At the end of 2017, we will say goodbye to someone who has been with us for nearly 30 years as our Industrial Director: Miguel Ángel Estandía. This is the same kid who came with his mom to wait for his dad to leave work at the Orbea factory and take a walk together around Eibar, before we had transferred to our current site in Mallabia. The boy who, while he was still studying, started working at Orbea during the summers in the early 1970s “to earn some pocket change.”The professional who for three decades has borne the responsibility of Orbea’s production on his shoulders, becoming one of the great reasons why our bicycles are present in 56 countries.
Miguel Ángel has dedicated his entire professional life to Orbea. He represents the History of Orbea in capital letters, and deserves all the recognition we can give him. One way of doing this is to review his professional career in the interview you can read below:
In the two photos on the left is Miguel Ángel during the inauguration of our new factory in Portugal, in 2012.On the right, working in his office on his next-to-the-last day in Mallabia.
As a kid, you liked bicycles, didn't you?
Yes, of course. Like everyone. I think that we all have wanted to have a bicycle.
Since you father worked at the Orbea factory, which back then was still in Eibar, I guess it would be an Orbea, right?
Of course, it was inevitable (he laughs).It was a white road bicycle, one of those they made back in the 1970s.I was around 13 or 14 years old when I finally got one. Back then, having a bicycle was almost a luxury; not everyone could afford one, much less a normal worker, so it was no small thing to have one. In fact, “it was acquired over a number of years.”I say that because whenever I asked my dad for a bicycle, he put me off, saying:“Right now, we’re making such and such part of the bike…” and a little while later, I’d ask him again, and he’d tell me, “Right now, we’re making this other part of the bike…,” and he kept putting me off, putting me off … until one day, the bike arrived
You started at Orbea in the early 80s, right?
Yes, in 1980 I began part-time and in1981 I became a partner. And before, when I was a 14 or 15-year-old student, I had worked at Orbea off and on again: some summers, I’m talking about the mid-1970s, Orbea gave us the chance to earn a little pocket change. You went there and you worked for a month or so in the summer and you earned a little money to go camping or wherever you could
What was your first day like?
Very tiring (he laughs).Not because of the work itself, but because it was a lot of hours to be on your feet (we worked up to ten and a quarter hours, in two shifts).What's more, back then Orbea manufactured only a few models and each model was made in long runs. So we were with the same bike all day long. In the end, like it or not, it got a little monotonous…
Was working at Orbea what you expected, having heard stories from your father?
My father had already taken early retirement because of health problems when I arrived, so we never worked together. But here I found myself with my father’s generation and they took me under their wing, so everything was fine. Over the years, I have also worked with the children of my father’s coworkers, and in a few cases, even with their grandchildren, so when we talk about ‘the Orbea family,’ we mean it almost literally.
Miguel Ángel, next to his father, Ángel Estandía, and his brother, Ramón Estandía, in 2015.Ángel returned to Orbea in May of that year to participate in the publication of the 175th anniversary book.
Orbea Industrial Director: The Big Challenges
And how did you go from assembling the Orbea Furia to becoming Orbea’s Industrial Director?
Like many other colleagues of my generation at Orbea, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Around 1985, I transferred into the Quality Control department, where I was manager for a while. And from there, I started in the position of Industrial Director in 1988.
Practically 30 years. Since then, Orbea has changed from top to bottom.
It changed tremendously following the move from Eibar to Mallabia and since then, we have continued the transformation, modifying and evolving things on a permanent basis, to match them to the needs at any given moment. I usually say that “except the ground and the walls, everything else has changed,” because we even renovated the ceiling…and even so, never stopping production; that was our premise prior to any change.
Why don’t you tell us about how the bicycles we manufacture have changed.
They’re completely different. From the heavy iron models that were made when I started or the long-distance bicycles we focused on later… to top-of-the-line, exclusive, customized bicycles that we make now…they’re completely different. And that commitment is what has led us to take the leap, which has enabled us to be present in 56 countries and generate profits for 22 straight years.
“Except the ground and the walls, everything else has changed“
Have you enjoyed being Industrial Director at Orbea?
Yes, industrial organization is a topic I’ve always been passionate about. Also my relationship with the people, being able to form part of the team with the people that we have in the factory to work towards the goals that we set for ourselves.
Besides, Orbea has been very dynamic over all these years, so I didn’t have the time to get bored: there have always been new challenges on the horizon. And there has always been the initiative to work and motivate people so that they grow alongside the organization. And with that, and even with the moments of stress or pressure like there always are in production, we dealt with it just fine and we have enjoyed ourselves.
What would you say has been your greatest contribution to Orbea?
More than a contribution, I would say that what they have appreciated the most about my work has been the work I’ve done with people to reach goals. Because everything else has been a result of that group effort. And that's what I feel the most satisfied with.
Top left, Miguel Ángel, alongside the Lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu at Orbea’s 175th Anniversary celebration. Below, posing next to the Orbea staff in Portugal. On the right is an archive photo.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Looking back now, it does not seem very important, because now everyone has it, but at the time, earning the AENOR quality certification was a great source of satisfaction personally and professionally (It was a priority objective within MCC).Bear in mind that we were the first bicycle company in the world to earn this seal, back in 1990.
Later came other great milestones: the development of the airbrush, the factory openings in China (now closed) and the development of LusOrbea, our factory in Portugal…
One very nice challenge was when we managed to weld the frames on our professional bikes ourselves, keeping them under one kilogram. It was a time when Orbea was moving towards high-end bicycles…and seeing that the frame we welded here was the frame Iban Mayo used to compete against the best riders in the Tour de France was something special.
A very important step was also the introduction of carbon…
A story I’ll always remember is when we started with a batch of 500 frames and someone made the comment, “Let’s see if we manage to sell them all…,” and in the end, we ran out of them in a month. That has been the dynamic at Orbea over the last 20 years: working on innovation, trying to make good decisions about the product and working constantly with the suppliers to improve it, and with the dealers to offer fast, quality service.
Top left, one of the last Orca frames used by the Euskaltel Euskadi team in competition. Below, Orbea’s factory in China, which is currently closed. To the right, Miguel Ángel (squatting, below on the left) during a technical seminar held with different Orbea dealers in the mid-1990s.
If you could go back in time… Would you want to do anything differently?
The truth is that I’ve never really thought about it. What I can say is that every time we’ve gotten involved in a major project, when it’s over, I thought, “I’m not doing this again,” (he laughs).Until the next time…… and the next……
What has changed the most since you got started: Orbea or bicycles themselves?
Well, both. For many of the years I was at Orbea, the bike didn't change, but the technological development it has undergone over the last 15 years has been enormous. I remember when they began to put jackets inside the handlebars… we thought, “What are they going to invent now?”What else? Well, really, everything: frames, materials, components…the e-bike…
And Orbea has also changed a lot. We’ve commented several times that “if we could bring back one of those who worked here in 1980 and they could see what we’re doing now, they would be amazed.”Well, as a matter of fact, when we celebrated our 175th anniversary in 2015, there were some who came and said, “I can’t believe it.”Especially in terms of the final product, because we are going back to manual assembly, due to the importance we’re giving to the customization of bicycles.
What do you think is in store for Orbea over the next 10 years?
I see it growing a great deal, still focused more on high-end bicycles and traveling down the road of e-bikes, where there is still a lot of work to be done. I remember that the last time I was at Eurobike, in 2012, I thought, “But what’s happening here? It’s full of electric mountain bikes.”What seemed like something to take out for a ride or to go shopping is now for sports.
What memory will you take away of all these years at Orbea?
I am going to insist that the best part of Orbea and what I am going to remember the most are the people who work and have worked here with me. I still have a good relationship with the people who worked here when I started, and in the future, I hope to still have a good relationship with those who are here now. Being close to people and trying to form a team is what motivates me. Everything we have achieved has been possible thanks to the collaboration of the teams I have worked with; it would not have been possible without them.
Top left and in the picture on the right, Orbea staff at our factory in Mallabia. Bottom left, Miriam Bengoetxea (Innovation Project Manager), Miguel Ángel and Jesús Manuel Rico (Warehouse Manager). On the right, Miguel Ángel in the Mallabia factory, alongside Aitor Juaristi (Orbea Quality Manager, to the right of Miguel Ángel) and Aitor Larrañaga (Assembly Manager, on his left).
You’ve placed a lot of emphasis on people throughout the entire interview…
For me, the capacity we have had at Orbea to take advantage of the skills of our staff in different areas of the company has been very important: transferring them based on needs and where there was a skill, taking advantage of it for promotion within the organization. Over the years, we have engaged in our own restructuring. As areas have disappeared due to the evolution of the sector or technology, we have trained and shifted around staff members so they could continue to work at Orbea. That is a value.
What advice would you give the next Miguel Angel Estandía?
Not to forget to lead and to delegate. Regardless of the work method, the most important thing that organizations have is their human capital, getting the best performance out of each of the people who form part of them, giving them the opportunity to show their full potential. And to have patience and persevere.
What was your best or happiest day at Orbea?
There are many, but maybe the day I took on the responsibility of being Industrial Director… but I also knew that satisfaction would last for 5 minutes, because from then on it was going to be all non-stop, and that’s what it was like. Another day I celebrated a lot was when they certified us with the AENOR quality seal. For me, it was very important because of all the effort that went into it and everything it meant. Also keep in mind that I came from Quality Control and I have always said that my function was to do “a lot” and do it “well.”And I have always been concerned about both doing things “well” and doing “a lot” of them; that is why this recognition was especially important to me. At that time, Orbea needed that change and everything the certification implied, to show the market an evolution in quality.
“If you're passionate about bicycles and you also work at Orbea… what more do you want?”
Well… What are you going to do now? What will your first day after Orbea be like? What projects do you have in mind?
Well, you see, I have always liked anything related to art (painting, sculpture, engraving, etc.) and before I started work at Orbea, I already had a great interest in these areas. That's why I am now going to try to follow that path. I plan to learn more about them, and to do that, there’s nothing better than to try to do it at the University. I’m working on it, and I hope to start a degree in art there next year
37 years at Orbea: What does this place have that those who enter never leave?
Well, I really don’t know, but many of the people who enter…end up staying; I don’t know if there’s some germ growing in the environment, but there’s something…(he laughs).Seriously speaking, on the one hand, the product is very appealing, very pleasing to work on. And on the other hand, many of the people who work here are very involved in the world of bicycles. So if you're passionate about bicycles and you also work at Orbea… what more do you want?