From Venezuela to the Canary Islands, from a laundry to the Royal House. Yukonda Esparragoza shares her experience of living “miracle after miracle”.
The life of Yukonda Esparragoza could be the plot for a novel or a film, because this businesswoman and entrepreneur never stops moving forward in her life, facing giants, with victories and also some defeats, but always trusting in the guidance of God.
This Venezuelan has been in Spain for over 30 years and is the CEO of Lavandería (Laundry) Romeral, a benchmark in the sector in the Canary Islands, awarded and highlighted by national and international organisations.
Hard work, the search for excellence and facing new challenges with courage are the hallmarks of the company's journey, led by a woman who roots these principles in a life of faith and dependence on God.
Question. Yukonda, could you introduce yourself and tell us something about your life and background?
Answer. Soon I will be in Spain for 30 years. I have a degree in Tourism Administration from the University of San Bolivar in Venezuela. And once I graduated, I came to do a master's degree in tourism at the University of Las Palmas.
The first blessing I experienced, the first miracle, was that I, the daughter of a family of nine siblings, a humble family in Venezuela, was able to travel to Spain to do a postgraduate degree at a university.
That was unthinkable because at that time the airfare alone cost what my father earned in a whole year of work.
So the first miracle was that they gave me a scholarship, I graduated with honours and that opened doors for me to be able to go to Spain and continue my education.
Another miracle was that the university in Spain certified my degree, something that was not easy. People around me told me that it was not possible, but when it happened it gave me the strength to go on.
All this happened in 1994, but now I see it with the perspective that God wanted to do something special in my life. At that time I was very focused on my work and studies and I still didn't know God personally.
Q. How did you start your professional career?
A. I was offered a second internship at a business school here in Las Palmas, and it was there that the job offer to manage a laundry came up.
Since I was looking for a job that would allow me to stay legally in Spain, I applied for this offer. And it was yet another miracle for me, that among so many candidates, they hired me.
That was how I started at Lavandería Romeral in October 1997, and I worked as the company manager until January 2010.
Q. During that time as manager, were there any difficult moments that you remember?
A. Yes, like almost all of us, we suffered very much during the crisis of 2008 and 2009.
We were on the verge of closing down because there were debts, there was no work. I even travelled to Venezuela in 2009 to see if I could generate another business, but no clear door opened.
That is why I told the owner: “if a miracle doesn't happen, in December we will have to close, because we cannot continue in this situation".
And once again, the miracle happened. The RIU hotel chain knocked on our door to request our service. At that time nobody was betting on us, we were like a little David against Goliath.
It was a challenge, because we had to invest to improve our structure, our service, but we saw it as an opportunity to get out of a critical situation.
Q. Every opportunity that opens up brings new challenges. What happened next?
A. That year (2010) the owner of the company was retiring, and had to make the decision whether the company would continue or close. There was no generational shift in his family and I was very committed to the company, in fact I had employed many people from my own family as well.
For me the challenge was clear: it had to continue, so that I took the step of faith in taking over the company, something that was also happening at a turbulent time in my personal life.
Q. At those key moments, how did you experience God's hand?
A. I knew Jesus in a personal way in 2008. In those years I was going through a difficult situation, I was separated and had a young daughter to raise, plus the pressure of the company. But I see it as a journey, where I realised that I needed to grow in my relationship with God.
I wanted my daughter to be brought up in the ways of the Lord, but at the same time it was difficult for me to abandon my habits, my customs.
During that time it was key to have sisters in the faith who didn't let me go, who discipled me, who cared for me every week, praying for me, sharing the Word with me.
Sometimes I even told them that I didn't have time, that I had too much work to do, and they came to the laundry to accompany me. That helped me to realise that I had to leave all things in the Lord's hands.
I remember that when we were in such a difficult situation in 2010, with that business challenge, the only thing that gave me peace was reading the verse and the commentary of The Good Seed.
It was the only thing that helped me to calm down, I would read it before going to sleep. I experienced how God had something more for me and I was able to reorganise my priorities.
Q. How do you see that change in the company?
A. We pray before we take decisions. We even have a space we call “the church", where we do everything: lunches, meetings, but also prayer vigils.
It's a multifunctional place where we seek God's presence. We do devotionals whenever we can, and everyone knows about my faith.
I am not ashamed of who I am, a child of God, and wherever I go I try to give words of encouragement.
Q. The COVID crisis also hit you hard, but you had the help of Ana Patricia Botín, president of Banco Santander (Santander Bank). How did you experience it?
A. It all started with an act of faith. During the pandemic we were still working, but the bank had “closed down" in the face of the needs we might have and asked us to get up to date with all our loans.
We had just made a large investment to expand our services, on a land we had called “Promised Land", because we saw it as an important step of faith. But with the arrival of Covid and the crisis, we found ourselves in a very critical situation regarding loans.
Even though we tried to contact the local office, we couldn't get in touch with them. So I became helpless.
One night I was crying and crying to God for his help, for him to give me the light to know how to get out of this situation.
The next day I opened LinkedIn and saw that Ana Patricia Botin, whom I followed, had written something regarding the help they could give to companies, so I wrote to her directly and the amazing thing was that she replied.
[photo_footer] Ana Patricia Botín, visiting Yukonda Esparragoza's laundry facilities / Santander[/photo_footer]
We started talking and I was able to explain to her the situation we were in.
From that moment on, we started a process where we clearly presented our situation, the numbers, etc. But there was still no guarantee, because the bank told us that nothing had been decided.
But I trusted that God would open the door. The miracle was that on 22 December 2021, when we were expecting a visit from the CEO, the person who turned up was Ana Patricia Botín herself, who had come to see the laundry.
From then on, help arrived and the company was able to move forward.
Q. Your life is full of surprises. You were recently able to meet King Felipe VI, who awarded you a medal for civil merit. How do you remember that moment?
A. When they called me to tell me, I remember I laughed because I couldn't believe it. It was a Friday at about 7pm when I received the call from the Royal House.
I thought it was a joke, but when I saw that it was for real, I said: Sir, it's too much, my God. And the girl on the other end of the phone said to me: “But are you happy, do you want to participate? I of course accepted,
It was an honour that God gave me to be with the King, and from then on I started praying that God would give me a word to share with the King.
So when I stood before King Felipe VI, I was able to tell him that there were people praying for him, and that he is there because of the Lord. It was an unforgettable experience.
[photo_footer] The King awards the Order of Civil Merit to Yukonda. / Royal house[/photo_footer]
Q. How do you see the future?
A. We move forward in faith, and we want any decision we make to be for the glory of God. Sometimes I think the company can become an idol, so I tell God to show me if that happens.
We never know what will happen in the future, but I do know that I want God to be the centre of my life, and that everything I do should be for the glory of God and to witness to others.
This article was produced for the Líderes Empresariales section of Protestante Digital, an initiative of the Gospel, Economy and Business (Tres-E) group in Spain.