The Business Year

Sylvia Escovar

COLOMBIA - Energy & Mining

Breaking the Mould

President, Terpel


Sylvia Escovar has been the president of Organización Terpel since 2012. Before assuming this position, she was vice president of the Corporate Group for 10 years, during which she handled financial, operational, and commercial areas. Previously, she worked in the public sector, holding various positions including Chief Economist for the Colombian Resident Mission of the World Bank, and as head of the External and Internal Credit Division in the National Planning Department (DNP). She was also head of the Economic Research Department of Banco de la República in Cartagena, head of the National Public Policy Evaluation System in DNP, and general director of FES Leadership Foundation. Escovar holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

"We focused our innovation around the individuals that visit the Terpel network all over the country."

The year 2017 marks your fifth as head of Terpel. What have been the major milestones achieved during this period?

Without any doubt, the successful implementation of our competitive strategy in service stations. Having been, for several years, the leading company of the downstream sector in Colombia, in 2012 we challenged the status quo and decided to make a shift in our competitive strategy: we decided that Terpel, with its affiliates, would focus on the people that came to our service stations rather than only on their vehicles. Under the certainty that we were delivering the best quality in our products, we focused our innovation around the individuals that visit the Terpel network all over the country. In accordance to this shift in strategy, we changed our logo and made substantial improvements in aspects related to service levels, infrastructure, and pricing to become the best choice for our final customers. As a result we offer competitive prices in each market, and are changing the architectural design of our stations, renovating the bathroom facilities, and, among other things, building innovative convenience stores. And when I say innovative, I mean stores that cannot be compared to generic convenience stores you see around the world; they are different in many respects of which the most important are the outstanding bathroom facilities and the differentiation we are making in the food we offer according to the region the station is located in. In Colombia, one of the main characteristics that differs from region to region is the local food. Terpel wants to acknowledge this difference and satisfy the different tastes and the variety of products available in our country. This leads me to the importance of all the people who work with us to serve our customers. We are constantly training and motivating teams in giving the most memorable experiences we can throughout our network in order to be the Top of Heart brand for every citizen we serve. These imply making a lot of changes to consolidate a service culture throughout every one of us. In this aspect in particular, it is important to know that 90% of Terpel’s network is comprised of service stations that are not owned by the company, but by affiliates (franchisees) to the brand. In order to have a homogeneous experience for customers, we have been working together with these franchise holders to exchange knowledge and expertise so we can deliver a better experience to our customers as a whole. We have marvelous service station owners who exceed all the standards for our strategy. Service stations are the same all over the world (normally, the only thing that changes is the color of their canopies) and thanks to this shift in strategy, we can proudly say that Terpel is the exception. In accordance to our focus on persons, Terpel is also innovating to better serve certain groups of customers. Motorcyclists, for example, who drive more than half of the vehicles in Colombia, have become one of our major challenges and have been the inspiration for new services and infrastructure. This is the most important thing: our people-based strategy has been the driver of our decisions in the last five years.

What are Terpel’s strategies regarding further expansion or diversification?

We have a long way to go in Colombia. Many people thought we had expanded outside Colombia because the Colombian market was already mature, but we do not think so. Aside from service stations, were we are still developing a market, we also have industrial, aviation, and lubricants businesses; hence, we have a lot still to do in Colombia. Of course, Colombia’s market is the biggest and most mature in the region. We are also operating in Panama which is the second biggest network for Terpel and the one with the highest rates of growth and a great potential. In service stations, we have also big challenges in Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico. Over the past two countries, our main service is vehicle natural gas stations where we foresee a great opportunity in the world’s transition to cleaner energies. The Dominican Republic was the first country where we began our operations through the fuel supply of airports. We have had a very good experience and hope to keep expanding our services.

How much impact do you think a peace deal will have on foreign investor interest in the energy sector in Colombia?

It is out of the question that a peaceful country is a better investment decision than one which encompasses the risk of a civil war. However, people have been investing in Colombia for many years now and the frightening country we used to acknowledge 10 or 15 years ago, is long gone. A successful military strategy along with various peace outreaches have led to a feasible country where investment and business have flourished even in the presence of scattered, yet pitiful, terrorist attacks. However, having said that, I do believe that there are many places in Colombia, mainly rural areas, where peace will bring feasibility or higher returns to many projects mainly in oil, tourism, and agriculture.

What is your outlook for the sector?

I believe we have a lot of competition, which is good for the country. There are 18 major companies competing in Colombia, as well as a great many service stations (near 5,000); the latter are growing in number by nearly a hundred each year. This is a good level of competition for consumers. We have been better off in terms of the security environment, which helps. This is a highly regulated sector and we hope this will change, as it is difficult to be efficient when too much regulation is in place. With so many players, competition is assured and heavy regulation is no longer needed, from my point of view, in the market. Consumers would be better served if companies were able to be more efficient. I see a competitive sector and one that is moving toward deregulation.

What are your thoughts on the role of women in the energy sector in Colombia and the challenges they face?

The world is moving towards becoming a more inclusive professional environment. However, I do believe that there is still a lot to be done in every sector, but particularly in this one, where it is hard to find a woman in leading posts, to increase women’s participation. Men and women can complement each other’s capacities and vision to make companies better places to work and to make teams better qualified to make successful and sustainable decisions. This is a challenge that we all should engage with, in order to socially and economically advance at a quicker pace. In Terpel, for example, in our dream of becoming the leading brand for the people, complementing both visions and perspectives, have been of a great value for the team and I believe this has lead to great ideas for our customers which would have been very difficult to achieve without this mix of genders. It is great to have both visions in one integrated professional team. We welcome everyone to come to Terpel’s stations. Our promise is to deliver a different and unique service experience.



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