GENERATION FORWARD

Colombia 2013 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mario Alberto Huertas Cotes, President of MHC, on the company's evolution, the infrastructure boom, and current projects.

Mario Alberto Huertas Cotes
BIOGRAPHY
Mario Alberto Huertas Cotes graduated from Pontificia Universidad and studied Engineering in 1974. He joined MHC in 1975 taking over from his father, and the company participated in many civil projects throughout the country. He remains an active member in the company and continues to form many partnerships and ventures.

How has the company evolved since it was established in 1939?

I am the third generation of engineers in my family, and I have been presiding over the company since 1975, when I took over from my father. Our company, which was established in 1939, has specialized over the years in developing public infrastructure projects such as roads, dams, and bridges. Throughout our history, we have been pioneers in terms of civil engineering solutions in the construction of roads, as well as the machinery used in such works. In this context, we have won a couple of engineering awards in Colombia for coating a dam near Bogotá in 1994, and more recently the execution of a false tunnel in an area where we had already developed road projects that had some infrastructure issues. The latter project was very complex and challenging; however, we successfully completed it thanks to our advanced and innovative studies and engineering techniques. Today, we directly employ 1,200 people—indirectly the figure would increase to more than 6,000—and we have 630 construction machines.

How does the current boom in infrastructure projects that Colombia is experiencing impact on your operations?

The current Santos administration has prioritized the development of infrastructure projects in the country; however, everything is still gathering pace, because some bureaucratic decisions slowed down this boom. In addition, Colombia's geography also poses some challenges from the engineering point of view; we are the only country in the world with three different mountain chains, and that makes the development of certain infrastructure projects very challenging. For example, to connect Bogotá with other coastal cities, we have to keep in mind that the capital city of our country lays at over 2,500 meters above sea level. Also, Colombia is behind some other regional countries in terms of concentrating industrial areas near the coast—Colombia has yet to exploit the advantages of having access to two different oceans. However, not everything is negative; the authorities are very determined to exploit the country's industrial potential, and we have seen a significant increase in the number of free trade zones (FTZs) across the country. Such developments also contribute to the improvement of the road and logistics network in Colombia.

What is the significance of the Ruta del Sol project for Colombia?

The Magdalena River is the backbone of the country, and the Ruta del Sol project aims at exploiting the industrial and economic potential along the road corridor. In other words, the route connects the country from the south to the north and, through a more extensive road network, will also go from west to east. We also need connections to the two ocean coasts, the Atlantic and Pacific. Overall, we are talking about 1,000 kilometers of road, which is relatively flat and wavy and enables fast and stable road connections for the cargo industry. It also helps to boost both imports and exports.

What are some of the other key projects you have taken part in?

We were pioneers in the concession process in Colombia. In 1994, the government of Colombia decided to start tendering projects, and we moved forward by putting together a very competitive and qualified group of professional engineers, which was a way of sharing risks as well. These types of projects give engineering companies continuity and long-term stability regardless of the political color of the government. Over the years, we have become a very strong company from a financial point of view. The main projects we took part in have been El Dorado Airport and La Línea Tunnel. Overall, we have taken part in all the tendering processes for the main projects.

What role does MHC play in attracting foreign investment into the country, and what role do international partnerships play in your business activity?

We have always established partnerships with foreign firms, such as Skanska from Sweden and Construtora OAS from Brazil. Regarding the fourth-generation construction projects, we have recently signed a cooperation agreement with a Costa Rican company, Meco, and we have experienced a growth in the interest among foreign companies to come to Colombia and establish a partnership with us.