Javier Arredondo and Antonio García

Javier Arredondo and Antonio García

Mapas

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.”