Meet the new movers

Andres Schipani, Naomi Mapstone and Henry Mance profile the Colombians who are settings the agendas in politics, society, business and culture.

ANA FERNANDA MAIGUASHCA, ECONOMIST

“I basically get paid for thinking”, says Ana Fernanda Maiguashca, the jovial economist who is only the second woman to become a director of Colombia’s central bank, writes Henry Mance.

If that assessment makes monetary policy sound easy, it is probably because Maiguashca’s previous job was among the most intense possible. As deputy finance minister, she dealt with the aftermath of the global economic crisis and was instrumental in the approval of a long-delayed labour reform.

“The finance ministry does too many things with too few people. You end up in 900 discussions”, says Maiguashca. “Now, I have time to read policy papers”.

It was Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, who appointed her to the central bank. At the age of 38, Maiguashca is a fresh face among rate setters. She points out that other directors joined the central bank in their thirties – “I’m just the only one who looks like it!”

A graduate of Los Andes university in Bogotá, with an MBA from Columbia, New York, she is one of the many internationally educated technocrats that dominate the upper echelons of Colombia’s key institutions.

That tradition arguably has allowed the country to avoid the ideological extremes seen in some neighbouring countries. The country is a “small, open economy”, receptive to international thinking, but Maiguashca points out: “We have deviated from what had been universal truths, at least in terms of the International Monetary Fund”.

Marc Hofstetter, an economics professor who has worked with Maiguashca, says: “She didn’t get appointed just because we needed balance. She’s very smart; she works very hard”. Maiguashca herself puts it down to “a little bit of talent, a little bit of discipline and a little bit of luck”.

Typical of technocrats, her precise policy views can be hard to pin down. “She’s a very distinguished, very orthodox economist”, says Mario Castro, an analyst at Nomura.

DAVID BOJANINI, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, GRUPO SURA

David Bojanini learnt his craft when he was still in nappies, writes Andres Schipani. In his home city of Medellín, where Colombia’s biggest listed companies can be found, middle- and upper-class children are given gifts of shares in the city’s businesses when they are baptised.

Fast-forward 50 years or so to late 2011 and Grupo Sura, the company he runs, and one of the country’s biggest financial groups, paid more than $3.5bn for the regional assets of ING, the Dutch bancassurer. “It was the biggest project of my career, and the biggest Grupo Sura ever had,” Bojanini says.

In the eyes of international observers, the deal turned Grupo Sura into a leading example of the so-called multilatinas – prime local companies that are now taken seriously by multinationals.

Bojanini is notable for his modesty. He trained in actuarial science in the US and defines himself as a “middle-class man” who started as a trainee, then climbed to the top thanks to his intellectual drive. “It appears curious to many investors that the group is not run by any particular family, and that it is the democratic property of thousands of shareholders”, he says.

Most significantly, companies such as Bojanini’s are emblematic of the entrepreneurialism of the Paisa – as people from Medellín are called – and are regarded as a positive force behind a city that has emerged from the violence that for a long time coloured its name abroad.

ANDRÉS JARAMILLO, BUSINESSMAN AND RESTAURATEUR 

Nothing quite prepares you for Andrés Carne de Res, Colombia’s most famous restaurant. It is a whirlwind of colour, dancing and enormous grills and cocktails. That is testament to the creative spirit of Andrés Jaramillo, the one-time hippy who founded the business three decades ago with his wife, Stella Ramírez, writes Henry Mance.

Once a 20-table diner serving nothing more than meat, it now seats 2,000 people at a time. Its pulling power is such that Jaramillo once described himself as “the dictator of Chía” – the town on the outskirts of Bogotá where the main restaurant is located.

Jaramillo’s secret was to realise that many wealthy Bogotanos don’t just want to eat and drink well – they also want to do it in a carnival atmosphere. And he was lucky: Chía was untouched by a crackdown on nightclubs in Bogotá during the 1990s, and instead benefited from a new influx of customers.

Success, coupled with the restaurant’s astronomical prices, has led some to resent Jaramillo. But his entrepreneurial nous – rather than his food – is exactly what his peers most admire. “We respect him as a businessman. He is a great host”, says Tomás Rueda, chef at Donostia, a Bogotá restaurant.

CARLOS RAÚL YEPES, PRESIDENT BANCOLOMBIA 

Since Carlos Raúl Yepes took control of Bancolombia in February 2011, Colombia’s largest commercial bank has expanded aggressively, writes Henry Mance.

It has bought part of ING’s insurance business in Latin America and HSBC’s operations in Panama. Bancolombia has hinted at further expansion and some analysts believe it has the resources to think big.

How much influence Yepes has had in all this is unclear. Bancolombia is part, albeit a relatively independent one, of the Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño – a conglomerate originally controlled by families from Medellín. That means there are plenty of other key figures in Bancolombia’s strategy, including David Emilio Bojanini García, chief executive of Grupo Sura, the bank’s largest shareholder.

Yepes has kept out of the limelight, sticking to corporate talking points. Nonetheless, he has started to make his mark. He has called for the “humanisation of banking”, implying that the financial sector in Colombia, as elsewhere, could do with a dose of humility. That may reflect his background: a lawyer by training, he was previously the bank’s legal counsel. The working week for Bancolombia’s staff has been cut from 48 hours to 43.

His hands are certainly full. Bancolombia has suffered headaches with its computer systems and is facing pressure from the government, which wants to lower lending rates.

Then comes the Antioqueño group’s rivalry with Grupo Aval, the vehicle of Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Colombia’s richest man and still, aged 80, a fighting force. “They’re in a competition to see who expands the fastest”, says Boris Molina, an equity analyst at Santander bank.

One possibility for both groups is neighbouring Venezuela, although they may wait until the political movement of Hugo Chávez, the late president, loses power.

CATALINA ESCOBAR, ACTIVIST

The face of social work in Colombia is Shakira, the pop singer whose charity provides education to poor children. But Catalina Escobar has shown that you don’t need to be a platinum-selling artist to shine a light on a pressing social problem, writes Henry Mance.

In the tourist hub of Cartagena, Escobar has been tackling child mortality for more than a decade. Her work is acclaimed for helping to halve child mortality rates within a few years, and it has quickly become one of the highest-profile and most-respected social initiatives in Latin America.

“She is an example to any entrepreneur”, says María Lucía Roa, the national head of Ashoka, the social innovation programme through which Escobar passed. “She is an example of social conscience, of management capacity, of someone who knows how to use their contacts and how to measure their impact”.

Escobar’s work was borne out of personal tragedy. As a hospital volunteer, she watched an infant die in her arms because the child’s mother could not pay for treatment. Then her own 16-month-old son died in 2000 after falling from a balcony. “I didn’t want anyone to feel the same pain as I did”, Escobar has said. She set up the Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar, named after her son, shortly after.

Cartagena, whose colonial architecture is as beautiful as Havana’s, has some of the most pervasive poverty in Colombia. In 2003, infant mortality rates were more than twice as high in Cartagena as in the capital, Bogotá.

Escobar and her foundation are now tackling other problems, such as sexual abuse. A new hospital has offered care to 84,000 people on low incomes. The obvious next step would be to expand to other cities in Colombia.

“We have found a very efficient way of breaking the cycles of poverty. We have to grow it and scale it”, she says.

Escobar was named a CNN Hero of the Year in 2012, and is a feature on the global conference circuit.

SERGIO FAJARDO, GOVERNOR OF ANTIOQUIA 

For visitors who walk into his office for the first time, it is a shock to find Sergio Fajardo sitting in a wooden university chair, writes Andres Schipani. It makes sense, though, because for this politician, the “challenge is to make education the first step to build opportunities, to contrast [with] the culture of illegality, violence and social inequality”.

The innovative former mayor of Medellín, who last year became governor of Antioquia – which is seen as the country’s economic powerhouse – increased spending on education in both offices.

He is a US-trained mathematician whose “social urbanism” won international accolades as he transformed the city by building “library parks”, among other projects, in an attempt to address poor education, poverty and crime among young people. He achieved this in a place infamous for being the cradle of Pablo Escobar, once the world’s most wanted outlaw known for kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking.

“If you build a beautiful library in a poor neighbourhood, it gives people a sense of importance; it raises their dignity and gives them access to goods such as education”, Fajardo says, pushing back his unruly hair.

“It also brings visitors from other parts of the city – something that encourages social integration”.

That approach has proved right so far, as Fajardo was instrumental in improving the fortunes of Colombia’s second city. Although violence persists, Medellín’s crime levels are no longer escalating rapidly. For him, “Medellín went from fear, to hope”.

In the eyes of many, this centrist independent politician, who ran for vice-president two years ago, would be a strong candidate for the 2018 presidential election – especially in a post peace-accord environment.

Always one step ahead, he recently said: “We have to be prepared for when peace is signed. In Antioquia, we are already thinking how to transform the places where the guerrillas are”.

MAKING THEIR MARK ABROAD

Asked to lead a youth orchestra when he was only 15 years old, the Medellín-born virtuoso Andrés Orozco-Estrada now “radiates on the podium”, according to one commentator, writes Andres Schipani. Orozco-Estrada holds the batons for Austria’s Tonkünstler Orchestra and the Basque National Orchestra in Spain. The young conductor is also music director designate of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Symphony Orchestra – where he will be the first Hispanic to hold that position.

In Spain, fans of Atlético Madrid, the football team, call Radamel Falcao “the guerrilla of the goal”. He was almost predestined for his role: born in Colombia at the height of the internal armed conflict, he was named by his father in tribute to Paulo Roberto Falcão, the 1980s Brazilian football hero. A native of the coastal city of Santa Marta, the striker is now one of the world’s most coveted players – the star of Colombia’s national team has been courted by clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid, but last month, Monaco confirmed the striker’s transfer for a fee reported to be £50m. In December last year, he left his fans at Atlético open-mouthed when, in less than an hour, he scored five times against Deportivo La Coruña.

In New York, a city that is home to more than 200,000 Colombians, Alejandro Santo Domingo stands out. He is a Harvard-educated scion of Colombia’s influential Santo Domingo family, whose holdings include television channels and a stake in SABMiller, the brewing company. (At its peak, the Santo Domingo group’s sales were equivalent to 4 per cent of Colombia’s national output.) Santo Domingo runs Quadrant Capital Advisors, a US-based investment advisory company that is investing in Latin America. Considered by Forbes to be the “richest new billionaire in the world”, he had an estimated net worth of $11.7bn as of March 2013.