STRATEGIC EXPANSION

Colombia 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jorge Mario Velásquez, President of Grupo Argos, on boosting efficiency, harnessing sustainable practices, and building on core competences.

 Jorge Mario Velásquez
BIOGRAPHY
Jorge Mario Velásquez holds a BS in civil engineering from Escuela de Ingeniería de Antioquia, completed the CEO Management Program at Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern), and studied supply chain strategy at Stanford. He also graduated from the High Governmental Studies Program at the School of Government and Public Affairs at the Universidad de los Andes. CEO since 2016, he has been part of Grupo Argos, the largest private industrial group in Colombia, for more than three decades.

How has Grupo Argos evolved and what have been its main achievements over the years?

This group is defined as an infrastructure holding in the Americas with a presence in 18 countries, including the US and many Central American, Caribbean, and South American countries. We have three main strategic businesses: cement, power generation and distribution, and airport and toll road concessions. Our company has USD16.8 billion in assets under management and revenues close to USD5.6 billion. The company was founded in 1934 as a cement company in Medellín and emerged over the years from being a local player to acquiring cement operations throughout the Americas. In early 2000, we decided to go abroad and develop an international growth strategy in the region. Today, Cementos Argos has a large presence in the US, from whence we derive 55% of our revenues, and 14 territories in the Caribbean and Central America, not to mention Colombia. In 2012, we decided to move from a cement company to a holding with the strategy of being an infrastructure holding.

How do you ensure synergies amongst such diversified businesses?

We are not a portfolio investor but actively participate in the strategic decision-making process of all our subsidiaries. We are a hands-on holding. Thus, in conjunction with the boards and management in the operating businesses, we define our strategy in terms of where we will expand, the assets we want to acquire, the debt and capital structure, and the geographic area we want to be in for each business. We actively decide where to allocate capital between businesses. As a holding, we focus on four main areas: strategic design and execution; financial, institutional, and strategic talent development; governance practices, sustainability, and innovation policies; and the promotion of synergies between subsidiaries. In 2017, we implemented a shared competences center for the group that had huge savings.

What is your strategy to remain one of the main sustainable companies in the region?

We defined our strategy as a balance between economic, social, and environmental performance. As a company, we want to act in a responsible way with society and the environment producing superior returns to our investors. Today, I cannot conceive of a business that only focuses on making money; a company must be responsible in the way that it conducts business, treats people, interacts with society, and creates value for the community where it operates. For the last five years, we have been part of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and this year we received the 2018 Gold Class as the most sustainable company in the sector by the RobecoSam Sustainability Yearbook.

What are Grupo Argos's main priorities and goals for 2018?

We will keep seeking ways to create more value for our shareholders. Our strategy recognizes that we create value through organic and inorganic growth and being selective in making sure that any possible acquisition generates value for shareholders. In parallel, we are working extremely hard on efficiency and boosting the productivity of the businesses, especially with the cement and power generation subsidiaries. Efficiencies have increased tremendously, though there is still some room to make further improvements. Grupo Argos has developed a core competence and clear track record in building and operating correlated business platforms in the Americas, which we will use to expand. Although we will not shy away from acquisitions, we will be selective and very proactive in having more organic growth over the short term in our businesses.