TBY talks to Esteban Sevilla, Executive President & General Manager of Semaica, on the company’s unique business model, the significance of partners, and its diverse range of projects.
TBY What makes Semaica different from its competitors in the civil engineering field?
ESTEBAN SEVILLA We are a very unique company that specializes in many areas. We are a civil engineering enterprise that operates in many different divisions such as tunneling, hotels, high-rise buildings, and water treatment plants. Most of our projects have been carried out in Ecuador. If you travel to Guayaquil, you will go through a tunnel built by Semaica. Our largest tunnel was built in Colombia. We focus on private and public construction, such as water treatment plants, hospitals, and hotels. We built the Hilton, the Sheraton, the Marriott, and the Dann Carlton in Ecuador.
Which other countries is Semaica active in?
We have built a number of bridges in the northern region of Peru. It was very convenient for us to establish operations there. We are also interested in working in Venezuela, in addition to Colombia and Ecuador. However, it is not easy to export our work style. We manage each project as if were a different firm.
Does Semaica have a set model for its operations?
The head engineer on each project is in charge of the operation. For example, we do not purchase materials centrally. It is a unique model, but we firmly believe that each manager should decide how to present their project. This system is very different from other companies. It may not be driving profits, but we feel this style has helped us become more efficient with our clientele.
Was it difficult for your partners to adapt to your philosophy?
We have been involved in huge projects that we carried out with many other companies, and they used their own systems for those projects. Previously, many of the international companies from Spain, Brazil, or Canada, for example, thought that they needed to bring their engineers and specialists to Ecuador. Since then, they have realized that only the general manager, technician, and the accounting staff are necessary. The rest of the workforce is Ecuadorean, because our engineers are very skilled. I am proud of the fact that we have managed to operate with very little outside help.
What does Semaica offer to its partners?
We can contribute invaluable expertise in terms of labor availability, government regulations, and engineering. Semaica boasts very talented staff.
What is the nature of working with the Ecuadorean government on large projects?
In order to work on government projects, a company must be dependable. Previously, government projects could be delayed without any negative consequences. That outcome has become impossible. Companies are obligated to keep their promises to a government that has begun to emphasize faster growth. International companies will be surprised to find that the government is very strict. The public sector has grown to be stricter than the private sector.
What large projects is Semaica involved in?
Semaica is currently carrying out a hydroelectric project, scheduled for completion in 2012. It was designed and built by Ecuadoreans. Although the turbines were imported from Spain, the manufacturing and construction was carried out domestically. Another project underway is a dam in Tungurahua. It will be the second dam in the area. The dams have provided water to the whole province, which is very industrialized. We are working at 4,500 meters, and it is very difficult.
What projects is Semaica working on in terms of housing?
We are leading a private project that was bought by the government. It includes 49 sqm of housing per unit sold for $12,000. The residences are located in a strategic area, and the project will house 8,000 families. Currently, we are working on the first 2,000 units.
What is Semaica’s strategy for decreasing prices while increasing quality?
The system we use makes efficient use of the available labor. There are many models we can import from the US or Europe, but they will not offer labor to the people purchasing the houses. In Guayaquil we are offering work to the people who will live there. The advantage is that the employees are eager to produce a high-quality output, as they are building their own houses. It is a very interesting and effective strategy.
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