For multinationals setting up shop in Colombia, local talent is essential for adapting to local business practices and interfacing between disparate markets.

Beltrán Benjumea
Managing Director
Page Group Colombia
Carlos Rodríguez
Andean Region Director
Egon Zehnder

Can you talk about how the entry of multinationals is changing the way that business is done in Colombia?

CARLOS RODRÍGUEZ There are two clear general trends: internationalization and accessing capital markets. If you are entering the international markets, you have to change your board. You can't have a board of seven Colombians, with one or two having some international business experience. If they are thinking seriously about international expansion, they need to adapt the board accordingly. Meanwhile, many other companies are realizing that to grow they need to raise capital. They can do it one of two ways, either through bond issuances or equity by going public through an IPO. Being a publicly-traded company, or having public debt in the market changes the dynamic of the board rather substantially, and it changes the profiles required.

BELTRÁN BENJUMEA When multinational companies set up shop in Colombia, they face a real shortage of people fluent in English, and their main objective is finding people who can fill this gap. The level of talent in Colombia is high, and the only downside fluency in English. For foreign companies, this communication breakdown makes it hard to build teams. Many observers are waiting for the peace agreement, and the country is entering an important period. All indicators point to a solution in the future, and when that happens, it will open a floodgate of international investment. The current macro-economics outlay is not so attractive, because the dollar is very expensive, the oil and gas sector has declined considerably, and the country's rating in the global security index is worse than previous years

What trends are you seeing in the kinds of multinationals that are expanding their presence in Colombia?

CR Colombia remains a promising market for many multinationals, across a variety of sectors, from Consumer Goods, to Financial Services or Natural Resources. Given its size and relative stability (vis-à-vis most neighbors), large multinationals continue investing and betting on growth in this market. When Europe and the US were in recession, many companies invested in emerging markets and Colombia delivered solid growth during this period, which has given the country credibility with these organizations. Multinationals in some industries such as Infrastructure, Financial Services or Consumer Goods, are still betting on growth while extraction industries, such as mining and oil and gas are facing a much tougher environment due to dramatically lower commodity prices.

How will redundancy in the hydrocarbons service industries—up to 20%—affect your revenues and your base in Colombia?

BB Even though activities in the oil and gas sector declined, the infrastructure, construction, and civil construction industries picked up, and that balanced out potential losses in other industries and offset any declines we might have experienced. Bear in mind that we experienced 50% growth. But if the oil industry did not decline, our bottom line would have been even more substantial. Today we are growing in infrastructure, IT, FMCG, and the financial services sector, in both banking and insurance.