Back in her younger years, Ileana Bustamante was an explorer. She lived and traveled far away from her native Guatemala, spending time in Istanbul, Brussels, Canada and the US.
Exposure to new cultures and markets gave her a deeper understanding of consumer preferences than would have been available to her at home and prepared her to lead B&B Foods, the purveyor of quality canned vegetables, condiments and hot sauces founded by her parents in 1958.
Although she always expected to join the family business, the timing of her accession was determined by tragedy. “The tragic death of my brother and my father’s rapidly declining health were the catalysts that brought me back to focus on my family’s business and our legacy,” Ileana recalls.
“Since becoming CEO, I aim to be a bridge between the work of my father and our path to the future. I am fiercely proud of my family legacy, and it’s my responsibility to preserve the values and vision of the founders for future generations.”
However, becoming CEO of B&B Foods was not simply a matter of coming home from overseas. Ileana had to prove herself. Before heading the family business, she independently launched and operated a wholesale distributor of consumer goods, including some B&B products, in El Salvador and Honduras.
“I managed and ran the operation, traveling extensively to get to know the clients and learn about the consumer needs in each country. I formed a management structure and worked closely with each team,” she explains.
Since becoming CEO, I aim to be a bridge between the work of my father and our path to the future.
“Needless to say, this required managerial and financial skills, experience with logistics and an understanding of sales strategies and closing deals.” Ileana even worked with B&B’s research and development department to develop and reformulate products to accommodate consumer needs and prices in Guatemala’s neighboring countries.
“I managed to make the operation profitable, and later I opened in Nicaragua and Costa Rica,” she says. “I always strove to gain market share in each country where we position the brand.”
Today, as CEO of B&B Foods, Ileana continues to build upon the achievements of her earlier professional years.
“Our highest priority now is entering and expanding in new international markets,” she shares. “We are currently targeting parts of Latin America and the US, and we are exploring opportunities in the EU.”
Ileana is also working on securing credit lines and payment term flexibility to grow the potential of the company’s retail partners and manage major shocks like COVID-19. Another area of focus is innovation – developing new products, formulations and packaging to grow B&B’s product portfolio.
“Innovation is crucial to any organization that wants to remain competitive,” she says. “In a constantly evolving market, our company continuously enhances the efficiency of our systems to be lean and profitable. We create new concepts, processes and ideas. I allocate resources toward a robust and dynamic research and development department to work on the creation of new products and improve the ones that we already have in order to generate value for our consumers.”
A monumental task
Ileana’s work has not been easy every step of the way. When she took over as CEO, she had to oversee a complete corporate restructure that she saw as necessary and inevitable in order to make B&B Foods more efficient and profitable.
“It was the most difficult time I had as a CEO,” she admits. “The company changed from a flat organizational structure to a hierarchical structure with a more progressive culture, where every employee has a sense of belonging. Transforming the organization was a monumental task. It was a multi-year effort, but I am proud to have built a culture that is more appropriate to the company’s vision.
“I also want to emphasize that I have found it extremely rewarding to empower and promote female talent into positions of management. The tendency in many societies is to minimize female employees into gender roles. In my experience, without fail, my expectations have always been exceeded when I gave female management and leadership a chance. There is hidden female talent in all organizations in the world – the question is, are the CEOs looking?”
With this transformation, Ileana has set the stage for B&B’s third generation to be its greatest yet. “I strive to motivate my team to move forward through steadfast guidance, tolerance, drive and passion,” she says. “Our high-quality products, excellent value and great service always exceed our consumers’ expectations.”
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