Fox, Vincente: 1942—: Politician; Businessman

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Vincente Fox: 1942: politician; businessman

On July 2, 2000, Vincente Fox, newly elected president of Mexico, gathered before 100,000 supporters in Mexico City. "The city hadn't seen such jubilation since the pope's visit nearly ten years ago," wrote Dick Reavis in the Texas Monthly. Fox's victory was astounding to many because the International Revolutionary Party (PRI) had held the presidency since 1929, often by illegal means. Now, his victory, with 43 percent of the popular vote, would be allowed to stand. "Never before," stated a New York Times editorial, "in the memory of living Mexicans has presidential power passed peacefully to an opposition party."

Fox did not plan to become a politician. A businessman from a middle class background, he had risen to chief executive of Coca-Cola de Mexico and later helped his brothers manage the family's 1,100 acre farm in San Francisco del Rincón. Government laws and red tape, however, created hardships for many small business owners during the 1980s and 1990s. His own frustration with the system and encouragement from others led Fox to run for the legislature in 1988, the governorship of Guanajuato in 1991 and 1995, and the presidency in 2000. When President Ernesto Zedillo announced Fox's victory on television, Mexicans celebrated the changing of the guard. "Fed up with rampant corruption, crime and seemingly intractable poverty," Maclean's wrote, "Mexican voters finally said basta (enough) and threw out the world's longest-surviving political dynasty."

Born Into Privilege

Vincente Fox Quesada was born on July 2, 1942 in Mexico City, the second of nine children. His mother, Mercedes Quesada, was born in Spain and immigrated to Mexico as an infant. His father, José Luis Fox, was a prosperous landowner of Irish decent. Fox grew up on his parent's 1,100 acre ranch in San Francisco del Rincón in the Guanajuato region, located in central Mexico. Although he dreamed of becoming a bull-fighter, his parents directed him toward a business education. Fox attended Catholic schools in Mexico, and spent a year at Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin where he learned English.

Although he was born into wealth, the circumstances of Guanajuanto's poor made a lasting impression on Fox. He told Andrew Reding of the World Policy Journal, "all my friends were poor; I went to their humble homes to eat and sleep, and be friends, something that is forever imprinted on my heart." His Jesuit education also affected his worldview. "They teach you to serve your community and country; to work forand be forothers," Fox told Reding.

At a Glance . . .

Born Vincente Fox Quesada, July 2, 1942, in Mexico City, Mexico; son of Mercedes Quesada (a homemaker) and José Luis Fox (a rancher); married Lillian de la Concha, 1975, divorced 1991; children: two daughters, Ana Cristina and Paulina, and two sons, Vincente and Rodrigo, all adopted; married Martha Sahagun, 2001. Education: Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico, bachelor's degree in business administration, 1964; Harvard University School of Business, M.B.A., 1974.

Career: Coca-Cola de Mexico, route salesman, 1964-71, transferred to headquarters in Mexico City, worked in marketing; 1971, chief executive, Mexico, 1975-79; returned to Guanajuato to manage family boot manufacturing and vegetable exporting business with brothers, 1980-88; served one term in the Mexican legislature, 1988-91; elected governor of Guanajuato, 1995; elected president of Mexico, 2000.

Awards: Civic Man of the Year, Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance), 1991.

Adresses: Office Grupo Fox, Venustiano Carranza 705, Leon, Gto, Mexico.

Unlike many Mexican elites, many of whom come to study in the United States, Fox chose to attend Universidad Iberoamericana, a Jesuit institution located in Mexico City. After earning a business degree in 1964, he took a job with Coca-Cola de Mexico as a route supervisor. He worked in six different cities during the next seven years, and moved to the corporate headquarters in Mexico City in 1971.

"At the university, they taught me to reflect and to analyze," Fox recalled to Sam Dillon of the New York Times. "But working at Coca-Cola was my second university education. I learned that the heart of a business is out in the field, not in the office. I learned strategy, marketing, financial management, optimization of resources. I learned not to accept anything but winning. I learned an iron discipline for getting results." He rose to marketing director, and in 1975, he was named chief executive of Coca-Cola de Mexico, a position he held for four years. He also married Lillian de la Concha and they adopted four children: Ana Cristina, Paulina, Vicente, and Rodrigo; the couple divorced in 1991.

Challenged Mexico's Ruling Party

In 1979 Fox was faced with a difficult choice: he was offered the lead position of the Latin American division of Coca-Cola. Accepting the position, however, required relocating to the corporate headquarters in Miami. He opted to leave Coco-Cola and help his brothers manage Grupo Fox, the family farm. The farm exported frozen broccoli and cauliflower to the United States and cowboy boots to Europe.

The brothers, however, discovered that building a profitable business in a volatile economy was difficult. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on January 1, 1994, and Mexico experienced a banking crisis the same year. These changes, along with currency devaluations, opened a gulf between large corporations and small businesses: corporations were able to avoid economic fluctuations by trading in U.S. dollars while small businesses were tied to the unstable peso. "Every micro, small and medium sized entrepeneur (sic) in this country is a hero for surviving, growing and exporting under these circumstances," Fox told Dillon. "I' m not embarrassed to say the businesses of the [Grupo Fox] are still highly leveraged, because that's the situation of all Mexican businesses."

Fox did not plan on going into politics. In fact, many in Mexico consider politicians corrupt and dishonorable. "I never, ever, thought I'd be in politics, " he told Dillon. "My father told us that nothing would offend him more, because only thieves and crooks go into politics here." But his many frustrations over the negative impact government policy had on small businesses led Fox to change his mind, and in 1988 he joined the National Action Party (PAN), a conservative party that was pro-Catholic and pro-business. That same year, Fox won a seat on the legislature, but was defeated in a disputed 1991 bid for the governorship of the Guanajuato district.

Fox ran for the governorship again in 1995 and won. " [T]he voters of Guanajuato elected Vincente Fox governor by a two-to-one landslide," wrote Reding, "the greatest margin ever for an opposition politician in a Mexican gubernatorial election." Fox made no secret of his plans to run for the office of president in 2000. "I am going to hire a governor," he told Tim Golden of the New York Times. "I'm going to be a politician."

Launched Presidential Campaign

In 1997 Fox launched his campaign for the presidency, and announced that he would be seeking the PAN nomination. "Ending 70 years of dictatorship will be a great heroic exploit for Mexico," Fox told Dillon, "something like when you Americans put a man on the moon. Reaching the moon took a decade of work. Defeating the PRI is also going to take lots of time, talent and money." Standing six feet, six inches, wearing black leather boots and a large belt buckle with his name emblazed upon it, Fox campaigned by keeping his distance from the pro-Catholic, right-of-center positions of his own party and broadening his message to include the minorities and poor of Mexico.

He also gained a reputation for "rough" language that included slang and profanities on the campaign trail. Texas Monthly noted, " Profanity fits into a strategy to attract the attention of smog-eyed and sweaty Jose Six-Pack, a strategy that had carded Fox to the governorship of Guanajuato in 1995." During one appearance, Fox deflected Catholic criticism of his language by announcing, "Ladies, please cover your ears and take the children outside," quoted Dillon. " Your Governor is about to give a speech."

Fox's primary opponent in the 2000 election was Francisco Labastida Ochoa, the PRI candidate. The race, however, became more complicated because a third candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, ran on the Democratic Revolution Party (DRP) ticket. Fox worried that DRP would split the progressive vote, leading to a PRI victory, but Cárdenas' poll numbers dropped into the single digits months before the election. "So the real decision will have to be made by the voters themselves ," wrote Paul Berman of the New York Times Magazine, "by many thousands of ordinary Mexicans who might normally prefer to vote for Cárdenas and the left but who will now have to consider voting, in the name of democracy, for Fox, the right-wing cowboy."

Attempted to Enact Reforms

Fox's victory in 2000 signaled an important change in the Mexican political system, and he began to set priorities for his administration even before assuming office on December 1, 2000. He promised to fight corruption and build a crime fighting force, the Federal Agency of Investigation, based on the FBI. He expressed a desire to expand NAFTA to reduce wage discrepancies and to allow a free flow of people between Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Opposition to change, however, remained entrenched. The PRI continued to hold the greatest number of governorships, and no party held a majority in the lower legislature. "Fox succeeded beyond almost anyone's expectations," wrote Maclean's. " Now, he faces a host of problems and pent-up demand for change."

In office Fox attempted to enact a number of reforms with mixed results. Some measures expanded educational subsidies and health benefits, while others enacted financial market reforms. He also helped convince President George W. Bush to grant amnesty to three million Mexicans living and working in the United States. In 2001, however, Mexico sank into recession, making new job creation difficult. "It is painful not to have generated jobs as we wanted," Fox told Lucy Conger of Institutional Investor. "These realities have brought a more demanding citizenry that asks when will there be accelerated development in Mexico." On July 2, 2001, a year after Fox's victory, on his 59th birthday, he married press secretary Martha Sahagun.



Institutional Investor, December 2001, p. 43.

Maclean's, July 17, 2000, p. 30.

New York Times, May 22, 1995, A7; May 11, 1998,

A4; May 9, 1999, BU1; July 4, 2000, A12.

New York Times Magazine, July 2, 2000, p. 37.

Texas Monthly, December 2000, p126.

Time, September 3, 2001, p. 38.

World Policy Journal, Fall 1996, pp. 61-70.


Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2002,

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.