When I arrived in Brussels after the war I was shocked .
My parents and Rafael and Lucie had been hiding and when Brussels was liberated they had nothing left .
They lived in rue Destouvelle in a cheap apartment and were trying to make a living selling shirts and tee shirts to the stores around Gare du Nord .
My father somehow got the money to buy a typewriter and blank paper , three thousand five hundred belgian francs .
So I set up a corporation ” J . Souroujon et Fils ” which was just a letterhead on the blank sheets .
Somehow I scraped one hundred francs from my savings to get a telegraph address .
And I started working . I sent the same letter which I typed to 80 Belgium Embassies all over the world.
I am a young belgian just returned from the war in England and will ship any material you may need from Belgium .
The first answers were telegrams to Jojon Belgium .
They All asked for caustic soda flakes or solid. Any amount .
So I went to see Solvay, the only producer in Belgium .
They were very nice but told me that caustic soda was very scare and the little that they produced had to be sold to the belgian soap manufacturers .
The Director was very nice and told me that all over the world people needed to wash after five years of war .
Caustic soda was the main ingredient of soap and it became very scarce . Meanwhile I had inquired with the belgian chemical factories to find out what was available for export. Nothing really, nothing .
Except, I found a belgian manufacturer who could sell zinc oxide .
So I replied to all the letters who started to arrive .
Sorry no caustic soda but I can sell zinc oxide .
It is a white powder that you use to paint the buildings.
But no buildings were built in 1946.
Everybody wanted caustic soda not zinc oxide .
One day I finally got an order .
It was a man from Galata, near Constantinople, the most important city in Turkey .
He bought twenty tons of zinc oxide and explained that in Turkey girls are very beautiful but very vanitous . They cannot get soap or cosmetics so they smear their faces with any white paste they can find .
God bless them that was my first sucessful business .
It brought me luck and soon we left rue Destouvelle to the best district in Brussels, 95 Avenue Louis Lepoutre .
I had a wonderful client Monsieur Platard of Madrid who bought thousands of tons of ammonium sulphate
He came to Brussels with an associate, a young guy my age called Martin Gonzales and this guy’s visiting card just said
Him and Ernesto were just brokers but very smart and honest .
They invited all the Blue Bell dancing girls to Champagne at the Grand Siecle, the most famous night club in Brussels .
It was a very profitable business and I set up Industries Reunies SA which was the first real company as all the rest was just Letter Head Names never registered .
I did good business with Mr Platard
Things were going better but there was a terrible shortage as the Government had no money for foreign exchange .
I had a beautiful order of titanium oxide from Russia for fifty tons to be delivered to Rostock on the Baltic sea
But it was in belgian francs and I only could get it in the United States where it had to be paid in us dollars
With a friend Albert Cortes I went to Gibraltar by car and then took a boat to Tangier, Marocco.
At that time Tangier was the only place in the world where there was free exchange.
So I set up Industries Reunies in Tangier and got US dollars .
On the return I had that problem with the muslim girl that had winked at me and had to rush because her bodyguards wanted to kill me .
And Albert got very sick on the boat .
But everything turned out OK and I became a millionaire in belgian francs .
I made very good money with Mr Platard and his banker’s friend .
In fact I bought an apartement for Lucie who was getting married to a very nice guy called Daniel .
But my father had spent all his money constructing a large apartment building in Natanya and he wanted me to be there .
It was 1949 and business was booming in Belgium .
I bought the first Volkswagen blue and was very happy with it .
But I drove my VW to Marseilles and sailed from there to Haifa .
The VW did not like Israel and stopped working. I had lots of problems with it and spent a lot of money on repairs even though it was brand new car .
I stayed three months in Israel and the only sale I made was five tons of citric acid from Union Chimique Belge.
When I came back to Marseilles, the VW was working perfectly and I drove back to Brussels .
But Mr Platard had found another supplier and I had to sell the VW .
It was terrible, I even got stuck with Amonium Sulphate and it took a while to get rid of it.
Then I got sick with a pneumonia because with part of the money of the VW I bought a cheap convertible Chevrolet and the cloth roof did not go down when it started to rain .
Since I came back from Israel, business had gone down.
Finally I decided to leave Europe and go to America.
In New York I became friendly with the owner of a large broker called Schulman and sold lots of Potassium Chloride .
Then I decided to leave New York and go to Los Angeles. It was 1950 and Hollywood was booming
But Tia Sarah the cousin of my mother insisted that I should go to Mexico .
On the way to the mexican border, in St.Louis, I met an american gentleman who told me I was crazy to go to Mexico. But I still went on and took a train that arrived one day later than expected . The engine of the train had problems and it was replaced in San Luis Potosi.
Thirty people were at the station in Mexico City waiting for me .
But it was a large train and they could not find me as five hundred passengers left the train at the same time .
The cousin of my uncle, a lady called Vicky Misrahi realized that there was just one person carrying a tennis raquet . So she approached me and said “Are you Ruben Souroujon ” We are all waiting for you !
That same night Uncle Benny who was the patriach took me to a party and everybody was dancing the Mambo. It was very complicated and they all tried to teach me that new dance .
I stayed at his home for three days and he took me to Sanborn’s to have dinner .
On the way back to his home with a taxi, two maids were kneeling and praying right in front of me when we arrived .
What a crazy country before I realized that it had nothing to do with me .
There was at that moment a strong earthquake and they were afraid .
Uncle Benny found an apartment for me, very cheap. I could not sleep at night and felt dizzy all the time .
One night that I had my pocket full of these heavy twenty centavos copper coins, they fell and rolled to the other side of the room .
I left this inclined apartment and found a very nice house that had not been destroyed by an earthquake.
This is where I met that german young man and we decided to set up a company to make a special soap.
It was called “Boum Boum” and it was in a beautiful round box. Green .
We made five hundred boxes and it contained 90 percent wood powder and 10 percent soap.
But the sale was not what we expected and I decided to leave one box on each bench in Avenida Reforma. Anything for publicity .
It rained that night and all the boxes were there the next day but completely wet .
After a month we decided that it was not a good business and we had to pay to get rid of the 470 boxes that were left .
Meanwhile I got the representation of Sociedad del Anione a division of Solvay in Italy .
They made BHC a special insecticide for cotton .
My first client was Mr. Quijano and I had to go through Industries Reunies in Tangier because he could only pay in pesos and Sociedad del Anione wanted Italian lire .
Seven hundred lire for one dollar .
The exchange was made in Tangier but it worked perfectly.
Mr Quijano was a good client and a good man.
He told me that I could sell a lot of BHC in all the cotton growing regions .
It was early 1951 and I took a bus to Culiacan then Durango then Matamoros but they were second class buses .
There were animals in the buses, chicken goats even once a pig.
It smellt horrible but this was their only way to travel at that time. The people sitting next to me had bugs and I bought some DDT to keep the bugs away.
But I did some very good business during three months and got to know the whole of Mexico .
It was in Matamoros that I first met the cucarachas. They were huge and I hit them with my shoes
I made so much money that I took a bus to Dallas and I bought the 1952 model of a convertible Chevrolet .
It was beautiful and on the way back to Mexico I enjoyed very much riding on the Reforma Avenue . There were no lights at the time, the large avenue was empty and I would drive like crazy around the glorietas and up and down Reforma all day long .
I really felt very happy until I decided to get in the second-hand rails business.
There were two types of rail, Vignole and double mushroom. Both very good to heat and use as constructing irons .
The Vignole was from railways that had them replaced with the Marshall plan.
The double mushroom were from Tramways .
All went well and I sold thousands and thousands of tons.
And then came the G drama . They bought one boat load of rails but when they arrived in Veracruz they refused to import them because the price of steel had gone down .
It was a drama and I lost all the money I had made with the insecticides and the previous sales.
So I decided to sell the car in Dallas and left.
At the border to the US, I could not get in because my passport had expired .
I could not go back to Mexico because my tourist card had expired .
I was on the bridge for one day and the mexican customs finally gave me a red permit to go through Mexico City back to Belgium .
I got out of the train and immediately went to see my friend Arnold Webelman who lent me 500 dollars and told me to go to Guatemala not all the way to Belgium .
I got a new passeport from the Belgium Embassy and a tourist card to Mexico from the mexican consulate in Guatemala.
But I could not fly back to Mexico because of immigration restrictions as that red pass had been transmitted to the international office there .
So I took a bus to the border in Tapachula and then flew domestic to the city .
But what business? I got the representation of Mont St. Amand for colours and sold to the paint factories .
On each corner I told myself ” the next car will be the one I will eventually be able to buy ”
For one year I sold colours but it was not enough .
Then in 1953 I happened to visit a belgian stand at Auditorio Nacional and found out about PVC.
It was a completely new invention that had been discovered by the German Army during the war .
It was a powder but if you added a solution of DOP it became a plastic .
A you guy called Adolfo Berman added a little bit of DOP and mixed it in a bottle of evian .
It was called a Plastisol and when they tested the material at Munecas Lilly.
Mr Joe Ciclick, the owner of Munecas Lilly tried the Plastisol and got flesh feeling in his baby faces instead of hard celluloid faces .
He orderd one drum of platisol and then ten drums and then one hundred tons .
I now delivered the PVC to Pepe Miguel to make hose instead of rubber and hundreds of tons to Manuel Senker and Mr Manuel Sarminto to make films and then to Alexandro Von Rossum to make cellophane .
I bought the PVC from Solvay Brussels and the DOP from Mr. Chouvalidzé in Paris.
In one year I had the money to buy a Ford .
This business went on beautifully for five years and there were even large industrialists that came to my new office in calle Genova complaining that I only sold to people that I liked .
Meanwhile my mother came to Mexico and we set up “Cosmetics SA” to distribute Coppertone .
I set up a corporation with words and music to publicize .
Lots of money, too expensive.
But my mother was doing well and bought a Peugeot and got a chauffeur.
Mexico was growing and when that huge american petrochemical complex realized that there was a big marlket for PVC they decided to set up a large refinery near Toluca .
But as soon as they start producing they will demand protection .
I had read a book called ” Riffifi chez les hommes”. It described how the professionals in a bar could communicate .
A client would enter the bar and they had a code to describe him
They would just mix the syllabes .
“This entcli is ous danger he vesleave outwith ingpay ”
I knew that you could get copies of all the telegrams and I needed a code .
So I sent a cable “Riffifi ” santomon closing derbor ” ship three hundred tons ”
Then one day I met the agent of Plussstaufer the producer of Omya. His name was Dominique Behro.
He had never sold a kilo and we set up a corporation called Omya de Mexico 50/50 and it went very well .
Then one day he told me ” I have a son Lorenzo who is the Mexican Champion of Jai Alai .”
“He is 19 year old but I want him to go to business .
We went to the Jai Alai stadium and I met him .
He was good and very intelligent
I had 250 bags of polyethylene for three months already and I asked him to sell two bags.
He put them in his car and left.
For three days I never heard from him and I was sure he had thrown them in the river .
Nobody had heard of polyethelene and I was desperate that I would get stuck with this merchandise .
Then the next day he arrived and carried the cash .
” I have sold the two bags and now I need more ”
This was the beginning of a very large business .
Solvay Belgium was now oversold and we had to find other suppliers .
I went with Lorenzo to Houston and we found people who sold off-grade material .
There was Jim Moll a very nice guy who drank a lot .
He went to see the doctor who told him he had an ulcer and should drink milk .
So he kept on drinking whiskey and getting milk as a chaser in the same glass .
He died in a car accident .
Then there was Bill Hagens who was a golf champion and used to put 24 kilos in a 25 kilo bag .
And Jim Lyster who scrapped cars and made a fortune .
And the Malone family real Italian Mafia who had great connections and got from Dow a very big producer of polyethylene and got the permission for Lorenzo and I to scrape the floor .
Everything we had, we sold in Mexico at very good prices .
Polyethylene was becoming big and we could sell all we had, including the scrap .
Lorenzo and I setup ” Proveedora …… ” with a capital of 25 thousand pesos .
I bought a new Mustang and Lorenzo a new 1957 model of Chevrolet .
And then suddenly Solvay sent a fax that they had bought all the assets of Celanese in Houston and I should develop the sales .
Peter Paysse was the general manager and asked me to sell .
He sent me packages of hundred or more blank invoices and Nelly had to fill them .
Peter Paysse was very relaxed and did not want to bother with the export .
We received a commission and whatever we could add .
But now the world production of Polyethyleme had increased and it was not so easy to sell .
Proveedora was doing very well and I asked Lucy and the family to come over and help .
But the clients now wanted colours .
The son at our card printer came to get an order , he was 17 year old and very nice , Carlos Inigo. So I got a job for him to set up Concentrado Plasticos SA and make special colours .
He worked 13 years with us and then set up his own company.
He is a billionaire now .
Then one day we received a chair made of Polypropylene, a new product .
So we decided to set up ” Polypropylene de Mexico ” and produce the compound .
So I went with Lorenzo to see Mr.Aguilar who sold the chairs and became psrtners for the manufacture .
Millions and Millions of chairs and tables were now on the market .
It was big .
Our most important client for PVC and polyethylene was Mr. Alejo Peralta .
He was a great friend of the Secretary of Economy Mr. Salinas and had set up Industrias Unidas before my time .
He was a very special man and a good business man .
He started making cables for the Federal Electric Comission and then copper wire and had made a fortune .
We used to like each other and he had all the licences to bring PVC .
As he had an excess that we imported from Solvay Belgium He asked me to sell to my clients who had no licences .
I always came back with great piles of money and we just divided the money .
We went fifty fifty on the profits .
He is the one that slipped a gun in his office telling me ” it is loaded” whem I told him I will kill myself because he owed 250,000 dollars to Solvay .
“Help yourself ”
He had mistresses all over the world and when I went to Milano he introduced me to his girlfriend who really was beautiful and loved him .
Nelly was with me and he invited us and ten mexican friends to Gianino the most expensive and high class restaurant in Italy .
“We will all eat Ossobuco because I have a nice surprise for you” He said
So we all ordered Ossobuco and the waiters asked what style we wanted , gravy , sauce borderlaise, mayonnaise whatever we chose .
Even the head waiter wanted to help us to choose the dishes that had been elaborated with such care.
“No” Alejo said, “we do not accept” and he took out of his back pocket a can of Chile from Oaxaca .
This is what we want please open the can .
It was a great success and the owner came to congratulate us .
We were doing very well with PVC and polyethylene and then one day I got a call from the director of Condumex .
He was a great client and I never had a problem so I was surprised . The director wanted to see me .
“We have a very important supplier Diversified Industries from Pan Am building in New York who ships copper and aluminum .
The owner is a Mr. Ned Serdarevic who came to Mexico with his wife and daughter .
These people are very important to us. He called Hotel Princess and obviously could not get a suite but all over the world they get suites any time .
They are big shots and they are disapointed.”
At that time I was Conseiller du Commerce Exterior of Belgium and I called the President of Princess Hotel in Acapulco .
I got a suite and when Serdarevic returned to Mexico he wanted to see me .
“Thank you and I want you to be my representative in Mexico .”
Very big deal and I started selling copper and aluminum in Mexico.
We had to go to New York all the time and there always was flowers and fruit baskets at the Plaza .
We were invited to see Pavaroti at the Opera and Nureyev at the ballet and to the best restaurants and it lasted for five years .
It was like a continuous vacation .
I also represented Gerald Industries and other metals brokers .
Jose got a job at the Metals Exchange .
Ned Serdarevic was very rich and he had a house in Connecticut with a lake where he invited Jose and I.
Serdarevic became mad. He drove with me to his home and I had a terrible experience .
He would drive like crazy and get very angry at all the other drivers.
I found out that he was not the owner of Diversified Industries but just an employee of Mr.xxxx who invented the conglomerates and set up a dozen companies including the most important sport company in the world .
There was a feature on him in the Reader ‘s Digest and he was very famous .
I met him and he was a very disgusting guy worse than Jerry Lennard but the same style.
I met him and did not get along .
I also found out that Serdarevic was spending his money to invite Nelly and I to the Opera and Ballet and the most expensive restaurants.
He had a strange habit. We ordered the food and then he asked what wine we wanted red or white chardonnay or St.Emilio and asked for the wine list .
Then he did not look at the wine but at the price and on that list choose the wine which was the most expensive .
He had a wonderful personality but when he invited Jose and I to his house for bed and breakfast he would give us just a cereal and coffee .
Then Serdarevic died in a car accident and back to normal business with Mr . Berho .
Meanwhile in Mexico we bought some land in Vallejo and Toluca and had eight warehouses built by Francisco de Celis and for each one we set up a different company in order to pay less taxes .
We had Lorci, Lordal, Rudabe, Latino, Mercurio , and the last one was called Benadam which means nice guy in Turkish .
We also set up Sociedad General with a Mr . Luis Mendes to manufacture dolls for a charity of the Mexican Government, two types one dressed, one naked .
We also set up Molplast to manufacture oil cans for Quaker .
Then I met Dr .Weber, a sientist who had worked in Brasil and wanted to set up a company in Mexico .
Concentricel was born to manufacture azodicarbonamide .
Jacqueline was a sophomore at University of Texas studying art .
She received and bought so many art books that they no longer fitted in her room and she asked for help .
At that time we were very involved with a young guy called Steve Liston. He had a small house of his own in Austin and we set up a meeting .
He came with a friend of his who was developping a fluorination business .
We got along wonderfully and Jacqueline was going to stock her books at Steve’s house . but we discussed fluorination about which we had no idea .
It is a system to cover polyethylene so that it became resistant to acids and some solvents.
Very interesting and then we met his partner Mr. Monty Ballard who was the genius that discovered this application .
So we set up Fluormex in Mexico .
It has been the best business we ever had and now after thirty years we sold it and also Fluorcel that Philippe had promoted to make the fluor .
Meanwhile we got a know how to make PVC and gave it to Mr. Peralta who gave us the exclusive agency for Export .
We set up Polyexport and started to ship material to Colombia, Peru ,Venezuela and Argentina .
With business friends I went to all these places but it was not really profitable .
Mr. Serdarevic and the Prince de Bar, son of the last Emperor of the Austria Hungerian Empird were my partners .
The Prince de Bar was old and very nice and became a friend until he died last year at ninenty five .
Then in 1983 Jose came to work at the office .
But the situation was very difficult and we were unable to make a sale.
The price of crude had gone down to eight dollars a barrel and there was a world excess of polyethylene.
One month after Jose started there was a terrible explosion at the refinery of Philips Petroleum .
It was the largest producer in the world of polyethylene and in one day the price went up from seven cents a lb. to 43 cents and there was a terrible shortage .
But Soltex was not affected and they kept on delivering all we needed. Jose was 23 year old and he took it very natural .
There are always problems hurricanes, typhoons, wars revolutions , riots and for Jose it seems quite normal .
He never realised how we suffered when the prices were going down
This was a new period and Mr. Miguel Muzquiz helped us find new clients.
It became crazy when we sold to Mr.Alejo Peralta from Proveedora
Mr Peralta did not like to pay his bills and I had to give gold coins to his treasurer Mr. Tennesa to be paid .
Then one day he asked me to talk to Solvay about putting up a PVC plant in Mexico .
Solvay was not interested and I found a US producer to sell the know-how.
But it was a very expensive refinery and together we convinced Condumex , Puebla cable factory , Monterrey cable factory to put the money .
And his part if the capital he paid with thirty large extruders that we bought from Mr. Azzolini on credit
Mr.Azzolini was a broker in Milano something similar to Mr.Serdarevic and he gave us the credit .
Finally Mr. Peralta paid for the thirty extruders with the profits of Primex .
I had a nice commission.
Alejo was very grateful for my promotion and asked me to sell PVC to the shoe industry.
At that time shoes became plastic and I developed crystal
This Azzoplini was very cheap not like Serdarevic and never invited us.
That is why I do not remember him so well .
At that time I was working with Comerio Ercole a large factory of plastic equipment and I drove many times to their plant near Milan ,in Busto Arcizzio .
The owner was Mr.Comerio who was very nice but he did not like to pay commissions.
I made the trip to Busto Arcizzio many times as I sold a lot of equipment and it was worth it because each cost 80 thousand dollars and I had a ten percent commission .
But each time Mr.Comerio would say ” the check us in the mail ”
Finally + got paid but I dropped the representation . Jose now was more important.
Jose was very lucky and he never realized what it is like to fight for a penny .
But then the real war started and Irak invaded Iran or the opposite but in any case there was no material any where in the world.
And precisely at that moment the Hula Hoop craze started .
All over the world kids and grown up wanted a Hula Hoop .
It was a craze and the owner of Copsa, the largest toy factory in Mexico called me to his office
” Sorry even Solvay is unable to deliver one kilo of Polyethulene”
Max Shein said ” Tell them : Either shit or get off the pot ”
I was young and impressed and I sent a telegram .
It took ten years for them to forgive my offense.
Follow Ben on Twitter