Demetrio Carceller Arce (MBA ’91) Discusses Sustainability and Leadership in a Pandemic

The CEO and chairman for several companies says leading means taking risks

March 23, 2022
Leadership, Operations

The pandemic brought many changes for companies.

Some had to shut down. Others had to continue operating with uncertainty about whether they would have healthy employees or the right supplies.

Demetrio Carceller Arce (MBA ’91), who leads several companies including Spain-based brewery DAMM, managed through both scenarios during the pandemic, when different regions of the country established different lockdown guidelines.

This made selling beer quite complicated, said Carceller Arce, who spoke with Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Dean Bill Boulding for the Distinguished Speakers Series. Carceller Arce is also CEO and chairman of energy company Disa and serves on Fuqua’s Board of Visitors.

“We were declared a strategic industry which meant that we had to keep our plants open and running, but at the same time, I was really worried about the risks that our people were taking,” Carceller Arce said.

With operations continuing in Madrid but at a standstill in Catalonia, home to the city of Barcelona, DAMM had close to 2,000 people on hand without enough work to do.

“That was difficult to adjust but we managed to get through,” Carceller Arce said. The company pivoted by training those employees in new technologies and establishing new apps for clients in the bar and restaurant industry. One of DAMM’s phone apps now connects 60,000 bars around Spain, he said.

An advantage during the pandemic, he said, was having the business in “reachable terms.” 

“If we would have been 50 percent international and 50 percent national then we would be facing completely different problems,” Carceller Arce said. “…What I decided many years ago was to integrate many parts of the value chain, so I do have my own logistics firms inside DAMM. I do have my own barley inside DAMM. I do have my own cans inside DAMM. So there are certain things that we’re inside the group that form(s) part of the supply chain. Of course, we don’t produce 100 percent of our needs, but we have enough to survive a situation like that.” 

For Disa, the energy company Carceller Arce heads that is based in the Canary Islands, operations faced fewer obstacles because the energy industry is essential to keeping the economy running, he said.

Carceller Arce, who directly runs companies that employ more than 8,000 people, has been lauded as a business leader with a strong reputation, in part because of his work in sustainability.

By swapping plastic rings that hold six-packs of beer for cardboard, DAMM eliminated almost a million pounds of plastic waste every year. Over the past decade, the company has also reduced its water consumption by more than one-third. 

At Disa, the energy company has worked to offset the environmental impacts of its carbon production by establishing more forest cover in Spain and investing close to 400 million in renewables, Carceller Arce said. 

Carceller Arce said he believes that both business and government must work together to protect the environment. The government can incentivize business, but businesses must adopt a mindset of responsibility, he said. 

“At the end of the day, we are responsible for the way that we conduct business,” Carceller Arce said. “I have realized that I cannot continue to behave the way I was behaving and now I realize that I need to change certain things in my value chain, produce products in a different way, create new products to make them greener. At the end of the day … I’m not going to solve the world’s problem, but I can do my part.”

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