© Omnilife Chivas
Mexican industrialist Jorge Vergara, 64, President and founder of Guadalajara-based Grupo Omnilife Chivas, one of the largest business groups in Mexico, passed away due to cardiac arrest on November 15 in New York City. His son Amaury Vergara, Vice-president and Director General of Omnilife and President of Chivas, announced the news of his father’s death on Twitter.
Jorge Vergara was suffering from pancreatic cancer for a couple of years and was undergoing treatment for it in New York City since last year. His wife Rossana Lerdo de Tejada was beside him throughout his illness.
I was honoured to have known this highly remarkable humanitarian and one of Mexico’s most important businessmen, in September 2007. Thanks to him, I got the opportunity to travel to Mexico in August 2007 to work at Omnilife, his internationally-renowned nutritional supplement company (manufacturing and distributing more than a hundred natural dietary supplements in 21 countries worldwide through a person-to-person multi-development system comprising of around six million independent distributors), part of a huge conglomerate of 30 companies in Guadalajara and ranked as one of the 200 top corporations in Mexico. I was in Mexico till the end of April 2008.
© Omnilife Chivas
This is my homage to the truly extraordinary man, a dynamic leader and visionary, who transformed the lives of thousands of people by inspiring and helping them make their dreams come true. Rest in peace, Jorge.
© Omnilife Chivas
Jorge Carlos Vergara Madrigal was born on March 3, 1955 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, where he lived most of his life. The son of a well-to-do business executive, Mr. Vergara started working at the age of eight. He skipped college and had several careers: a mechanic, car salesman, translator, book vendor, real estate agent as well as a waiter and manager at an Italian restaurant. At 23, he was a subdirector for a real estate firm which later went bankrupt. He subsequently failed at several business ventures. In 1983, he married Maricruz Zatarain with whom he had son Amaury and a daughter Kenya, who are now heading Grupo Omnilife Chivas. Years later, the couple decided to adopt a Russian girl, Yelena.
In 1986, when his food business as a wholesaler of carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) to taco vendors and running an Italian restaurant failed, Jorge Vergara was in his own words: “fat, sick and broke”. He was looking for ways to lose weight and gain financial independence, when a friend invited him to join him in selling dietary supplements of Los Angeles based-Herbalife. The move changed Vergara’s life. Cooking was his hobby, but not his passion. His passion became getting healthy and making others healthy.
Jorge Vergara was instrumental in helping Herbalife’s founder deal with the Mexican government and get the Herbalife products approved in Mexico. This gave him insight into how a multi-level company profits and expands into other countries. He worked for Herbalife in the United States, France and Spain as well. He was the Herbalife’s best distributor when he left it to start his own company of nutritional supplements in 1991 with a loan of 10,000 dollars, 3 employees and 3 independent distributors. Today, Omnilife has 3000 employees and more than six million distributors in 21 countries of the Americas, Europe, Russia and Africa. It is one of Mexico’s largest conglomerates into manufacturing and distributing nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, and beauty and personal care products.
Unlike Herbalife which made its supplements in the form of tablets, Omnilife manufactured its nutritional products in the form of powders dissolved in beverages such as tea, coffee, bottled and canned soft drinks—or even in cookies and chewing gum, paying due regard to the consumption habits of Hispanics. Jorge Vergara considered that the American model of multilevel marketing did not correspond to Latin culture. The American dream is of having money to buy houses, automobiles, and goods. So he developed a concept, which he called multi-development, wherein people were taught that money “is a tool to make changes in your life and to grow.” Unlike the American model of multilevel marketing, it did not teach distributors to sell but to interact with others and, in place of compensation by the volume of sales realized, rewarded them for their dedication and effort. Based on points awarded for sales volume, star distributors got qualified each year to win grand prizes like cars, national and international trips, luxury cruises and even houses. He encouraged his leading distributors to participate in Omnilife’s annual events and travel abroad as his representatives, with the objective of establishing his business in new countries. The top echelons of distributors operated their own support centres and training sessions, presiding over networks that could extend to thousands of people.
In 2001, Jorge Vergara laid out an ambitious real estate project with an initial investment of 670 million dollars: el Centro de Cultura, Convenciones y Negocios Jorge Vergara Cabrera (JVC) named in honour of his father. The JVC Culture, Convention and Business Centre project was very dear to Mr. Vergara’s heart, but some of its initiatives failed to see the light of day.
© Omnilife Chivas
In November 2002, Jorge Vergara bought Liga MX giant Club Guadalajara – Chivas, one of the city’s two football teams and modernized it. Till then, Chivas played their games at the Jalisco Stadium. After Mr. Vergara purchased the club, construction for their home stadium was integrated in the JVC Project. Estadio Akron (formerly known as Estadio Omnilife and Estadio Chivas), the new stadium and team headquarters, was inaugurated in 2010 with an opening match against Manchester United. It is Mexico’s fifth largest stadium with a seating capacity of 49,850 spectators.
Jorge Vergara saw Chivas as a national treasure and managed it that way. Chivas is the only club in Mexico that doesn’t allow foreign players on its roster. Under his leadership, Chivas won league titles Apertura 2006 and Clausura 2017, 2 Cup titles, 1 Mexican Super Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League. Chivas soon became a national favourite among all the football teams of the Mexican First League Division. Mr. Vergara was best known for his revolutionary moves within the Mexican football league, Liga MX, and his support for young Mexican talent. As the owner of the only all-Mexican football team, he provided the National Mexican team with a pool of native talent to choose from, and many of his players have been selected to play with the National Team. The nationalist businessman supported and gave rise to some of the most successful Mexican football players in recent years, including Mexican football icons like Omar Bravo and Javier “Chicharito’ Hernandez. He founded MLS franchise Chivas USA in Los Angeles in 2004 as he sought to expand the Chivas brand, but it didn’t work out so well and was sold off in 2014. He also owned Costa Rican team Saprissa from 2003 to 2011.
In 2006, Jorge Vergara inaugurated an industrial complex housing two internationally-certified manufacturing plants, for liquids, plastics and vitamin powders. In addition, Omnilife also added another manufacturing plant, for liquids, in Colombia, to supplement an existing one there for food and vitamins.
Besides manufacturing proprietary nutritional food supplements and cosmetic products, Omnilife companies were dedicated to the field of education, football, cinema, music, insurance, multimedia, charitable foundations, art, architecture, entertainment, etc. Productora Anhelo, a film production company formed in 2000, scored quick successes with “Y Tu Mamá También” directed by Alfonso Cuarón and “El Espinazo Del Diablo” directed by Guillermo del Toro. Monsoon Entertainment, Omnilife’s LA-based film unit, produced the 2004 film “The Assassination of Richard Nixon”, starring Sean Penn.
Omnilife also founded educational and charitable enterprises. Educare, established in 1995, was a trilingual “school for success” that adopted the Montessori teaching method. A foundation for the benefit of the world’s children was established in 1994; another, to promote cultural activities, was created in 1997. His personal development workshops for Omnilife distributors, “Schools for Men and Women” and “Schools for Youth”, as also his projects in the field of health, wellness and food sciences were aimed at social development of his Omnife family.
For Jorge Vergara, youth were an important part of Omnilife and he supported projects aimed at their growth and development. He considered the extensive travelling that he had done with his father during his childhood as his greatest inheritance. It had broadened his personal horizons and taught him certain values, which he liked to share with his family, employees and distributors.
In an interview with “The New York Times” in 2002, Mr Vergara said:
“I like to base myself on what you would call the principle of plenty. If you generate plenty around you, and you share it, then you create a cycle of plenty, and money just follows you.”
More than fifty-percent of Omnilife’s distributors were women, for whom working at Omnilife was convenient in balancing their time equally between earning a living and carrying out household duties. At the womens’ training workshops, they were taught to become self-confident and, independent thinkers.
The far-flung Omnilife enterprises, most of which served its distributors and employees, acted synergistically and reinforced each other. For example, “Y Tu Mamá También” was seen by thousands of distributors in 100 theatres before being released to the public. Financing for employees’ and distributors’ housing and automobiles was tied in with insurance policies.
Omnilife’s strong national distribution structure, with more than 4000 distribution centres, innumerable mobile–store vans and home delivery systems, allowed the channelization of all its products, from a music CD to a rose bouquet. Marketing expenses were non-existent as the distributors independently marketed the products.
Jorge Vergara wanted his distributors to feel cared for and protected, to the extent of making his mobile number public. The dynamic founder and chairman of the huge Omnilife conglomerate was hardly around in the office, as his job kept him in business meetings or travelling to different places around the world. But he liked to be kept in constant touch with his employees and distributors. Omnilife’s slogan was “Gente Que Cuida A La Gente” meaning “In everything we do, we are people who care about people”.
While many of Mexico’s top businessmen, being scions of wealth and privilege, move in narrow elite circles, Jorge Vergara preferred the more bohemian company of designers and film directors, and mingled happily with his working-class sales representatives, firing them up with new-age self-help philosophy. Although impeccably dressed in bespoke suits, the flamboyant, self-made billionaire never wore socks, which he considered to be unhygienic as they interfered with the natural thermostatic properties of the feet.
© Omnilife Chivas
Jorge Vergara had an overwhelming and captivating personality. A charismatic leader, he inspired strong loyalty in his staff and his circle. He was one of those visionary people, who are always three steps ahead. He would describe his business mission in terms much grander than merely selling vitamins to the masses. His ability to identify with the Mexican common man played a key role in Omnilife’s success story. Like a true alchemist, he sought profits out of every business he conceived and his Midas touch ensured that he always met with success. He had an unconscious air of command and hard-edged authority which coupled with a potent charisma attracted people, and made women swoon over him.
In 2002, Jorge Vergara fell in love with Rossana Lerdo de Tejada, an art collector, whom he met in New York. They lived together and had a daughter, Uma. In August 2007, Mr. Vergara fell madly in love with businesswoman Angelica Fuentes known as “Queen of Gas” for her association with her grandfather’s gas company Grupo Imperial, where she worked from a young age to rise to the position of CEO. Besotted, Mr. Vergara brought her to Omnilfe, making her the CEO of his huge conglomerate. Soon after taking the new position, Angelica Fuentes embarked on restructuring the company and launched a top management shake-up.
Coincidentally, I began work at the company at the same time when Angelica Fuentes took over charge as CEO. Two weeks prior, I had been attending training and discussion sessions to get acquainted with the company’s business, its diverse activities and the group’s responsibilities, in general. And also, an opportunity to meet all the departmental heads. The induction training also included visits to the different offices of the conglomerate, its factory, centres of distribution and its various group institutions within the city. It was during these first two weeks that I realized that the company took very good care of its employees (most of the managers were working there since a decade or more), almost like a family.
But a month later, things changed drastically. One after another, most of the senior executives were replaced. It didn’t matter that they were old-timers in the company or that they were part of Jorge Vergara’s inner circle. They had to leave immediately on the same day. Few of them were demoted as assistants to other senior executives. Major cuts were introduced in the entire Omnilife group. Some of the businesses were shut down. Angelica Fuentes not only removed the people who were close to Jorge Vergara in the company, but also his own family members. Nobody liked her. With time, things went bad. Soon, the company’s line of cosmetics under the brand Kenya Vergara (named after Mr. Vergara’s daughter) was replaced with a new brand Angelissima.
In May 2008, Jorge Vergara tied the knot with Angelica Fuentes in a grand Hindu wedding in Rajasthan, India. It was a five-day lavish affair which took place at royal palaces (converted into world-famous luxury hotels) in the cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. The Hindu wedding was followed by a white wedding at Los Cabos in Mexico. In 2011, the famous power couple had a daughter, Valentina. Three year later, their second daughter, Maria Ignacia was born.
In April 2015, everything changed when Jorge Vergara removed his wife from the position of CEO and took over the reins of the entire Omnilife-Chivas group. He soon discovered that most of his close confidantes had been removed from the company and all the strategic posts were occupied by people close to Angelica Fuentes, who was still officially his wife. During an investigation into alleged fraud and mismanagement against Angelica Fuentes, Mr. Vergara admitted that he had been “a bit blind” and did not realize what was happening in the company. He declared war against his wife. The legal battle depleted his finances. He was more worried for his daughters with her. For their sake, he was ready for an agreement but it was impossible to comply with her conditions. She was not ready to give up even though she accepted that she had defrauded Omnilife. Months later in September, their divorce came under intense media scrutiny. At stake were the two powerful companies, Omnilife and Chivas. After a year-long court battle, Jorge Vergara won the case and a warrant was issued for Fuentes’s arrest for embezzlement and fraudulent administration. The aim of Angelica Fuentes was to destroy Grupo Omnilife. She fled to the US with their two daughters and returned to Mexico in January 2019 when Mr. Vergara was critically ill and hospitalized in New York.
In June 2015, Jorge Vergara got together with Rossana Lerdo de Tejada after she gave him a second chance. Things went very well between them and they were very happy with each other. They married in June 2017 in an intimate ceremony, in Guadalajara.
Jorge Vergara was one of the most high-profile Mexican businessmen and got a lot of media attention due to his large influence in the football world and love and family relationships. Among his last public appearances was in the business reality TV series Shark Tank (2016) in which he was one of the angel investors.
My photos with Jorge in 2008…
Thank you, Jorge. It was a great honour knowing you. May your soul rest in peace.
Long live your memory and your legacy! May your legacy flourish in the good hands of your son Amaury.
© Omnilife Chivas
My deepest and most sincere condolences.
“We integrate health, economic development and personal development. We think that success comes when you understand that money is a tool, and you have to prepare yourself personally to grow.”
Jorge Vergara Madrigal (1955 – 2009)
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