million. It was clear that his business would have two branches: winery and real estate.
The turnover of the latter approached 34 million in 2021, according to data provided by the company, and the valuation of its assets already exceeds 1,000 million. In addition to the recently renamed Madrid skyscraper, it has acquired the historic headquarters of Telefónica in Barcelona, a 110-meter building which has also just been renamed Diagonal One, and it owns 49% of Caleido, known as the fifth tower of la Castellane.
He knows all sides of the coin in depth.
Domecq believes that this last building – which houses a business school, a private medical center and a commercial area that will open in the spring, if plans go smoothly – sums up the spirit of the company well: “Long-term investments term, with environmental sustainability and a social orientation that contributes to the well-being of companies”. “The district of the four towers is quite inhospitable and Caleido will bring it a lot of life”, pleads the director. The building also exemplifies the way Tan likes to do business, and it is said that when he buys something, he spends a few days exploring the area. And Caleido is not only next to the Emperor’s Tower, but it had the same owner, Villar Mir.
At street level, the Filipino billionaire “is a discreet man, with a very pleasant and considerate treatment”, indicates, on condition of anonymity, a diplomat who has dealt with him on occasion and describes him as “a personality close to the Embassy [española en Manila] and collaborate with her. In fact, in the Legation in the Philippine Capital, he would in 2018 receive the commendation of the number of the Order of Civil Merit, a recognition granted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and received by foreign citizens “who have rendered distinguished service to Spain or a notable collaboration”.
A dream come true
At that time, the magnate had spent more than 1,000 million in the country. And not just in skyscrapers. At the end of 2015, the Emperador group announced the acquisition of Bodegas Fundador, the oldest in Cadiz, capital of Sherry and as relevant to their story as it is to Tan’s own life trajectory. “The first time I drank brandy was during my university graduation celebration. My father opened a bottle of Fundador,” the businessman would write years later in the magazine. Diplomacy. “I can say that I have achieved my biggest dream. That dream is for Founder to be part of Emperor,” he added.
The occasion served for a fleeting visit to Jerez, the only one in Spain where Tan had a public profile. Some images show that she is able to speak approximate Spanish. The trip also left a trail of speculation about new property investment to revive the city’s historic center. Sources from the municipal administration assure that his passage was “punctual” and “discreet”. And they respond succinctly that “the projects that have been put on the table have not materialized”. Domecq does not rule out, but does not confirm, whether there are new projects under consideration, although he recalls that the businessman “has always been very attached to this area and has been part of it. ‘one of the biggest investors’.
The pandemic has forced a few months of investment calm around the world, but that hasn’t stopped Emperor’s Spanish businesses. Its real estate subsidiary began directly managing certain buildings in 2020 and has just opened a coworking (shared workspaces) in the capital. The group already has 240 workers in Spain (20 in the real estate company and around 220 in the warehouses). It seems like a drop in the ocean for AGI, which has 40,000 employees worldwide, had sales of more than 2,500 million euros last year and made profits of almost 175 million. But liquids, as we know, tend to spread if they do not encounter obstacles. “Spain continues to be an attractive real estate market and the possibilities are endless,” warns Domecq.
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