The Business Year

Guillermo Cepeda Osorio

COLOMBIA - Real Estate & Construction

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President, Equinorte


Guillermo Cepeda Osorio is an Industrial Engineer from the Universidad del Norte. He later studied for a Master’s in Management at the University of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania. He has a specialization in Financial Management and an MBA from the Universidad del Norte. He is the current president of Equinorte and Camacol.

"We had managed to restructure entirely by focusing on the malls industry."

Today the company boasts a 20-year presence in the market. What have been the main achievements along the way?

We can look at the success of Equinorte in four phases: survival, expansion, consolidation, and internationalization. In the beginning, ours was a small, family-orientated company that was struggling to survive, especially when the real estate crisis in the 1990s struck. We managed to pull through thanks to several good friends and short-term investors during the first five years. I was successful in attracting numerous short-term investors, numbering around 40, initially though leasing our equipment to raise capital. We were founded the same year that the Metro of Medellí­n was undertaken, and subsequently began lending our services on this public contract with some German scaffolding, which was acquired by one of our investors at the time, who later delivered them with the idea of leasing the equipment on other scalable projects on the Caribbean coast. At this point, we realized how useful our machinery and equipment could be in other parts of the country on infrastructural and large public projects. It was with this same equipment that we ended up working on the largest mall on the northern coast.

At what stage did Equinorte begin to reinvest its revenues in expanding its portfolio and capital?

The second phase for the next five years arose from the economic crisis of the late nineties, I would say that financially we were broken, or operationally at least. We were losing $10,000 a month. In total we lost at least $100,000, at that point some of our providers came forward, and offered to finance us with loans, which was extraordinary. In 1998, I decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh to undertake a program in project management, which opened the doors to me becoming Professor of Financial Mathematics for a short time at the Universidad del Norte. When the university was in the process of developing a huge infrastructural project called the Coliseo de los fundadores, where it would hold graduation ceremonies, we ended up becoming one of the main providers of construction equipment for the project. This put us completely back on track. We then went on to provide services to the Buenavista mall project in 2000; after this stage we did not stop growing. We had managed to restructure entirely by focusing on the malls industry, which at the time was considered a risky investment and business. We began to sell all the old capacity that we had in equipment and machinery, and then we reinvested in the company and start to purchase and become legal owners of our own new equipment and machinery, which from a financial perspective at the time was logical. We kept reinvesting in this second stage of expansion.

You have won several iconic public contracts. Which have been the most significant projects?

We went on to gain lots of public contracts with the municipality, which often had non-conventional architecture and required a wider range of machinery and equipment. This included high-rise buildings, whereby our original equipment was no longer useful, and we had to expand our portfolio and capital according to the growth and demands of the construction sector in Barranquilla. We have completed a considerable body of work in Barranquilla and the region in institutional construction projects, and have worked comprehensively with public health and EPS institutions. At that stage private construction was rather inactive, and had we been entirely dependent at the time on residential construction we would have faced bankruptcy. Today our ratio is divided approximately 50-50 between public and private contracts. The work we undertook in the Universidad del Norte at the time generated numerous significant contracts with other affiliated industrialists of the university from the largest industrial companies, including Nutresa and Bavaria. In hindsight, the project with the university laid down our strategic plan for the subsequent 10 years, paving the way for internationalization to enter into heavy machinery, which today accounts for 50% of our sales.



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