What do you do if you’re a young, hip Cuban Libre and passionate about starting your own clothing brand in a country that demonizes capitalism? The State says you can’t advertise, hire workers or open a retail outlet, and getting raw materials is next to impossible.
If you’re cofounders of Clandestina, you capitalize on both the country’s history and its newly minted liberalizations as Cuba opens its borders. The company aims to bring to the new Cuban market “the social and cultural legacy of a past Cuba — the revolutionary and glamorous periods together,” executive director Leire Fernández said in a recent presentation at Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America program, in which she was a participant. (Associate Professor Eva Ascarza and Professor Mark Cohen were the company’s advisors.)
Launched around the designs of creative director Idania del Río in 2013, Clandestina has continually strengthened its business model as the cofounders found ways to work through myriad roadblocks.
Today the company makes and sells posters, cotton bags, jewelry, and casualwear — including its signature T-shirts — from two retail outlets in Cuba and through partners in the United States.
99% Diseño Cubano
Fernández, a Spanish citizen working for UNESCO in Cuba, and del Río, a 2004 graduate of Cuba’s Institute of Design, first realized they might have a business when, in 2011, President Raúl Castro began licensing owners of private restaurants, beauty salons, and other sole proprietorships to hire workers. So called cuentapropistas (self-employed persons) were permitted under a 1990s law, but letting them add employees goosed the number of entrepreneurial businesses from an officially recognized 157,000 to 357,000 within a year, and the movement has reached a half-million by now.
As they waited to obtain their license, del Rio and Fernández built a business model based on del Río’s T-shirt designs. With silkscreen logos boldly declaring slogans such as “99% diseño cubano” (99% Cuban design) and “Actually, I’m in Havana,” “our brand represents a core and revolutionary vision of design, which is at the heart of all Clandestina products,” explained del Río.
The first 3,000 finished products were manufactured in the Dominican Republic and imported back to Cuba for sale at the art gallery operated by del Río. (The name of her gallery and the company’s brand was inspired by the film Clandestinos, which chronicles young Cuban revolutionaries.)
Production in another country was cumbersome, especially given Cuba’s import laws. But Cuba had — and still has — a shortage of skilled workers and, even more troubling, not enough cotton or textile material to support manufacturing.
Both problems were solved by leveraging resources in their backyards. The entrepreneurs hired a group of elderly seamstresses from del Río’s hometown who had worked in a textile factory that closed more than 20 years ago. For raw materials, Fernández and del Río shopped in Cuba’s ubiquitous “rag stores,” which sell used clothing by the pound that the government has bought overseas. Del Río reimagines the second-hand dresses and university T-shirts as Clandestina products, and the seamstresses dismantle and reconstruct them, silk-screening each with the company’s slogans and logo.
Tapping a local investor, bought and outfitted an old house outside Havana to serve as their factory. They opened their storefront in Old Havana in early 2015.
“We Need Better Smuggling”
Since the company’s early days, the entrepreneurs have supplemented their textile supply by transporting additional old clothing, mostly from the United States, in suitcases and scrounging any materials they can find. Fernández, as a Spanish citizen, can legally buy imports from America.
Noting that 80 percent of Clandestina’s products derive from “upcycling,” Fernández admitted that “supply remains a big issue” as the company moves to double production this year. “We need better smuggling,” joked del Río, who said, more seriously, that Clandestina is in talks with suppliers in the United States.
Marketing primarily to Havana’s souvenir trade, the two put out feelers to guidebook publishers and travel websites to include their shop and even wrote their own tourist handbook, The Clandestina Guide to Havana. They also struck up a partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines to direct passengers to their storefront. They note proudly that customers have included such famous names as Madonna and Tilda Swinton. President Obama reportedly bought T-shirts for Sasha and Malia during his historic visit to Havana in March 2016.
Clandestina also went international last year, opening sales outlets in Miami with Fathom Cruises and Books & Books, as well as contracting for some US production.
Still, said del Río, “the local customer is our future,” noting that Cuba’s emerging middle class appreciates Clandestina’s “humor and political statements.” The company’s pricing policy makes the product affordable. A Che T-shirt, for example, is offered to locals for one-third of the $17 that tourists pay.
This year’s goals include stepping up e-marketing and social media exposure through a newly designed website and cheeky blog posts. They also plan to open a third retail outlet and formalize training of new hires.
Clandestina’s methods of operation will undoubtedly change, and the founders are ready for that, whatever direction the wind blows. As they pursue growth, they are intent on adhering to their core principles. Says Fernández: “Our culture is to enjoy Havana and the current Cuba….Recycle, up-cycle, do a high social-impact business.”
Inspiration for branding a company can come from anywhere. For Rocio González, owner of a Argentinian home décor and jewelry company, an epiphany struck when she toured the Mumbai slum of Dharavi as part of Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America program.
“I saw everything that happened inside this community, how discards were not only collected but transformed to new objects. I thought that something similar could be done in Buenos Aires,” she said. In renaming Greca, her eight-year-old company, González dropped the “h” since “dar” translates as “give back,” in Spanish, a key aspect of her business model.
From its beginnings, Greca has embraced “the triple bottom line”: honoring the environment by recycling material into its product designs, serving communities by hiring local workers, and creating profits. Of those three credos that earned Greca Corporation B status in 2012, “the one that moved me most personally was the social aspect,” of hiring meaningful numbers of workers – especially women.
The Dharavi visit helped convince González that “we need to scale up to make a difference.” To do that, she realized, she had to give equal emphasis to the business aspects of her company.
In December, the company was officially renamed, and Greca, as well as a sister line, Totebag, became brands under its corporate umbrella. Despite Argentina’s difficult economic environment, González expects a new focus on efficiency and growth will push revenues up from about $250,000 in 2016 to $400,000 this year. Total units sold will more than triple from 28,500 to 89,700.
Greca started as a hobby when a friend suggested González create artwork using discarded buttons from the factory in which he worked. Educated as an architect and artist, González suspended some buttons in resin to create whimsical animal figurines and jewelry, which she initially sold to family and friends.
She and the friend soon incorporated the business as Greca. As word of mouth spread, they hired some local women (including some just out of jail and individuals with disabilities) to handcraft items, especially a new line of more useful, simpler designs, such as soap dishes and planters. At the end of the first year, retailers started placing orders, and one large customer commissioned Greca to produce a batch of animal figurines as corporate gifts.
The company barreled along, growing a website consumer business and opening a shop in Buenos Aires’ Palermo district, catering mostly to tourists. Still, corporate and retail orders, including a number from Argentinean museum shops, formed the backbone of the business.
Raw materials had been no problem since the button factory was happy to donate discards, until, in the fourth year of business, a customer placed an order for 20,000 units. “This was a huge challenge because we thought of ourselves as a boutique brand,” González recalled. Unwilling to turn down such a lucrative contract, they agreed to a delivery schedule that required Greca to operate at full capacity just when the button factory slowed for summer vacation. “We couldn’t get enough supply, so we didn’t deliver on time,” she said. “The company did not reorder. We learned a valuable lesson: When to say ‘no.’”
The experience served as a reality check. After buying out her original partner in 2014, “I started to dream big,” said González. She began calling on additional companies to ask for discards beyond buttons and stepping up efforts to sign on retail clients.
The raw materials still come as donations. For example, “the PepsiCo Foundation asked what we were doing for Argentina’s women,” she said. “We told them of our employment practices,” which draw from the country’s poorest. Materials from recycled bottles are now part of Greca’s jewelry line.
In 2015, Greca also partnered with Totebag, an Argentinian manufacturer of textile products that shared Greca’s social and environmental values. That company’s founder, Lorena Nuñez, joined with Greca to set up Papastudio to test new recycled materials and provide designs and tools for other entrepreneurs.
After enrolling in the ECLA program in 2016, González has learned to be more selective. Rather than stock large quantities of inventory, the company identified the 25 top sellers, vowing to make the rest of the items on demand.
Still, something was missing, and González called her visit to Dharavi her “aha moment.” In December Daravi moved its factory to Garrote, a slum in Argentina’s Tigre Sur District, to bring the work closer to employees. Rather than contract with cooperative organizations, as it had done in the past, the company now hires individuals, a move to achieve better quality control. González is currently interviewing candidates for a training and production leader. “This year has been about understanding our production process,” said the entrepreneur.
Startup costs for the factory’s molds and other equipment run $60,000 to $80,000, but González admitted she still isn’t certain what maintenance costs will be. Once she gets a handle on operating expenses and procedures and is convinced that the model is sustainable, she plans to open additional factories in other Argentinean slums. “We want to generate a replicable model of factories using discards to give work throughout Argentina and Mercosur,” she said.
In addition to cash flow, Daravi will draw on government support and corporate grants to reach the scale González thinks is crucial, and she is busy lining up meetings with possible sponsors. “Both sectors are interested in recycling and employment,” she said, “but the public never thinks of the commercial side and private business is not so invested in the public interest.”
By shoring up Daravi’s corporate side, González hopes, Argentina’s slums will bring some beauty and whimsy to the world — and empower its women.
Well beyond Mexico’s existing electrical grid lies a market the big boys want no part of. In the far reaches of its mountains and depths of its forests, some 3 million people get their light by candle, or work and study by the dim, smoky glow emitted from a diesel lamp. “Experience in the ‘last mile’ distribution is what gives us an edge,” said Manuel Wiechers, founder and CEO of Iluméxico during Columbia Business School’s Entrepeneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America (ECLA) program, in which he was a participant. (Senior Lecturer Alonso Martinez, Professor Awi Federgruen, and Adjunct Professor Jack McGourty were the company’s advisors.)
Through its solar energy model, seven-year old Iluméxico has brought electricity to some 33,840 off-the-grid Mexicans, as well as schools, businesses and agricultural concerns. These areas typically are home to scattered households that large utilities consider too remote to service, said CCO Ana Lucía Coll.
A certified B Corporation — a designation given to for-profit companies that meet criteria for social responsibility and environmental sustainability — Iluméxico has displaced 4,300 tons of CO2 through its solar installations and helped educate rural Mexicans regarding environmental and fiscal responsibility.
It hasn’t been easy. To reach many of its markets, “you have to go the last mile on a donkey or by boat,” said COO Manuel Andrade.
Trial and Error
In the early years, Iluméxico ran from a centralized location in Mexico City. “We were very inefficient,” admitted Wiechers, noting that the company was just too remote from its customers.
Its solution was to set up 11 regional centers, dubbed ILUCentros, each costing an average $7,400. Locally recruited staffers assess their territories and sell the company’s solar solutions. ILUCentros “community engineers” install and maintain solar panels that Iluméxico still makes at two central factories, and hook LED light bulbs to its Prometeo device, a proprietary controller that regulates the flow of electricity and lets customers adjust the intensity of light.
Users can sign up for pay-as-you-go solar purchases that cost no more on a yearly basis than the budget they allotted for candles and diesel, and can even borrow through Iluméxico’s microloan program to fund their monthly bills.
A key to the company’s success has been its decentralized structure. Hiring locals not only cuts the expense of moving its higher-cost employees in-country, the practice also leverages community involvement since individuals are more likely to understand their regions and know the decision-makers among communities.
Which is not to say there weren’t difficulties along the way. As it began hiring local talent, Iluméxico ran into an employee turnover buzzsaw. “There are huge challenges that offset the extra costs of managing everything centrally, mainly related to HR and logistics,” said Wiechers, an industrial engineer by training. Through its involvement with ECLA, the company created a profile to identify which traits make a good hire. “We basically look for people who are not afraid to walk long distances and believe in our cause,” he explained.
Once it hires committed workers, Iluméxico rolls out a new standardized education program it devised, again with ECLA input. The goal is to have a local with no prior experience ready to hit the field in two weeks, although Wiechers admitted it still takes two months until a new hire is independent. By delivering education primarily online, training is easy and uniform, and allows for continual updates.
What the Future Holds
“We seek to be the official solar energy service for rural areas in Mexico, where we will become a household name,” said Wiechers. “At the same time, we are generating the strategic capabilities to reach the last 5 percent of any country with unprecedented operational efficiency.”
Currently, Iluméxico is concentrating 90 percent of efforts in its home country. The company’s in-country goals include 40 ILUCentros in the next four years, revenues of at least $14.9 million with net margins of $1.2 million, and a revolving loan program that will help sustain its micro loan program. In addition to signing on more rural homeowners, Iluméxico plans to step up sales efforts to businesses. Add-on sales to existing customers represents a whole other opportunity. “A customer who buys power for a light bulb may opt to pay another $10 or $12 a month and hook up a TV or computer,” Andrade said.
But the team also envisions expansion, first to similar Latin countries with far-flung, underserved populations, then to emerging markets in Africa and Asia. “We will draw on strengthening our strategic capabilities, always emphasizing the last-mile distribution,” said Andrade.
To raise $1.2 million for expansion, Iluméxico expects to partner with some regional competitors and suppliers, government entities and financial backers. “A current investor has confirmed to the board its intention to invest in the next round,” said Wiechers.
There’s always the possibility that one of those big boys who shied away from rural projects or any of a number of small competitors could buy out Iluméxico. “But we did not create the company to retire,” said Wiechers. Instead, he envisions his company bringing light to the darkest areas of emerging markets.
Columbia CaseWorks offers a case on Iluméxico. Learn more about this case.
Is remanufacturing the new recycling? Petar Ostojic certainly thinks so. As CEO of Neptuno Pumps, a $13 million Chilean company that makes industrial equipment for the mining industry, he’s become a leading spokesman for what’s known as the circular economy: a system in which manufacturers reclaim old products, reengineer them to brand-new status, and resell to customers in a continual, virtuous cycle.
Today, 60 percent of Neptuno’s products are refashioned from recycled pumps. Within five years, Ostojic expects to bump that figure up to 90 percent, he said during a recent presentation he made to the Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America program at Columbia Business School. (Professor Emeritus Peter Kolesar and Adjunct Professor Murray Low was his advisors.)
To implement the new circular model, Neptuno is in the midst of what Ostojic considers a fourth rebirth. His grandparents first used the site of the company’s factory to make candles. Ostojic’s father gave Neptuno its current name in 1972 when he created a foundry and machine shop to serve the fishing industry.
Headquartered in Chile’s Atacama Desert — which is not only the driest place on earth but also a world-renowned mining locale – the company again rebooted its factory a decade ago to cast pipes for mining. But as the bottom dropped out of the commodities market and customers suddenly became cost conscious, the company revisited its business model once again in 2015. The challenge: to make their products cheaper, more efficient, customizable, and higher tech in a world that is turning to seawater rather than fresh water as a key component of operations.
“We are a 40 year-old company, 10 years with pumps,” said Ostojic. “It took us nine years to know who we are.”
Today’s circular economy model calls for Neptuno to make, sell, or lease then repair used equipment it resells to customers, a clear departure from the old “use and discard” practices common in the mining industry. The company touts clear advantages in this approach: Customers still get a one-year guarantee (the same that Neptuno issues for new products), but pumps are 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost of new products and can be delivered in a much shorter time frame.
Neptuno has rejiggered its design processes to make its pumps easier to disassemble and provide easier access to the equipment’s most expensive parts. It also works with customers to actively source material that it can recycle. And, going forward, it expects to build more local manufacturing capability to stay closer to its recycling suppliers.
Although large competitors have not yet followed suit, Ostojic said the world is starting to catch on to the advantages of a circular economy. The World Economic Forum suggests the linear economy squanders nearly 80 percent of the $3.2 trillion value of consumer goods each year. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation forecasts that European manufacturers could save $630 billion a year in material costs by adopting a circular model. The circular economy, notes Ostojic, could be particularly beneficial for fast-growing emerging markets, where development cash is scarce and the time and logistics needed to deliver heavy-duty solutions to remote locations is precious.
Beyond the Desert
Ostojic feels Neptuno is poised to tap the global marketplace for pumps, noting that the same large mining customers he serves in Chile often have operations in other parts of the world. Last year Neptuno opened its first offices in Peru and is in the midst of tripling its sales staff. The company also installed the largest 3D printer in Latin America, which it uses to make pump molds for its foundry.
Noting that all the company’s historic reboots have been self funded, Ostojic does not rule out another change in its identity. Although he doesn’t dismiss the possibility that products could someday change, he does expect Neptuno will follow the remanufacturing credo no matter which direction it goes. “Pumps have been a way to get here,” he said. Following the circular economic approach, “we can do anything we want in the future.”
Tour Vacation Group
TOUR VACATION GROUP FOUNDED A LUCRATIVE BUSINESS SELLING PERFECT VACATION WITH ACCESIBLE PAYMENT PLANS. NOW IT'S GOING ONLINE.
For Latin America’s burgeoning lower middle class, a vacation seemed an unattainable luxury, and a trip to an island paradise no more than a pipe dream. But now vacationers are boarding a charter flight to San Andrés Island in the Caribbean, thanks to low prices, installment plan payments and a vertical, all-inclusive business structure devised by a young Columbian entrepreneur.
“We offer people a trip that often they have never even dreamed of. We tell them, ‘you deserve it, and you can take it because we’ll offer you the means with which to do so,’” says Carlos Londoño, founder and president of Tour Vacation Group (TVG).
In 2012, TVG sold 153,000 tourist packages to its destinations in San Andrés, Panamá and Leticia, a small city in the Colombian Amazon, achieving revenues of $84.5 million. By 2013, the company was aiming for 238,000 passengers and $135.7 million in revenues. “We have always moved volume,” says Camilo Mariño, managing director of the Bogota-based firm.
Tour Vacation Group targets the nascent lower middle class with all-inclusive, five-night trips costing $500 per person. The average 2.7-person family that makes up its customer base can cover their basic needs, but they lack the up-front cash to pay the $2,000 or so (including taxes and fees) vacation price tag. Instead, TVG lets them choose monthly installments of around $80.
The default rate on the payments is less than 10 percent, Mariño says.
TGV’s story begins during Londoño’s second semester at the Colegio Nueva Granada, “the preppiest school in Colombia,” where he was studying industrial engineering. Working for a tourism services wholesaler, he sold his first package to 95 students. His $3,000 commission “struck me as a huge amount of money because my mother used to send me a monthly allowance of $150,” he recalls.
In the late 1990s Londoño launched Tour School, which became the exclusive representative of Hoteles Decameron, the largest all-inclusive chain in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. That relationship continued until 2003, when he lost the exclusivity arrangement on student tourism.
This sudden hole in his business propelled Londoño to implement an idea that he had been mulling over. “A product at half the price but of the same quality was needed," he explains. "So I began looking for hotels that could provide the all-inclusive concept." When traditional operators balked at the price tag he suggested, Londoño decided to do it himself.
He began by leasing Hotel Galaxia, a small hotel that he called "the worst in San Andrés.” The owner had let the Galaxia fall into decay after 1991 when the island lost its status as a free port. Londoño repainted the building, replaced the beds and televisions and renamed it Hotel On Vacation.
“I opened it in June 2003, but I was unlucky. The employees and an associate in Tour School ‘mutinied,’ and I had to sell them the company in order to pay off debts.”
Londoño was left without the business that he had planned to use as a financing platform. So he started again by launching Tour and Travel. When a partner who had been a Sheraton representative dropped out of the business after negotiations over low-cost airfare packages proved difficult, Londoño realized he needed to set up charter flights.
TVG was finally born in 2005 as a merger between Tour and Travel and Hotels On Vacation. The aim was to offer “the same beach, sea and breeze, but at half the price” on San Andrés Island.
As he expanded, Londoño followed the strategy that he had honed with the Galaxia. He sought hotels with extremely low occupancy rates – under 5 percent – or which had been abandoned, and renovated them in order to offer “good air conditioning and good food and cocktails.”
The chain now has seven hotels in San Andrés, plus another under construction by its affiliate Eco Building (which also provides maintenance for its properties) and Magic Hill, a hotel that accommodates time-share vendors. In Panama, TVG has an agreement with a local hotel chain, and construction is planned on the firm’s own 800-room hotel. TVG has opened an ecological hotel in Leticia.
Tour Vacation Group sells its packages via travel agents across the country, but, after participating in ECLA, Londoño and Mariño set up a call center and web page. Previously, its sales model consisted of agents throughout Colombia. Although highly successful, “it was incredible that we were not online because we were missing out on the vast opportunity a web page offers,” Londoño says.
The pair delved into online issues at ECLA. Due to security problems inherent in Colombia’s Internet system, and the fact that the target market is largely unbanked, TVG decided to develop a mixed sales platform. Clients learn about the company’s vacations via their websites (www.viajepormenos.com or www.onvacationhoteles.com) then book by telephone through the call center.
“The call center is progressing really well. We initially started selling $100,000 per month and now we have much higher expectations because this strategy allows us to attend to a large number of clients that seek us out and whom we do not need to convince,” Londoño says.
The experience of studying with other Latin American entrepreneurs through Columbia University’s ECLA program allowed Londoño to question and compare many of TVG’s operating strategies. “It awakened the need to seek other elements that would strengthen me and my business. That's why I am now taking a Master’s Degree in Positive Leadership in the Instituto Empresa in Madrid,” he says.
So deep was the bond created among the ECLA participants that Londoño, together with classmate Tomás Bercovich, helped the founder of ForexChile, a trading platform that had sought financing abroad. Bercovich, the founder and CEO of Cuponatic Chile, and Londoño invested in ForexChile in order to ensure that the classmate was named managing director of the company, which was what he needed in order to wrestle back the reins of the firm, Londoño explains.
Mariño, who had met Londoño at university, says that what he learned in ECLA classes and discussions ended up being reflected in TVG. “What you learn allows you to improve and simplify your firm’s operations in order to optimize them,” he says. “All of the participants became great friends and we remain in contact. We consult each other when a problem arises, and in July we’re all going to meet on San Andrés Island.”
TVG, Londoño says, has favorably impacted tourism in San Andrés. In 2012 the company sent more than 120,000 tourists there, and it directly employs more than 600 people. The hotel that TVG recently built in the Amazonian city of Leticia could win an award for the sustainability principles that governed the project, Mariño says.
Partly due to its growth and partly motivated by what they learned during their studies at ECLA, TVG is restructuring in order to grow in an orderly fashion and become more corporate. Londoño’s new challenge is to deploy his business plan in the Mexican, Peruvian and Venezuelan markets.
“I once heard an entrepreneur say something that I liked a lot: You must always persist, resist, insist, and never desist. I would add that you need to have big dreams. Otherwise, you won’t really achieve anything good,” Londoño says.
SAO PAULO-BASED MEXTRA HAS DEVELOPED INNOVATIVE AND PATENTED TECHNOLOGY TO TURN SCRAP METALS INTO HIGH-GRADE RAW MATERIALS AND CREATE A THRIVING BUSINESS THAT CATERS TO AN INSATIABLE DEMAND WHILE REMAINING ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.
Mextra was founded in 1978 as a family business dedicated to the production of iron alloys and non-ferrous metals. Due to the emergence and increasing importance of recycling as a source of raw materials, the firm’s main focus is now the production of metal powders from recycled aluminum and steel, which supply the aluminum, welding, casting and ironworks industries in more than 20 countries.
The firm’s business strategy, developed by owner and ECLA graduate Ivan Barchese, takes full advantage of the growth opportunity offered by the specialized treatment of waste materials, as well as increased demand by aluminum producers for cheaper and better quality raw materials.
As countries’ economies grow amid industrialization and population growth, recycling has become an essential factor in development, providing for a cleaner environment and representing a win-win business, providing profits to recycling firms and reducing costs to end users of raw materials. At the forefront of the trend, Mextra has developed and patented a technology and applies it to the recycling business.
From both the environmental conservation and production points of view, metal recycling has now become the firm’s core business. Much of the raw material for the company’s products comes from aluminum and steel scrap, which is collected for processing at the firm’s two plants in Brazil, Diadema and Taubaté, both located close to Sao Paulo.
“We have three factories in Brazil and one in China. We recycle aluminum and alloy, and the final product is powder, either iron or aluminum, which we use to produce a 100% recycled steel product. The iron comes from scrapped cars, and we have a factory in Sao Paulo near the Ford and General Motors plants. We melt scrap iron and steel, from which we produce the powder through a process of atomization. The powder is used to produce steel, which is once again used in the car industry. Our recycling process with powder as the end product is used to make increased-strength steel, and while we produce other products, our most important business is aluminum and iron powder production,” Barchese explains.
The scrap aluminum and steel is melted down and cleaned of impurities, before being supplied in powder as a raw material. The firm’s most important clients are Brazilian metals extraction and processing firm Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (cbmm), Anglo American and Novelis, the world’s largest rolled aluminum and drinks can manufacturer, which supplies firms such as The Coca-Cola Company.
The firm also produces alloys with customized characteristics for different uses and customers, which include the Mextra line, composing alloy elements in manganese, chrome, iron and titanium pads and briquettes that, when added to liquid aluminum, increase its rigidity and mechanical resistance.
Since joining the Endeavor network, Mextra has quintupled revenues and tripled its workforce to 150.
Barchese took control of the business after the retirement of his father, who founded the firm. But it wasn’t all smooth rolling, he says.
“There were many difficulties, both in making the necessary technological breakthroughs and in financing, and now we are a leader in aluminum recycling, which is big business here. Many people now use our products, as a result of the huge demand for aluminum cans, for example.”
“We have become a sustainable company that consumes up to 95% less energy compared with our previous levels of consumption, and which contributes to Brazil’s environmental conservation. We have found a way to become profitable and recycle at the same time. There is now a big encouragement in Brazil to recycle, but previously there was no incentive for companies because recycling was not a profitable business.”
Mextra was the first company in Brazil to apply its patented technology to recycling. “We are the first company to recycle metals into a high-grade powder using our patented, cutting-edge technology,” he says.
The company opened a factory in China in 2008, another growth market in metals recycling. But Brazil and China are two markets that differ significantly, and success at home is not necessarily a guarantee of profitability in the vast and complex Chinese market, as Mextra has discovered.
“We are breaking even in China but it is not yet profitable. It’s a learning curve and we are becoming accustomed to a different market. But it’s also a difficult market, there is a different culture of business, and we have had trouble trying to find low-cost raw materials. The future there, in my opinion, is not as profitable, because of the competition, but we are trying to find a good business model,” Barchese says.
Rather than looking to expand internationally, Mextra’s most important growth market is actually on home soil. “We do have an operation in the U.S., but the main profits we receive are from Brazil, which is a growing market, and which is where we are focused,” he says.
Mextra plans to open another plant in Brazil in 2013.
As a result of the ECLA program’s focus on implementing strategies best suited to developing the firm’s potential, Barchese says the knowledge gleaned and the benefits the program has brought to his approach to the management and expansion of his company have been wholly positive.
“The program is one of the best things I have ever done. I studied with a lot of interesting people and professionals and the professors, who were excellent, helped us enormously. It is much more than a theoretical course and enabled me to put procedures and techniques into practice in my company here in Brazil. I have an MBA from Chapel Hill. But on the ECLA program we worked much more as a team, and it was very beneficial,” Barchese says.
“I have a manager in my company who studied with me and now we are able to work together and put the ideas and concepts into practice. The company was already functioning and already successful, but the experience at Columbia was very enriching in the sense that it gave me greater perspective and enabled me to move forward with our business plan.”
BODYTECH FOUND THE FORMULA TO ACHIEVE CLIENT RENEWALS. NOW, WITH INSIGHTS GAINED FROM ECLA, THE COLOMBIAN GYM CHAIN IS NOW OPERATING IN THREE COUNTRIES.
BodyTech gyms had expanded from Bogota to another nine Colombian cities and set its sights on Peru. With more branches, its member numbers were soaring. But for some reason, clients didn't stick aroud: Only six out of every 10 renewed their membership.
Before founder and CEO Nicolás Loaiza ramped up expansion plans, he realized BodyTech needed to solve this dilemma. Along with Corporate Vice President Paola Rezk, he enrolled in ECLA to help figure out what was going wrong.
“We carried out a study of the company’s and the industry’s retention rates, and drew up a communication and contact plan with members,” Rezk explains.
The exercise also gave them a better understanding of who BodyTech clients are, dividing goals for joining the gym into four categories: Those who want to look good, those who want to feel better and join for health purposes, those who want to improve their performance in a sport, and those who go to the gym to socialize and meet people.
They reached the conclusion that client satisfaction had to do with attaining results based on these aspirations. The strategy that allowed BodyTech to increase its retention rate was to make gym personnel more attentive to the clients. The team hired physical therapists and nutritionists in addition to trainers to design specific exercise regimes.
BodyTech now measures its results by the balance between client satisfaction, the satisfaction with and performance of the staff, and the business’s growth and profitability. By 2013 the firm had opened 100 gyms, employing 3,000 people (1,800 in Colombia, 400 in Peru and 800 in Chile).
Loaiza and Rezk give a great deal of credit to insights they gained at ECLA. “The most important thing about participating in such a program is to have fun and enjoy everything that you do,” Loaiza says.
BodyTech began in 1997 as a project that Loaiza developed with his partner Gigliola Aycardi as part of the MBA program from the Universidad de los Andes. The project combined their love for sport and the business opportunity they clearly saw.
“In BodyTech we found a way of working that was fun for us, and which was our way of recreation,” says Loaiza, a civil engineer who practices taekwondo and Olympic weightlifting. “I get up every morning thinking about exercise, which is what connects me to life. I train five or six times a week: I run a half marathon, practice mountain hiking, I cycle and, from time to time, play soccer.”
Loaiza had wanted to open a gym since his student days. “But it wasn’t a business back then, the market wasn’t as clear,” he says. Instead, he launched a company that made uniforms for firms and which became very profitable.
But the idea of opening a gym didn’t go away and when he analyzed the figures again after graduation, Loaiza realized that market demand had improved. He sold his uniform firm to start BodyTech.
“Everything has its moment and that was the moment for BodyTech,” says Loaiza, although he cannot pinpoint why that was the year the public began exercising and began to demand more gyms and better service than clubs then offered.
“Gyms were neighborhood businesses,” he says. “They closed at 9pm and at noon on Saturdays, and didn’t open on Sundays or holidays. We proposed opening a [more professional] gym that met the demands that we found in our market research.” BodyTech opened from 5am until midnight, 365 days a year. Potential clients also sought more cardiovascular exercise equipment and the company offered it.
The first BodyTech gym opened in February 1998 in a 2,400-square-foot space in the Bogota neighborhood of Chapinero, frequented by young, upper-middle-class students. The first figures proved better than the business plan's best-case scenario: Loaiza and Aycardi anticipated signing 1,000 members in the first half year, but in the first month alone figures reached 1,800.
Convinced that BodyTech "had hit the right muscle," the partners began to expand, first with more gyms locally, then nationally and internationally. The clubs today average 6,000 square feet. BodyTech’s member profile is between 30 and 50 years of age, but serves an increasing number of young people and seniors, Loaiza explains.
Given such growth potential, Loaiza and Aycardi knew they needed to strengthen the operations side of the business. Growth meant the firm needed a functional corporate structure that would allow it to regionally manage themes such as finances and human resources.
That's when Loaiza and Rezk signed up for ECLA. By sharing ideas with other Latin American entrepreneurs and heeding practical advice of the professors at Columbia Business School, they learned, for example, how to standardize processes and details to achieve a more orderly operation. Giving structure to the chain made each gym more efficient and less risky. “It also strengthened our appetite to grow into international markets,” Loaiza says.
ECLA also helped Loaiza and Rezk plan their international growth process. “It made us analyze the different markets in order to define which countries we wanted to enter, and define the stages and organizational structure that we would need,” says Rezk. “In retrospect, the business plan was not too far from what we managed to do.”
Analysis consisted of market research carried out with the support of Endeavor and Chile-based Boston Consulting Group, which concluded that Peru and Chile were the best countries to enter due to the price levels and a political affinity with Colombia. As they had already taken a first step into Peru, partner Aycardi moved there in order to consolidate the operation. BodyTech now has a presence in four Peruvian cities.
The company took a different approach to Chile. Partnering with local firm Sportlife in 2012 gave BodyTech operations in 17 cities. The chain hopes to open in two more countries in 2015, which could be Brazil and Mexico.
The muscle Loaiza and Aycardi and their team are working on now involves strengthening BodyTech’s corporate operations. “We are building a back office that links all the transactional operations of finances, sales and payroll in one platform,” Loaiza says.
After his participation on the ECLA program, Loaiza partnered with a couple of colleagues in Nazca Ventures, which supports Latin American entrepreneurs. Despite a thriving culture of start-ups, he says, this region lacks the support present in more developed countries, such as in the United States. “When you are an entrepreneur you want to rapidly implement everything you learn,” Loaiza says.
BELEZA NATURAL HAS PLACE ITSELF AT THE CENTER OF THE MOVEMENT CREATING AN EMERGING BRAZILIAN MIDDLE CLASS. ITS TEAM HAS HELPED SHIFT NATIONAL STANDARDS OF BEAUTY THAT GRANT WOMEN - ESPECIALLY DARK-SKINNED BRAZILIANS - AN EMPOWERING IMAGE OF SELF-ACCEPTANCE AND PRIDE.
In 2006, Taís Araújo became the first Brazilian actress to appear on television with curly hair. In pictures prior to the era of Viver a Vida, the soap opera in which she broke with the paradigm, Araújo’s hair is styled in different ways but almost always straight, as the norm dictated.
Then came Araújo’s curls – one could almost say the attitude of her curls. “I am absolutely sure we had some influence on the depiction of that character,” says Leila Velez, CEO of Beleza Natural, a chain of beauty salons launched in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1990s that now operates more than a dozen branches in Brazil. (The company’s name roughly translates to “natural beauty.”)
Indeed, before filming the series, Araújo visited one of Beleza Natural’s branches. “Wow, this is so beautiful,” she said, referring to the salon’s approach to reinventing curls. “Later,” Velez says, “I heard that this character [who Araújo played in Viver a Vida] had a look that was absolutely like Beleza Natural.”
Outside Brazil it is difficult to appreciate the revolution that Araújo signaled. In a country where 70 percent of the population has curly hair, to show it off was a kind of taboo, both on and off TV. Beleza Natural, with its signature hair-relaxing product and unique hair salons, has adjusted models of beauty to the country’s demographic reality. The cultural changes that occurred simultaneously with Beleza Natural’s rise represents social ascendency for Brazil’s growing middle class. Beleza Natural provides an image with which middle-class women can proudly identify, especially dark-skinned and black women.
Beleza Natural’s spectacular growth since its humble beginnings in 1993 is the stuff of legend. Unbelievably, in Brazil the only products for curly hair were meant to straighten it until Velez’s sister-in-law, Heloisa Assis (known as Zica), began experimenting with raw materials from the cosmetics industry. A woman born in a fabela, or working-class neighborhood, Zica patented a promising formula with the name Super-Relaxante.
Beleza Natural has never received credit from any bank, and the product’s fame spread by word of mouth. In order to finance the opening of a hair salon in which to showcase the product, Zica’s husband sold his taxi to support their three children. Zica’s brother-in-law, Rogério, and sister-in-law, Leila – who had met as McDonald’s employees – added their savings. Nearly 20 years later, Beleza Natural’s salons serve 80,000 clients a month, and its own factory produces 250 tons of Super-Relaxante and other hair-care products. Over the next seven years, the firm plans to open 120 salons in Brazil.
Beyond its curly hair product, which relaxes and lets natural curls fall, Beleza Natural developed a radically new design in hair salons, with a kind of assembly line featuring a series of specialized stations that replicates the McDonald’s model.
Leila and Rogério wanted to do with hairdressing salons what fast food had done to restaurants: reconstruct them from scratch, standardize all the production aspects, achieve consistent quality and drastically reduce prices for the consumer. Beleza Natural’s client passes through seven stations as if on an assembly line, each one attended by a specialist. She begins with an interview then proceeds into a waiting room where reading matter supports specific interests – on how to have a successful job interview or the best way to educate an adolescent, for example. “We have huge queues,” Velez says with a smile.
The customer then passes to the Super-Relaxante treatment, to the moisturizing phase, and to the cut, where each client chooses from one of 30 styles that Beleza Natural has designed for curly hair, based on the geometric criteria of different face types.
“We created a product that was really different and a service that can provide high quality in a very beautiful environment, at affordable prices,” Velez says. With prices reduced to a quarter of what competitors charge, Beleza Natural has made curly hair accessible to low-income women.
“It is more than just the hair, especially in Brazil,” Velez says. “When I talk about curly hair, it also has a social connection. There are a lot of preconceived ideas about curly hair, as something ugly, unwanted, related to people who don’t care about their looks. We transform the hair into something clients are proud of.” Beleza Natural puts hair control in its clients’ hands. “Hair is identity,” she says. “Hair has a flair, hair has a power over people that is strong and amazing in Brazil.”
Beleza Natural began to thrive as the Brazilian middle class grew. “From 1994, the emerging middle class, our main target consumer, had the first opportunity to reach a new level of consumption,” Velez says. “And they became proud. Now they have the power to buy things, to influence politics, to influence the country, to show who they really are. Hair is a part of that.”
Beyond bringing clients self-esteem, the treatment is like a monthly vacation in a life dedicated to work. “Sometimes coming to Beleza Natural is their only indulgence,” Velez says. In a beauty salon, the service roles are momentarily reversed and clients receive an unhurried, respectful, egalitarian and familiar treatment – 70% of employees are former clients. In their monthly visit, clients are trained, in the same way that staff are, about the delicate and singular way of brushing, washing and drying their hair and how to apply products.
Beleza Natural has also transformed itself as a business, particularly in the past five years. During 2010 Velez participated in Columbia University’s ECLA program. The team carefully examined each of the company’s branches, observing all kinds of success indicators, such as client satisfaction, profitability, productivity and financial effectiveness. With such knowledge, they completely redesigned the business model.
“After ECLA, it’s a new Beleza Natural. We were at the beginning of our expansion plan, and we wanted to multiply only the best practices. The result is a brand new concept, a lot better, a lot more profitable and faster to expand,” Velez says.
Part of the program involved studying the flux of customer flow. “We created a new system to avoid bottlenecks and have the best possible productivity.” In 2013, Beleza Natural opened the first branch based on the redesign. “It’s a store with a very different structure that costs three times less,” Velez says.
“We represent the new Brazil,” she summarizes. Her extraordinary drive rests on this identification. The national expansion plan includes multiplying the number of existing salons by 10 by 2022. Then, says Velez, Beleza Natural may enter Africa or the United States.
SEEN UNDER A MICROSCOPE, AN INSIGNIFICANT DROP OF SEAWATER REVEALS A SURPRISING INTERIOR, A THRONG OF MINUTE CREATURES BUSY WITH URGENT, UNENDING TASKS.
Almost all land-inhabiting bacteria are recognized, but scientists have identified only 1% of marine bacteria. The word Aguamarina (Spanish for “seawater”) evokes the frontier of the unknown, and the promise of what is to be discovered. It is also the name of a surprising startup launched by an entrepreneur who broke all the stereotypes.
Pamela Chávez has brought seawater far from the ocean to Chile’s mining district, the “hills of the desolate north,” in the words of poet Pablo Neruda. Although mining may not be a theme that lends itself to poetry, Chávez sees her company, Aguamarina, as a metaphor. In that inhospitable and arid place, a single drop of seawater is loaded with untold wealth: bacteria that could change the way the world mines.
Based in Antofagasta, an economic center of northern Chile dedicated mainly to copper extraction, Aguamarina focuses on improving industrial processes using biological elements. “We arrived just at the right time,” Chávez says, because mining cannot continue to grow without becoming more efficient. “And the only way it can grow is via innovation.”
For example, her company has found a way to decrease the enormous amounts of water that mining has traditionally used. The process reduces the dust that mining sites typically cut with water.
It is easy to ignore the invisible world of bacteria – especially in mining, where the basic unit of measurement is the ton. “Bacteria can change everything,” Chávez insists. As proof, she cites the origin of the planet: Earth’s oxygen is derived from the minute, monotonous, untiring work of bacteria. “We are here on this planet because bacteria made it habitable.”
Chávez shows a video that demonstrates Aguamarina’s work. Mining creates huge clouds of dust that affect the environment, the maintenance of the machinery, and the health of workers, not to mention the inhabitants of nearby communities. The video showcases two products that, applied to the ground, create a crust as hard as concrete from which dust does not rise. The miracle is performed by a bacteria and microalgae derived from seawater.
Aguamarina is pursuing two additional lines of development: The company is using natural biological agents to control bio-corrosion, the wearing-out of machinery. And it is using bacteria “in a more green and friendly way” than achieved with acid, the traditional method used in the process to clean minerals, a technique known as bio-lixiviation.
Although her company is still small, Chávez says, Aguamarina is operating on an international level. “It is not easy for a US firm to connect with one in Chile, and this makes me think that we have very little competition,” she says.
Chávez is a Chilean biologist who began her career in academia. After completing her postgraduate studies abroad, she returned to the University of Antofagasta. Chávez was still young and had more academic honors than most of her scientist colleagues. The average age was 54. She was 30, and “committed all the sins,” she says. A woman in a man’s world, she was determined from the outset to carry out practical, applied research, which made it easier for her to obtain public financing. “Money gives you the power to move, to make decisions and to invest in infrastructure,” she says.
With $3 million secured through public financing, Chávez equipped a biotechnology laboratory “in a place where there was nothing.” She launched the university’s biotechnology course of study and founded three postgraduate programs at the school, which had previously had none. “I like to train people, but I found it very difficult to advance.”
The practicality of her research helped Chávez identify opportunities. In particular, she realized, the mining industry had a grave need for research and development. Working with corporations required a much faster, more direct and efficient process than working from a university, though.
Shortly after arriving at the university, Chávez received an invite from a group of investors to form a company that would provide research services at a much more agile pace. In 2005 she launched her first company, but held onto her position at the university. “I bought a house and converted the garage into a laboratory and office,” she recalls. As the company grew rapidly, an associate suggested moving the firm to Santiago. But, preferring to stay in Antofagasta, Chávez opted to sell a year and a half after the launch.
Within months, another investor was knocking on Chávez's door. “I had set up the first company from scratch, and felt I had the confidence to start a second,” she explains. So in 2007 she founded Aguamarina.
Chávez immediately faced a polarizing dilemma. If she left the university, she would lose its laboratory. “Creating a laboratory is very expensive, and takes a lot of effort.” But in founding her own company where she could follow her own research imperatives, “I invested in my freedom,” she says. “And that is what has motivated me. I didn’t go to Aguamarina to make money, I went there to gain my freedom.”
Chávez also realized she had to structure the company with a business mentality. “I knew what it was like to start a project, but not how to grow it,” she admits. So she went back to school.
First Chávez took a coaching course with Pro-Chile (the governmental agency that promotes Chilean exports), then took a certificate program in innovation, technology and business. She then became an Endeavor entrepreneur in 2010 and, through that high-impact program and mentorship, acquired the vision with which to grow globally. “We entrepreneurs have a dream, but how to manage it, make it real and give it order is the most difficult thing,” she says.
In 2012 Chávez entered the Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America program at Columbia University, which allowed her to see the experience of her classmates and of other enterprises similar to her own. She recalls, for example, visiting an Israeli firm with 200 doctors. “That had a great impact on me because it connected technological innovation with an enterprise, and that’s what I needed to do.”
The program also put her in contact with top-ranking advisors. “I continue to receive messages from my advisors via Skype. They know that Aguamarina is not just me, it’s a team that can have an enormous impact on the region’s economy.”
The program allowed her to convert her laboratory into a corporate processing entity. Chávez got a handle on how to manage the company and position it for growth.
Aguamarina recently signed a trade agreement with Harsco, a US firm offering industrial services and engineering products with 134 operations in 34 countries. In this case, the product involves non-traditional lixiviation, which is in a pilot phase.
“The universe is enormous. The question is how to carry out the pilot project today and how to create a good business model so that it grows easily,” says Chávez.
She insists she is concentrating on today rather than where Aguamarina will be in the five years. “Aguamarina has the possibility of growing globally, of going to Brazil, to Mexico,” Chávez says. First, though, “I have to get through today so that we have an opportunity to grow.”
AFTER THE FOUNDER OF A MEXICAN PUBLISHING HOUSE DECIDED TO CEDE CONTROL, ECLA CAME ALONG AND CHANGED THE OPERATION METHODS, MAKING HIM REALIZE THAT HE STILL HAD WORK TO DO AT THE COMPANY.
Javier Arredondo had been at the head of Editorial Mapas for more than a decade when he became restless. Worrying that he had not achieved all that he had set out to do with the company, he decided it was time to let someone else steer the ship.
“I was at the point where I felt trapped,” explains Arredondo, managing director of Mapas. He asked Antonio García, who the company’s commercial manager, to take the wheel, and together they began planning how to move the publishing house to the next level.
Unexpectedly, in the middle of the transition period, Arredondo received an invitation to participate in the ECLA program. A big draw was the requirement that two company directors sign on. “I loved the idea of attending the course with Antonio. Often I had found that I was unable to transmit my ideas for the company so that they could be executed. For that reason it was ideal to have Antonio there with me. There were two of us thinking about Mapas and right from the start at ECLA we began to make decisions and design things from New York,” Arredondo explains.
“It was definitely the right moment to take that opportunity,” he says, noting the publishing company, which had gone through peaks and troughs throughout its history, was enjoying a good moment. Pointing to “significant challenges, including failure,” that Mapas had faced, García adds: “If the invitation to the ECLA program had come earlier, we would not have been able to take such good advantage of it.”
Mapas, a Mexican boutique publishing company that prides itself on quality content and avant-garde design of its magazines and books, had a history of reinvention. Arredondo and his business partner, Guillermo Osorno, launched the first issue of the travel magazine Travesías in August 2001, just one month before the September 11 terror attacks. The toughest blow in the history of the tourism industry, advertising sales plummeted throughout travel publishing.
One of the things the partners had done right was to set up strategic alliances with tried-and-tested tourism sector firms such as Aeroméxico, Mexico’s largest airline, and Virtuoso, a US-based luxury travel company. Those advertisers continued to support Travesías, giving the magazine some projection at a difficult time. In addition, the magazine targeted the luxury traveler, who remained a more permanent audience than those of many competitors. While hundreds of specialized tourism magazines went under due to the lack of advertisers, Mapas hung in.
The first years were difficult, but Mapas managed to position itself as a brand. In 2003 the company launched a new title, a local magazine focusing on Mexico City in the style of New York Magazine. Tapping into the prestige of Travesías, the new publication was called dF por Travesías.
“We assumed it would be easy to raise the $2.5 million that we needed to get the project off the ground,” Arredondo recalls. “All was going well when I found out that another large Mexican publisher, Grupo Expansión, had exactly the same idea. We hurried to launch the dF magazine with the hope that we could gain an advantage over our competitor.”
Although dF por Travesías hit the newsstands before the competition’s publication, Mapas fell short on its investment goal. “Focusing on the country’s capital was a big, big project, and we didn’t have enough money to sustain the magazine,” Arredondo says. As the startup went head-to-head against its competitor, “we lost a lot of money.”
Mapas had to transform the dF por Travesías project and finally turned it into an annual guide to the culture, cuisine, tourism, and entertainment that Mexico City offers. It's still published under the title Guía dF por Travesías.
At the same time, Mapas – which by then had formed several partnerships – began producing custom publishing projects for all kinds of clients, a decidedly different approach from other publishing houses that produced only their own titles. “We created magazines for diverse segments, from vintage car collectors to maternity,” Arredondo says.
After the magazines came books, some of which were in-house concepts, and others titles for external clients. The company began with travel books, followed by other themes: the Endeavor collection, books on wine and cuisine, on entrepreneurs, and feminism, as well as special editions of books by writers such as Elena Poniatowska and Guadalupe Loaeza.
Between 2004 and 2008, Mapas published three editions of Travesías, in Mexico, Colombia, and Chile, which it distributed in 18 Latin American countries. To keep costs in line, Mapas shared office space with the prestigious Latin American features magazine Gatopardo, which led to a commercial, management, and distribution collaboration between the two firms.
In 2006, Mapas took control of Gatopardo’s Mexican operations, and maintained a small team in Colombia. Rapid growth meant “we suddenly had 120 employees, and with that, new organizational and management challenges,” says Arredondo.
When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, advertisers again became scarce and the appreciating Colombian peso made operations there unprofitable. Mapas was forced to withdraw from the South American market and concentrate once again on Mexico, its largest base. Travesías focused on the Mexican edition and Gatopardo adapted its content for Mexico.
Over the years, practice had turned Arredondo into a businessman, but his lack of academic grounding in business operations “cost me dearly,” he says. “I studied international relations and geography, which only helped me to choose a name for the company. As the company’s director I made a lot of mistakes.”
When the ECLA program presented itself, Arredondo recognized it as a unique opportunity that “I had to invest in without a doubt.” The ECLA year gave the entrepreneurs time to think exclusively about Mapas and tap the braintrust of Columbia professors.
For García, ECLA meant a return to class and the chance to know another kind of business model. What's more, the Columbia program allowed him the occasion to reflect on what Mapas had achieved until then, and the most efficient way in which it could spur its growth in the future.
“It wasn’t just another course on business or economics, but a program designed specifically for small and medium-sized Latin American businesses, such as us,” García says. “The processes were so well defined that they could be applied to any company regardless of the sector. It’s not that they give you the magic solution to achieve growth – they don’t tell you what you have to do. But they take you by the hand so that you find out for yourself what is the most appropriate solution for your company.”
Creating a methodical growth plan “was something I didn’t know how to do, and going forward I will be applying it to everything, not only in my company but in helping others to grow their businesses,” Arredondo explains excitedly. “When you go to ECLA you already have a clear idea of what you want for your company, regardless of what the company does. The aim is to make it grow and to overcome obstacles. By the end of the program you realize that whatever a company's industry, they all have the same problems.”
Once they graduated from the program, Arredondo and García convinced their advisor at Columbia to join the company’s board of directors.
Arredondo is confident that following the growth plan that he and García developed at ECLA will make Mapas a success. “Only a few months have passed since we came back from New York, but things are starting to happen at Mapas,” he says. “We carried out significant organizational changes, and a change of strategy and focus. It is not a deep-seated change, but one of form, of seeking to do better the things that we have been doing for years. We want to become more productive without working longer hours and also explore new horizons.”
At the start of 2013, Arredondo returned to Mapas to work full-time, with García as managing director. Now one of his main aims is to take complete control of the company, recently renamed Travesías Media, with just one partner.
Arredondo insists that, post-ECLA, Mapas is clearer about where it is headed. “The business would have continued to work as it had done for the last 12 years, and it would have grown by inertia,” he says. “But now we know how to achieve what we want, how to grow in a safe and sustainable way.”