All CEOs should have sisters like these.
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Goya Foods’ President Trump-loving CEO nearly lost his job last month as members of the family-owned business sought to inject new blood into the company through a partial sale to a private equity firm.
As The Post reported on July 19, Robert Unanue beat back efforts to sell a 25 percent stake in Goya to BDT Capital Partners in a deal that would have forced him to give up the CEO role after 18 months.
The Post has since learned, however, that Bob, 66, got his way only after his three sisters — Carol Freeborn, Mary Ellen Yorio and Lisa Unanue — threatened to never again speak to certain family members if they voted for the sale.
“Bob’s sisters threatened to cut off relations if they said yes to the sale,” said one source close to the family.
“They view him as a protector,” a second family source said of the sisters’ feelings for Bob.
The alleged drama started on July 8 — the day before Bob’s controversial White House appearance — when 53 percent of the Spanish-food empire’s shares were voted in favor of the sale to BDT during a preliminary nonbinding vote, sources said.
On board with the sale were Bob’s two younger brothers: Peter Unanue, a Goya executive vice president, and Tom Unanue, who no longer works there, sources said.
The brothers voted for the sale against Bob’s wishes because they felt their big bro had broken his promise to add three nonfamily directors to Goya’s nine-member board, sources said.
The board OK’d the board expansion plan — a pet project of Peter’s —in 2018 as a way to check Bob’s power and ensure he moved the canned-beans maker toward an initial public offering or other big payday for shareholders. But Bob rejected each and every director candidate presented to him, sources said.
That led to speculation that Bob may be trying to railroad an IPO so he can turn over the reins to his son Robert Jr. — and sent his brothers into the arms of Andy Unanue, a cousin who has been on the outs with Bob for years, sources said.
In 2004, Bob and another cousin, Francisco Unanue Jr., ousted Andy from his role as chief operating officer and heir apparent in a coup that also saw Bob replace Andy’s dad, Joseph A. Unanue, as Goya’s CEO after 28 years. Andy spearheaded the BDT deal in hopes that it would help Goya expand to Mexico and in the US beyond the East Coast, sources said.
Peter, in an e-mailed statement, said he was “troubled by the false statements that have been anonymously attributed to me and to others, as well as by the improper spreading of inaccurate and misleading claims that were purportedly made during confidential conversations among board members.”
The day after the preliminary vote on July 9, Bob caused a firestorm by praising Trump on the White House lawn — leading to calls for a boycott from people who say Trump has used the White House to vilify immigrants from Latin America. The boycott led to a backlash by people who deemed it suppression of speech, kicking off a “buycott.”
The national controversy was echoed among the 15 members of the Goya clan who control 98 percent of the company’s stock — all offspring of the four sons of Goya’s founders, Carolina and Don Prudencio Unanue, sources said. Some of the family supported Bob and even agreed with him, while others accused him of intentionally causing a public spectacle in hopes that BDT would walk away from the deal, sources told The Post.
Yet the controversy doesn’t appear to have impacted the final vote on a sale, which ended up swinging in Bob’s favor.
What did was Bob — with help from his sisters — managing to persuade Peter and Tom to jump to their side and nix the sale, sources said.
Bob did this by giving his brothers a written pledge to add two independent directors to the nine-member board, while the sisters and their families stoked their sense of familial duty, sources said. One e-mail, for example, warned Peter against pushing Bob to his grave by voting for the deal, a source said.
“A lot of us are not happy with what Bob did,” a family source told The Post of the White House appearance. “The entire family doesn’t back him.”
With Peter and Bob on their side, only 44 percent of Goya’s shares were cast for the sale in a final vote on July 15, sources said.
Bob, Tom and their sisters declined to comment, but one family source suggested the sisters fought for Bob because he became the de facto head of the family in 1976 when their father, Anthony, and grandfather, who founded Goya, both died.
“I’m never surprised by what the family does,” a Goya source said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the family.”