While the boss of Goya Foods defended his controversial support of President Trump last week, he also was quietly quashing an agreement to sell a chunk of the rice-and-beans empire — a deal that would have cost him his job, The Post has learned.
Chief Executive Robert Unanue — who sparked calls for a Goya boycott from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) and other Latino leaders after he said at a July 9 White House visit that “we’re all truly blessed” to have Trump as president — successfully nixed a minority stake sale that would have valued the privately-held canned-foods giant at more than $4 billion, insiders said.
The proposed deal with BDT Capital Partners — a buyout firm that sees potential to expand the brand and eventually take it public, according to sources — also would have required Unanue to leave the helm within 18 months to make way for a new chief executive, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources said Goya’s board of directors last Wednesday voted against the deal with BDT, which is headed by Byron Trott, a former Goldman Sachs banker known for his close relationship to legendary investor Warren Buffett. The vote came after Goya’s board had tentatively agreed to the deal a few weeks earlier, according to a source.
The timing has sparked speculation within Goya’s founding family about the intention behind Robert Unanue’s statement of support for Trump, which he reiterated during an interview on Fox News the day after his White House visit, calling the boycott “suppression of speech,” insiders said.
Unanue last year donated $3,000 to the Republican National Committee and has personally supported conservatives in the past, and on Sunday he told The Post, “I was called months ago to serve our country as a commissioner on The White House Initiative for Hispanic Prosperity.”
“I don’t think it was a coincidence,” said one source close to the family, whose patriarch Don Prudencio Unanue founded the Jersey City, NJ-based company in 1936 after emigrating from Spain. “All of a sudden there is going to be a shareholder vote and here he is, saying this stuff about Trump.”
Spokespersons for Goya and BDT declined to comment on Sunday. Robert Unanue declined to comment on the BDT matter.
It’s the second time in less than a year that Unuane’s job was saved after a deal to sell the company was scuttled. As first reported by The Post, Goya was in talks to sell a controlling stake to the Carlyle Group last fall in a deal that also would have replaced him as CEO. But Goya denied the sale talks at the time and changed its mind at the last minute, according to sources.
“This was supposed to be a control transaction … and the family apparently changed its position in the last couple of weeks,” Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein said in a Nov. 25 interview on Fox Business.
Unanue, who owns less than a 5 percent stake in Goya, saved his job last week by bowing to demands from two key shareholders and adding two independent directors to the family-controlled board, sources said. When Unanue agreed to add the independent directors, key shareholders switched their votes and the BDT deal was scrapped, according to a source.
Goya’s board this week also voted to let management decide how to handle the boycotts, essentially giving Unanue its full backing, the source said.
After his visit to the White House, Trump posed in the Oval Office with an assortment of Goya products on his desk. And last week, Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself holding a can of Goya black beans and writing the company’s slogan “If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” along with the Spanish translation, “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
A source close to the founding family, however, insisted that Goya itself doesn’t take political views and isn’t aligned with Trump.
Presently, there are three factions of the Unanue family, each of which has three seats on the nine-member board, according to the source. Robert Unanue became CEO in 2004 when his family teamed with the Frank Unanue, Jr. family to push out longtime CEO Joseph Unanue, who led the third family faction, sources said.
Since then, the Robert and Frank family factions have run the business in a sometimes shaky alliance, the source said.
Goya sales spiked during the days after the White House meeting, but a source close to the family noted that the hashtags #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway have since gained traction. Some members fret that the brand could suffer in the long run because of Trump’s tough stance on immigration and his infamous 2015 assertion that Mexico was exporting “rapists” to the US.
But Robert Unanue doesn’t appear to be backing down. In his interview with “Fox and Friends,” he said, “The president has taken away a lot of the regulations and roadblocks to prosperity. We don’t need roadblocks in our path.”