INSPIRING CONNECTIONS

Colombia 2018 | ENERGY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Bernardo Vargas Gibsone, President of Interconexión Eléctrica SA (ISA), on Latin America's highest transmission line, Jaguar Connection, and sustainability.

Bernardo Vargas Gibsone
BIOGRAPHY
Bernardo Vargas Gibsone is the President of ISA. He is focused on four businesses: electric power transmission, information and telecommunications technologies, road concessions, and real time systems management. Founded in 1967, ISA operates through 43 subsidiaries in 8 countries in Latin America.

ISA holds COP43.409 billion in assets and has over 38,000 shareholders. What have been its main achievements over the past year?

ISA has gone through an interesting 50 years. It is a mixed-ownership company, with 51% owned by the central government of Colombia, 10% by Empresas Públicas de Medellin (EPM), and around 40% free float. ISA has been recognized for the best corporate governance in Colombia two years in a row. It is run by people with years of experience as technicians, though it is also a company that incorporates several businesses. It is perhaps the largest Colombian multinational, or at least the one with the largest presence in Latin America.

What is ISA's expansion strategy and its projects in Latin America?

ISA is a multi-country and multi-business organization, and we have presence in a variety of places, including Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. On top of this, we have a small presence in Ecuador and Argentina via telecoms businesses. Additionally, in Panama and other countries in Central America, we also have 11% of investments in Empresa Propietaria de la Red (EPR) line that goes through Central America. In all these countries, especially in the ones where we have a large presence, the great news is that there are many opportunities to grow. Even though we have 80% of the market in Colombia, there are still many opportunities. In 2017, we were awarded the Copey-Cuestecitas transmission line, which is perhaps the largest line awarded in Colombia. In Brazil, we grew significantly; we acquired 46.1% control block stock of Taesa, the most profitable transmission company in Brazil. Moreover, our main company in Brazil, CTEEP, has about 19,000km of lines and is doing extremely well.

ISA appears on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. What is your strategy to place ISA among the top sustainable companies?

Given that we are a lineal infrastructure company, we touch many communities; therefore, we need to be extremely responsible, not only with the people who work for the company, our suppliers, and co-contractors, but also with the people that we touch. Even our logo conveys this; it is more open to the community and friendly because we want to send that message. The logo is accompanied by a manifesto that is carried by the whole company: Connections that inspire (Conexiones que inspiran). When Dow Jones comes every year to look at us, it digs deep into our work: how we honor contracts, how we create standards for our suppliers, and how we create standards to protect the lives of our workers that work in high-risk operations. We were recognized as the top company in the region in terms of social corporative responsibilities and sustainability. We have an amazing program called Jaguar Connection that we launched in 2016. It is a sustainability program created and developed by ISA, local communities, and experts. Its aim is to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change through forestry projects in priority areas along with recovery and connection of jaguar habitats in countries where ISA is currently operating.

What are the main goals and priorities to be accomplished in 2018?

2017 was an amazing year for us as we hit all our targets; we were the best-performing company in Colombia in terms of profits. The main challenge is to do better than last year as Colombia is going through a difficult year, especially due to political changes. We are searching for potential countries for our future plans. We are looking at Argentina as well as Mexico. We are careful not to invest as much as we have done Brazil; our debt is legal according to international standards, though we are conservative in the way we manage it.