For many euro zone companies, investing in expensive new machinery at the height of the financial crisis would have been impossible, if not disastrous. But for Helen Gray de Castro, in charge of Portuguese tissue manufacturing firm Fapajal, a new paper machine in 2009 at the company's mill has coincided with a tripling in revenues.
Established in 1755 after the great Lisbon earthquake of the same year, the monks of St. Vincent moved to Fapajal's present site and began producing the tissue paper that is still manufactured to this day. Despite the hardship of recent years, with little liquidity and competitors falling by the wayside, Gray de Castro says Fapajal has managed to keep its head above the parapet.
"We have managed to roll down our debt," she told CNBC. "We have been very careful, have never paid out any dividends and taken no cash out of the company."
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Across the 17-country euro zone, companies have been struggling through a tough period of recession and austerity, where government cutbacks imposed to bring down debt levels have held back growth and led to an increase in unemployment. But examples of companies surviving the downturn can be found across Europe.
Fapajal, which completed just under 30 million euros in sales this year, gains higher margin from its domestic market but has found steady demand next door in Spain, with 80 percent of its exports finding their way to the struggling nation. Gray de Castro's advice for other firms is to keep it simple.
"It's nothing magic or particularly creative," she said. "Control your costs, get exposed to the areas of business that are stable and bring down debt."
"Be very careful about what's important. Treat your clients well so they keep coming back," she added. "We try to treat our customers very very well, if they sneeze we are right there ready with a tissue!"
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Economic data for the euro zone shows deep scars from the financial crash, which was shortly followed by a grueling sovereign debt crisis that embroiled nations like Greece, Spain and Portugal. Figures show a contraction in manufacturing that has only finally reversed this year. The recovery is still "modest and fragile" according to research firm Markit that provide the data.
Euro zone unemployment will remain near its record high of around 12.2 percent for the next two years, according to the European Commission's Autumn statement on Tuesday. In Spain, the registered jobless is expected to stay above 25 percent. The country may have emerged from recession, posting a 0.1 percent monthly uptick in GDP (growth domestic product) last week, but youth unemployment remains above 50 percent.
In order to survive Spanish firms have had to add flexibility to their workforce. Mandarin Media, a production company based in Barcelona but with clients across the world, told CNBC that it's this strategy that gives it the freedom to accommodate any size of production and to scale the company size and services to the pending volume of work and client needs.
"We have tripled the revenues since 2008," Carolin Akhtari, the managing director told CNBC. "During the last five years Mandarin Media gained more clients from new markets such as Asia, South America and Brazil and we had been able to extend our services European wide."
It's advice for other firms, she told CNBC, was choosing the right time to restructure and rescale a company while adapting constantly to progressing and changing markets.
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"Think big but grow healthy!" she said. "A company needs a strategy, needs to dream and needs to grow and needs to think ahead of today, but grow healthy and step by step."