Mr. Rafael Suarez, CEO of MAPFRE Atlas outlines the companies vision to continue the development of the South American country
Guayaquil is experiencing an historic moment. Decades of urban regeneration, good management, and the growth of its companies, have transformed Guayaquil into Ecuador’s most attractive city, contributing more than 12 billion to the national GDP. Why is Guayaquil the business and investment capital of Ecuador?
The main reason is that Guayaquil is one of Latin America’s busiest harbors. This strength favored the development of a strong business network, in which warehousing industry, transport, and growing commercial activity joined the thriving agricultural sector. Even today, Guayaquil is the city with the highest number of businesses in the country, and where most of the headquarters of multinationals operating in Ecuador are located. As you said, urban regeneration has contributed to the growth of tourism, making the city Ecuador’s top tourism destination. In terms of infrastructure, the road networks, mass transportation, airport, water management, and the harbor, together with the traditional commercial activity, have generated the organic growth of the entire business community.
The people of Guayaquil are known for their open character and being accustomed to foreign trade. These characteristics benefit foreign investment for new business models, and the growth of traditional sectors where there is room for new competitors.
Guayaquil is one of two Ecuadorian cities that have managed to reduce their unemployment rate from 6.6% to 5.9% between December 2010 and December 2011. What have been the sectors that have contributed to this recovery?
It is true that levels of unemployment have been reduced, but according to reports issued by public and private sectors, this is thanks to significant public investment and the jobs it has generated. The infrastructure work has stimulated the development of a business network, and one that we hope keeps operating once public investment is reduced.
Is the Guayaquil business model a joint public- private investment?
Yes, the Municipality of Guayaquil has multiple public-private sector alliances, for example in water management with Interagua, and airport management with Tagsa.
Eight out of 10 jobs are created by the private sector, and the average salary is growing. What is the importance of the private sector, and what work opportunities could attract talent from Spain?
In Guayaquil there is strong support for private companies, since Guayaquil is developing rapidly. Some business models, due to their freshness, technical nature and increased global competition offer enormous opportunities for talent with the correct academic qualifications and vast professional experience, who cannot find opportunities in their countries.
There are excellent Spanish professionals, who due to the challenges in the labor market cannot find work in their own country, and many of them perfectly fulfill this need for talent.
Therefore there is a clear convergence between labor supply and demand that can be resolved between Guayaquil’s business organizations, and Spanish professionals.
History shows us that in Guayaquil, traditional Spanish entrepreneurship has been well recognized for its success, and has paved the way for the investment of important multinationals from Spain.
Could you evaluate the state of the insurance sector in Ecuador? What are the industry’s growth niches?
Ecuador’s insurance sector is experiencing rapid growth, an increase of competition, and strong regulation.
There are many prestigious insurance companies that originated in Guayaquil, who are dedicated to corporate business and are focused on specific niches. That deterred them from trying other lines of business and becoming more innovative.
New needs are arising since business owners from Guayaquil are expanding their companies throughout the country and abroad, which requires global solutions.
The present and future directs the industry towards offering better services to corporate clients, and placing a major focus on personal insurances – covering life, car, and health – and the sustainable development of micro and mass insurance.
The MAPFRE Group is the second biggest insurance company in Latin America, with the objective to increase its leadership by improving its profitability, and giving a boost to its commercial network. What are the main characteristics of a leading company like MAPFRE for Latin America?
Above all the transfer of knowledge; MAPFRE has been working in Latin America for more than 30 years, and today we are working in 18 countries, with Editorial MAPFRE being the first step in our internationalization. This has contributed to a deeper knowledge of the management of the insurance sector in Latin America, which insurance associations, academic institutions, public organizations, and experts in the field have recognized.
But knowledge transfer needs to be mutual, and today we are proud to see that all countries – regardless of the size of their markets and operations – are combining their knowledge, which enriches us further. Our model is based on four aspects: a solid corporate structure, leadership, global presence, and constant innovation.
Seeing the success that MAPFRE Atlas has achieved, what have been the main challenges in getting the company to where it is today?
Our daily challenges are not related to MAPFRE acquiring majority shares in the Atlas Group. Since the acquisition, we have tried to manage the company and give added value to our clients, employees, shareholders, insurance agents, and society as a whole. Thanks to the support of all these people, we can say that we succeeded in accomplishing our goals. The key of our success was to find a company that shared the same values as MAPFRE. When two companies share values they are easy to merge, since the most important aspect of the operation is already solved. I am convinced that Atlas was a good platform to get to know the Ecuadorian market. We preserved and boosted MAPFRE’s knowledge and capabilities to build MAPFRE Atlas, and this has improved both companies.
The results are there for all to see. We have only lost a minimum number of accounts, but this did not happen because MAPFRE bought a majority of Atlas shares. Rather, this was a result of market dynamics, and the markets recognize the fact that we have managed to retain our customers. Our message is clear; we want to do our work as good as Atlas has been doing it, and if we can, we will improve it. The challenges we face are to continue improving the service, grow profitably, and be innovative.
Talking about MAPFRE’s role in society, MAPFRE is setting the example in corporate social responsibility (CSR). What is the role of MAPFRE Foundation in Ecuador?
People that work in MAPFRE are lucky that the company’s major shareholder is a foundation. So not only do we gives benefits to the shareholders that trust our management, but also we also invest in the countries that we operate in. This is done through six different projects: Social Action, Culture, Insurance Sciences, Road Safety & Prevention, Health, and Environment.
In 2011 we invested €100,000 Euros in six projects to help the disadvantaged, and also in road safety through Guayaquil’s Transit Commission. Taking into consideration our size, we are the company that invests the most in Ecuador. So for 2013, we want to consolidate our current projects, and start developing two new projects related to health and fire protection.
Your group is ranked in the top 10 places to work in the world by the Actividad Económica magazine, and in the top 25 world companies by Businessweek. What differentiates MAPFRE from the rest of its competitors? Is it the social benefits program for employees, or your employee training schemes?
MAPFRE consistently positions itself as one of the companies with the highest staff retention. The secret for this success is that as a policy, the company fundamentally hires people with an academic formation, but not with a background in insurance. People are trained in-house. This gives them a sense of belonging to the company, and at the same time, it offers employees many professional opportunities, as each employee sets their own professional objectives.
As an insurance company, we can offer many benefits such as subsidized life, health and car insurance. Even though MAPFRE demands a lot from its employees, we have a code of ethics that requires that our teams work in optimum conditions, and are treated with professionalism and respect.
This year MAPFRE Atlas is the company within MAPFRE AMERICA Holding that has invested the most time and money in its employees. We can proudly say that we are the Latin America insurance company that invests the most in employee training.
Since the year 2008, Spain has invested €250 million Euros in Ecuador, with direct investment doubling between 2010 and 2011. Out of all the economic sectors that you work with, which investment opportunities in Guayaquil would you like to highlight?
There are many, but I would underline investments in professional services, energy, tourism, construction and logistics.
The construction sector is key in Spain; how is the sector currently doing here in Guayaquil?
Guayaquil’s construction sector is booming. Lots of construction is taking place across all economic sectors, from the most affordable to the expensive, and from residential to commercial. Right now there is little foreign investment, which could complement the current local investment taking place.
What are MAPFRE Atlas’s strategic alliances in the aforementioned sectors?
We have forged all types of alliances with the premise that it should add value to the two parties involved. Also, through the foundation we collaborate with public institutions like the Ministry of Health and the Traffic Commission, among others. We also worked with private institutions such as banks, appliance distribution chains, and car dealerships.
In the last decade, Spain was the main European investor in Latin America, becoming the leader of the markets where it operates. What is the importance of relationships between Spanish companies and Ecuador for the future of the nation?
Spanish companies are key players in Ecuador, and active participants in its business community. There are excellent companies of all sizes working in strategic sectors of the country. Recently the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Ecuador, where he had a meeting with Spanish entrepreneurs to ask them about the development of their businesses. At the same time, our President and Chancellor have held high-level summits with Spain to improve commercial relations.
In your opinion, what is the power that today’s mass media has?
We live in a communication era, so in a way, no communication can be considered as a way of communicating. But in terms of the communication between Spain and Ecuador, there is room for improvement. All the potential opportunities that could arise between the two countries are not being effectively transmitted, but the potential for synergies is tremendous.
What message would you like to send to Spain about Guayaquil?
Guayaquil is an open city that is growing in every sense of the word. The Spaniards have astutely gambled on this city have obtained very good results; not only in business, but also in culture and sports. Guayaquil is still a city where one can enjoy a good and comfortable quality of life.
[Para leer esta entrevista en español, aqui]
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