How is the current government effort to switch the country from gas stoves to electric stoves affecting your operations?
It has been a temporary challenge for us at the moment, because we manufacture and sell gas stoves, and as a result,sales of these have fallen by 60%. However, we are participating actively with the government in this plan. We are ready for the production of electric stoves, and we will expand our portfolio in this industry. The transition is a good idea because subsidies for gas right now cost the government around $800 million a year. It is great for the country's economy, and it is popular as well. The way to do it is to offer people a new product that cooks better and is more efficient. We are willing to do it. The government over the past few years has been encouraging applicants to become more efficient. We have also been participating in making that the norm. In the past, an air conditioner probably broke down in six months. We want them to be more efficient.
What would you say distinguishes Mabe products?
We make sure all of our products are manufactured in a high-quality way, and our standards of production are high. Our plants are well positioned. We have local brands, and we have GE as a partner in Latin America.
Which segment of the economy do see as the main driver of future growth for you in Ecuador?
The low- to middle-income sector, as the mid-high sector is probably 10% of the market. Almost 70% of the market is the middle class, and their income per capita is on the rise. They want houses, appliances, and cars. Around 15 years ago, many people didn't have air conditioners or washing machines, and some didn't have fridges. The market has increased significantly over the past decade.
How would you characterize the level of human capital in Ecuador?
One of the things that makes Mabe special is its post-sales service. If you buy one of our products, you can be sure that the company will take care of it. People don't hesitate to buy any of our products. If there is a problem, we fix it. No questions asked. As far as the level of technical education, I think it has been increasing. When I hire someone for middle management, they all have a Master's degree, while 15 years ago you didn't see that. Now, everyone has undergraduate degrees and at least one Master's degree. Everyone is trying to speak a second language as well. I am 44 years old. When I graduated 29 years ago, I studied in the US when I had the opportunity. No one spoke English then. It is different now. People in their 20s all speak English. The level of competition has increased greatly. This is in the lower class as well. It's a different country.
Why Ecuador as a destination for international investors?
We came here in 1994. Since then, Ecuador has been an excellent operation for Mabe. Ecuador is a stable country with a good income per capita. It is a small country; however, if you compare it to a similar country like Guatemala, the income per capita here is much higher. Companies in Ecuador are much more profitable. It is a good country to do business in, but you have to know that the rules can change.