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Sylvia Escovar

COLOMBIA - Energy & Mining

Fuel for Thought

President, Terpel

Bio

Sylvia Escovar studied economics in the Universidad de los Andes, and has had a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors. For over a year she has held the position of President of Terpel, having been involved with the company for more than a decade and working as Commercial Manager since 2007. She has worked for Fiducolombia, the Banco de la República, for the secretariats of finance and education in Bogotá, and with multilateral organizations such as the World Bank.

"Everything we do must have social significance, and sustainability is our watchword."

To what do you attribute Terpel’s success over the past three years?

We have a productive 45-year history of success in the industry. Our major achievements are the result of our ability to be present across Colombia, from La Guajira to Leticia. We are close to the people, and our primary motivation is to serve them, rather than vehicles. We reflect this clearly by sustaining a clean image of spotless service stations. We have also been expanding our coverage; we are leaders in aviation with a 68% market share. We also hold 46% of GMV, which supplies natural gas for vehicles, as well as 44% in liquid fuels. Meanwhile, we hold a 38% stake in diesel and gasoline for industrial use, and 21% of the lubricants market, the only area where we are not the market leaders. Our operations feature 29 storage plants and over 2,000 gas stations located beyond the cities. We also serve 21 airports in Colombia, and serve four airports in the Dominican Republic. We are present in Panama and Ecuador in the liquids market, and in Peru and Mexico in the natural gas market. Meanwhile, we have sold our operations in Chile.

What are the basic objectives of the Terpel Foundation?

We are committed to being in alliance not just with the government, but also with the country. Everything we do must have social significance, and sustainability is our watchword. The foundations of life are crucial because we believe that education can bring about meaningful change for the country. For the future we need an educated population aware of how to manage Colombia’s natural resources. And if we fail to ensure this, we will always be a dependent country. The foundation strives to help children to become leaders and change their environment. As friends of the country we also work on matters such as establishing domestic peace by working on every program we can to enhance the reintegration of people on the fringes of society.

“Everything we do must have social significance, and sustainability is our watchword.”

How are you working on reintegrating former combatants?

We think peace will only be sustainable if we can integrate all such people into society. The National Reintegration Agency is doing a great job, although many people are opposed to the idea owing to the perceived risks. We have a positive experience of helping reintegrated individuals. This is the only way to find reconciliation with this part of the society, and the only way to ensure a peaceful future. Terpel believes in the reconciliation process.

You mentioned that Terpel has sold its operations in Chile for $240 million. What was the strategy behind this move and what is your investment plan for the future?

It was not really a strategic move. When the biggest group of shareholders bought the shares in Colombia, they also had a major share in Chilean operations. It was decided that they could not have a large share by acquisition, whereby they were given two years to sell the company. It was more a legal issue than a strategic one. We sold it and used that income to pay off some of our debts, creating a larger investment opportunity in Colombia. In fact, our growth plans mainly target Colombia, for which we have two strategies. The first is to continue with the initiatives outlined before, and the second is to increase our station numbers in strategic locations where we have no affiliates.

Can you briefly explain who your shareholders are and give us an overview of your financial results for 2013?

Our main shareholders are made up of the third largest company in Chile, Empresas Copec, which has more than a 60% local market share. It is a very strong force with service stations and convenience stores, and shared with us its expertise in service provision, as it is perceived as being the best service providers in Chile. We are trying to adapt this for the Colombian market. The remaining companies are Colombian from many regions of the country. This process started in 1991, when many Colombians bought shares in Eco Petrol.

You have been involved in the aviation market since 1972, when you started to distribute fuel to the industry. What is the importance of aviation to Terpel today?

The aviation market remains crucial for Terpel, and we have an established pedigree in providing jet fuel. Our greatest asset is our network, the largest in the country, and which underpins our leading position in the market.

In which ways is your network linked?

We have credit card payment options and also something that no one else offers, namely Clubgazel, which is a point system integrated into our network.

How many jobs have you created in Colombia and how do you invest in your people?

In terms of job creation, Terpel is formed by 2,000 stations (90% owned by third parties), each of which employs about seven people, making a total of over 14,000 people. We also have 1,500 staff at at our head office. Importantly, we employ people in different regions and are therefore committed not only to the country overall, but to each region specifically. What we do for people is pay competitively, while at the same time creating what we consider to be quality jobs. People tend not to leave our company, which is reflected in our low turnover rates. We offer scholarships that allow some people to pursue postgraduate or intermediate studies. We also offer employees a day every month when they arrive early in the morning and leave after lunch in order to have more time with their families, among other initiatives.

© The Business Year – March 2014

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