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Manuel Rionda

Manuel Rionda y Polledo (1854-1943) was born in Asturias, Spain to a family of 6 sisters; Maria (married Alfonso Fanjul Fernandez), Isidora (married Alberto Noriega), Gregoria (married Nicasio Fernandez), Ramona (married Pedro Alonso y Bobes), Maria de la Concepción and Bibiana (married Jose de la Braga y Diaz) and 3 brothers; Francisco (1844-1898), Joaquín (1848-1889) and Manuel (1854-1943) all Rionda y Polledo born in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain.

Francisco was the first of the siblings to arrive in Cuba to work for his uncle Joaquín Polledo Alvarez who owned sugar plantations and by the early 1870s both became partners in Polledo, Rionda & Co., a sugar exporting business in Matanzas.  Later Joaquín followed and then Manuel joined them for a brief period in 1870 before leaving to go to school in Farmington, Maine.  

By 1873 Joaquín had moved to Manhattan and associated in a commodity trading firm with Lewis Benjamin ( -1876) under the name Benjamin, Rionda & Co. and had married Lewis’ daughter Sophie, who died in November 1877 giving birth to their only son Manuel Enrique Rionda Benjamin.  In 1874 after finishing school in Maine, Manuel joined Joaquín in NY.  After Lewis and Sophie’s death, Joaquín became the sole partner and renamed the company Rionda, Benjamin & Co.

In 1875 Francisco married Elena de la Torriente Hernandez and had three sons; Francisco, José and Leandro.  Elena was the daughter of Cosme de la Torriente, a fellow Spaniard who had been established in Cuba since the 1820s.  Cosme and his two brothers benefited from the slave trade and by 1875 owned seven sugar plantations: the Amistad, Carlota, Maria, Isabel, Progreso, San Pablo and Elena which management was entrusted to Francisco.

By 1877 Polledo, Rionda & Co. had acquired Central China in Matanzas.  Through Rionda, Benjamin & Co. in NY, they contracted with Farrel Foundry in Ansonia, CT for new machinery to substantially upgrade it. The sharp decline in sugar prices due to the increased production of beet sugar in Europe, forced Polledo, Rionda & Co. into insolvency in December 1878 unable to pay more than $400,000 owed to Rionda, Benjamin & Co. for the new machinery.  As a result, Rionda, Benjamin & Co. acquired all the shares of Central China owned by Joaquín Polledo Alvarez.  However, mounting losses in the Cuba operations due to continued low sugar prices and the abolition of slavery in Cuba on November 5, 1879 forced Rionda, Benjamin & Co. into insolvency in 1883.

Joaquín moved to Cuba to try to save Central China, Francisco continued at the Elena estate until the de la Torriente’s lost it for debt.  During that time the de la Torriente's also lost the Soledad plantation to E. F. Atkins & Co. also for debt.  Francisco then joined Joaquín at the Central China and Manuel also moved to Cuba and assumed control of the Matanzas warehouses for a brief period.  While all three of the brothers were in Cuba, the New York business was left in the hands of a young 22 years old employee; Hugh Kelly.

Franklin Farrel eventually took over Central China for the debts and hired Kelly forming the New York Sugar Manufacturing Co. to manage it with Farrel, Kelly and Lewis Cooke as partners.  In 1886, primarily with capital contributed by Farrel, together with Kelly they erected Central Teresa near Manzanillo.

Already established in New York City, Manuel married Harriet Clarke ( -1922) in 1889.  A few years earlier, his sister Bibiana died in their hometown in Spain leaving eight or nine year old son Bernardo Braga Rionda (1875- ) motherless.  A couple of years after his mother's death, Bernardo would come to live with Manuel who took care and raised him as his own.  In 1889 Joaquin drowned while crossing the Tiunucú River on horseback, orphaned thirteen year old Manuel Rionda Benjamin was then, like his cousin Bernardo, put in Manuel's charge.

After not being able to salvage the Polledo, Rionda  & Co. operation in Matanzas, in 1886 Manuel settled in New York City working for the sugar brokerage business J. M. Ceballos & Co.   and in 1889 he married Irish immigrant Harriet Clarke.  In 1897 Manuel joined Czarnikow, MacDougal & Co., the newly established New York office of C. Czarnikow Ltd. which at the time was the world’s pre-eminent sugar broker.  Czarnikow McDougal & Co. was established in 1891 by Polish-Jewish immigrant Julius Ceasar Czarnikow and Scottish George McDougal as the North American branch of C. Czarnikow, Ltd. established in 1861 in London.  Soon thereafter he enlisted his brother Francisco's help in Czarnikow McDougal & Co. as their representative in Cuba where he again moved with his family.

In 1902 Manuel & Harriet acquired land accross Manhattan on the New Jersey palisades where they built a psacious home they called Rio Vista.  Manuel & Harriett would call this home during most of the year except for the dead season when they would spend most of the time in London and for the beginning of the grinding season when they would spend the first three or four months of the year at Tiunucú.

In 1906 Manuel started a very favorable relationship with the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell , the law firm responsible for convincing the State of New Jersey to change its laws to favor corporations and that organized the US Steel Co. for John Pierport Morgan.  This relationship opened Manuel Rionda's access to Wall Street capital when $2.5 million in capital stock of the Stewart Sugar Co. 

The Stewart Sugar Co., named after the Glasgow manufacturer who designed and built it with the financial backing of the British investment banking firm Schroder , was a failed venture abandoned in its early stages by Cuban banker Manuel Silveira.  Manuel Rionda, together with Sir William Van Horne and J. S. Fiske were the three voting trustees according to the Voting Trust Agreement drawn by Sullivan & Cromwell.  Central Stewart first crop was 1908 and by 1910 it was already producing 215,000 bags of raw sugar sold by Czarnikow, MacDougal & Co. for a commission of 1% of gross proceeds.

In 1907 when Juan M. Clarke, who had been the Havana agent for Czarnikow, MacDougal & Co. Export Department that Bernardo Rionda Braga headed in NYC, Manuel decided to establish a wholly own subsidiary to take over the responsibilities of the Export Department and organized the Cuban Trading Co., incorporated in Havana on July 20, 1907 by Manuel's close associate and friend Victor Zeballos y Chiriboga. Victor remained at the helm of the Cuban Trading Co. until his retirement in 1922 when he was replaced by Aurelio Portuondo Barceló.  The Cuban Trading Co. handled substantial sales of machinery, jute bags and plantation supplies all throughout Cuba.

After Julius Caesar Czarnikow died in April 7, 1909, Czarnikow-Rionda Co. was incorporated on September 1, 1909 to continue the operations of Czarnikow, McDougal & Co. with Manuel Rionda having a 20% ownership interest and its president and chairman and his nephew Manuel Rionda Benjamin as Secretary.  It was agreed between the partners that in case of Manuel's death, half of his interest in Czarnikow-Rionda Co. would pass on to Manuel Rionda Benjamin, Bernardo Braga Rionda and Victor & Ralph Zevallos.  Neither the Fanjul nor the de la Torriente nephews were included, leaving Fanjul with the Francisco colonia and the de la Torrientes with their interest in Tiunucú, Francisco and the inheritance from their mother's participation in her late husband's assets.

Between 1909 and 1912 Czarnikow-Rionda Co. acquired managegement ofthe former Central San José reorganized as Central Wahington and the old and small Central San Vicente due to unpaid indebtedness.  Management of both fell under Leandro who by 1913 had tripled Wahington's production.  Central Washington, never a good performing sugar mill despite the increased production, was sold in 1920 for $2 million.  Subsequently “On June 22, 1922, as ordered by the court of first instance of Sagua la Grande, for the third and last time, the Central Washington, formerly known as San José, will be put up for auction in order to secure the payment of a debt of $250,000…”1

In the summer of 1920 with nearly 70% of Cuban sugar production controlled by American corporations, Rionda saw the future of Czarnikow-Rionda & Co. commission business very dim and the downward trend irreversible.  Although he had previously decided against the idea, In June 1920 he bought the McCahan Sugar and Molasses Refining Co. in Philadelphia for $5 million with the McCahans retaining 30% interest.

In 1922, after his separation from the Cuba Cane Sugar Corp., Manuel turned his attention to the family's sugar mills, Francisco, Tiunucú, Manatí and Tacajó which they managed.
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1 The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer June 17, 1922