Latin Business Chronicle asks executives about President Uribe’s impact on their business and what they most admired about him.
BY CHRONICLE STAFF
How was your business in Colombia impacted by President Alvaro Uribe's eight-year presidency? What has impressed you most about Uribe?
Latin Business Chronicle asked a group of prominent executives from US, European, Asian and Latin American multinationals. Our panel:
- Carlos Alonso, President, Latin America and Canada, Baxter, USA
- Yolanda Auza, General Manager LACSA Division, Unisys, USA
- Rodolpho Cardenuto, President and CEO for Latin America at SAP, Germany
- Alvaro Diago, COO, Latin America & Caribbean, InterContinental Hotels Group, UK
- Marcelo Modai, Colombia Country Manager, Standard Chartered Bank, UK
- Andres Ramirez, Vice President for Latin America, Alberto Culver, USA
- Gabriel T. Rozman. Executive VP, Global Delivery Network, Tata Consultancy Services, India
- Woods Staton, President and Chief Executive Officer, Arcos Dorados, Argentina
- Jaime Valles, President, Cisco Latin America
Latin Business Chronicle: How was your business in Colombia impacted by President Alvaro Uribe's eight-year presidency?
Alonso: President Uribe’s tenure as president further stabilized Colombia’s political, social and economic environment. His policies improved government transparency and helped grow investments in healthcare, which led to significant improvements in patient care across the country. During this time, Baxter was able to significantly increase its presence in Colombia. In particular, we expanded our dialysis clinics and investments at our manufacturing facility in Cali.
Auza: During these eight years the business went from a maintenance operation to an investment operation. While maintenance meant keeping our customers and growth in those accounts, investment meant growth in infrastructure, employment, adopting global and world class practices and techniques not only to support local markets but also to provide services from Colombia to the region.
Cardenuto: In the past 8 years, SAP’s business in Colombia has nearly quadrupled and as a result, Colombia has emerged as one of our top priority markets for our company globally. With the significant growth of the public and private sector under President Uribe, this has fueled Colombia’s need for technology and innovation, and SAP solutions have been able to provide for that need. Not only has our SAP overall business grown, but specifically, we have seen consistent double and triple digit growth in our public sector, healthcare and banking lines of businesses. This aggressive growth also resulted in our opening of 2 additional offices in Colombia (Cali and Medellin) in the last years and a significant investment ($3.5M) in a Latin America regional Telecoverage center in Bogota (in addition to our local office).
Diago: Business was impacted in nothing short of a dramatically positive manner. President Uribe backed his desire to further Colombia’s vast business potential with a series of initiatives that not only created confidence, but incentives to expand business. From his focus on increasing security on a national basis, to numerous pro-business incentives, we have seen a great deal of momentum during his tenure. Our company, IHG, has signed a number of franchising agreements with local Colombian enterprises who clearly feel as positive about the country’s business climate. It has been many years since we have seen this level of momentum and growth. As a Colombian-born individual, I am extremely proud of his accomplishments and desire to see the country build a solid business foundation.
Modai: Our business has been positively impacted by higher economic growth and business activity (investments, expansion, etc) seen during President Uribe’s tenure. From a commercial banking perspective this is specifically reflected in higher volumes of trade, financing requirements, capital markets and treasury transactions. The marked improvement in the local business environment has also raised interest of international companies in Colombia generating increased cross-border banking activity. Another interesting aspect is the internationalization of Colombian companies during the last few years, most recently the acquisition of BAC by Grupo Aval.
Ramirez: Our firm benefited positively…There’s more openness; the consumer has more confidence, which benefits my company.
Rozman: I think Uribe gave us the confidence to invest in the country. He changed to a great extent (although it still needs more) the branding of the Colombia - from a guerrilla infested nation to a serious business partner. His stabilization program where Colombia guarantees that the rules of the game will not change for many years, gave everyone the impression of working with a serious country.
Staton: Our company was very positively impacted by the Uribe presidency as was all of business in Colombia. Colombia is emerging quickly as one of the leading growth stories of the region and it is in large part due to all that has been done to bring peace to Colombia. In my personal opinion, Alvaro Uribe built upon the platform that started under Andrés Pastrana and, through his leadership and the leadership of his administration, political stability and hence economic growth has taken place. Because of this unprecedented stability and growth our company has increased its investments in that country, grown the existing restaurant base substantially and made plans to continue aggressive growth. Our company has been reaching record results, year after year, due to the positive economic situation that Colombia has been offering to businesses in the past recent years. During this period, we doubled the number of our points of sales, including new McDonald's restaurants, dessert centers and McCafes, and obtained sales results that surpassed our expectations. We were also able to recruit and develop thousands of young Colombians who were looking for a first job, reaching our current team of 2,500 employees.
Valles: Cisco has been in Colombia since 1994 and we’ve been committed to the country during the last 16 years. President Alvaro Uribe’s government had a strong impact on the general business climate of the country, improving overall market conditions and placing Colombia again on the agenda and as one of the key emerging markets economies. During last eight years we saw a solid growth for our business in the country. We worked together both with the Colombian government and the business sector to help improve the competitiveness and productiveness of the country through technology. President Uribe’s government was aware of the need to put technology at the core of the economic growth and the strategic role the network can play as a platform for creating intelligent, sustainable solutions for public safety and security, transportation, utilities, healthcare and education. This network platform will be crucial for driving growth, innovation, efficiency and productivity for Colombia and its people in the coming years.
Latin Business Chronicle: What has impressed you most about Uribe?
Alonso: I have always been impressed with President Uribe’s energy and leadership style. I had the opportunity to visit with him on two occasions and he has always shown a genuine interest in learning about the healthcare issues affecting the people of Colombia that are so important to Baxter. Working together with a highly skilled team of advisors, he was always the type of person eager to find solutions. I believe that he will leave a lasting legacy in Colombia’s history as a president who played a critical role in transforming the country.
Auza His capacity to [think] and present every detail of the national interest. No matter what kind of conversation, he sounds [like an] expert in the most diverse subjects -- from energy, to economy, from agriculture to technology, from health to history and so on.
Cardenuto: During his presidency, President Alvaro Uribe always worked with his team in the modernization of all organizations within the government, on digital inclusion and foreign investment initiatives that looked to provide better service for Colombia’s citizens, facilitating processes and making government more efficient and transparent. All of this together helped contribute to the positive perception many have come to have about Colombia.
Diago: I was always impressed with President Uribe’s drive and no-nonsense approach. He “majored in majors,” focusing on the key issues that would drive all the other factors. His focus on security and providing a positive, pro-business platform had as many deeds as words. He always backed his words with action, which not only created the appropriate environment, but brought great confidence to all those dealing with him. I also believe he was a great role model for leadership. He inherited as many challenges as any leader has ever had to contend with in our hemisphere, and not only conquered many of them, but conquered them to international acclaim. My hat is off to him.
Modai: I have been impressed by his ability to multi-task and attention to detail. He has one of the brightest memories and the way he manages statistics and information is astonishing. The fact that he was able to engage different parts of the country outside the main cities as well as his passion for Colombia is also remarkable.
Ramirez: His charisma, his passion for the country, his hard work. He’s a workaholic. He returned security and confidence to the Colombians.
Rozman: Two things impressed me about Uribe: a. His knowledge of the facts and figures about Colombia. A) He did not have to consult anyone to give an accurate number about the economy or any other data B). His willingness to speak to any audience about any subject anyplace. In any meeting, without prior preparation, he accepted questions from press and public without fear of consequences.
Staton: Alvaro Uribe has struck me as a very intelligent and tenacious leader that was able to gather around him an extremely talented and young cabinet. He has communicated well with the populace, led by example working long hours, and relentlessly pursued a policy of law and order that has borne fruits. This has brought about a period of remarkable and consolidated growth for Colombia – both in the social and the economic arenas.
As well, there has been a good alliance between the government and the private sector. The Uribe government has been following a very aggressive agenda in promoting foreign and local investments. In World Bank's “Ease of Doing Business” index, Colombia ranks #2 in Latin America. The country also ranks in #1 place for “Quality of Trained Workers” and #2 for “Quality of Managers”. There has been tremendous growth in these indexes and they reflect the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit that lies at the heart of Colombia as a country. We know that these are important indicators for attracting foreign direct investment and the jobs creation that accompanies this capital inflow. So, everywhere you look in Colombia, there are huge opportunities for local and foreign investors.
But above all, after so many years of a war with the guerillas and drug cartels (that has yet to be won although much progress has been made), Alvaro Uribe has restored a sense of pride and a sense of hope to Colombians. Great leader!
Valles: His passion and commitment to Colombia, his passion for details, his focus to analyze problems and formulate best possible solutions, his leadership and courage to face and solved some of the key problems of the country. I’ve been very impressed as well by his honesty and hard work.
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