Gonzalo Restrepo
Colombia
Gonzalo Restrepo
  • Former President and CEO, Almacenes Éxito (Retail)
Born Medellin, Colombia, 1951; B.S., Management, Syracuse University (1973); MBA, University of Georgia (1976); Strategic Planning & Management, Babson College (1996)
“It is commonly said that business combines land, capital, and labor in an efficient way to produce a result and a sound return for shareholders. I think that, of all those factors, the one referred to as labor—the one that has to do with people—is by far the most important.”

Summary

In this interview, Gonzalo Restrepo, Former President and CEO of Almacenes Éxito, describes his unique and varied career, beginning with a discussion of his family’s deep roots in Colombia’s business and entrepreneurial community.

Early on Restrepo makes clear one central theme that has characterized his career: his emphasis on creating positive work environments and the importance of successfully and efficiently managing teams. “For me,” he explained, “the human side of things has always been very important. It is commonly said that business combines land, capital, and labor in an efficient way to produce a result and a sound return for shareholders. I think that, of all those factors, the one referred to as labor, the one that has to do with people is by far the most important one.” In this capacity, he describes how he was able to turn around loss-making companies and some of the strategies he used to energize teams and improve management.

Another central pillar of Restrepo’s career is his international outlook. He explains how his experiences working and negotiation with businesses in Cuba, Russia, France, and the United States during the 1980s gave him an appreciation for the complexities of different societies and inspired him to learn from and draw on their different operational practices. In the interview, he offers an example of how he implemented this innovation through imitation strategy when running the textile company Caribú.

Over time, Gonzalo earned a reputation as an effective, efficient, and successful manager, as well as a dedicated and honest business leader. This, he speculates in the interview, led to his eventual selection for the role of president of Éxito in the 1990. It was a very difficult time to lead the group, he recalls in the interview. “Gaviria’s administration was just starting off,” he explained, “and [he] issued a new constitution in 1991. In addition to providing a more social focus to the government and welfare to Colombians, he largely ended import substitution and opened the country to other markets—both with imports by lowering tariffs and exports.” In addition to regulatory challenges, the new administration “attacked the large mafias that plagued Colombia at the time. It was a very dangerous time.” In the interview, Restrepo explains how he successfully navigated these and other challenges—as well as both the successes and failures that he experienced along the way.

Restrepo concludes the interview by discussing the groups IPO in the late 1990s, the company’s strategy for regional and international expansion, as well as his involvement with the recent peace negotiations between the government of Colombia and the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] in 2016.

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In this interview, Gonzalo Restrepo, Former President and CEO of Almacenes Éxito, describes his unique and varied career, beginning with a discussion of his family’s deep roots in Colombia’s business and entrepreneurial community.

Early on Restrepo makes clear one central theme that has characterized his career: his emphasis on creating positive work environments and the importance of successfully and efficiently managing teams. “For me,” he explained, “the human side of things has always been very important. It is commonly said that business combines land, capital, and labor in an efficient way to produce a result and a sound return for shareholders. I think that, of all those factors, the one referred to as labor, the one that has to do with people is by far the most important one.” In this capacity, he describes how he was able to turn around loss-making companies and some of the strategies he used to energize teams and improve management.

Another central pillar of Restrepo’s career is his international outlook. He explains how his experiences working and negotiation with businesses in Cuba, Russia, France, and the United States during the 1980s gave him an appreciation for the complexities of different societies and inspired him to learn from and draw on their different operational practices. In the interview, he offers an example of how he implemented this innovation through imitation strategy when running the textile company Caribú.

Over time, Gonzalo earned a reputation as an effective, efficient, and successful manager, as well as a dedicated and honest business leader. This, he speculates in the interview, led to his eventual selection for the role of president of Éxito in the 1990. It was a very difficult time to lead the group, he recalls in the interview. “Gaviria’s administration was just starting off,” he explained, “and [he] issued a new constitution in 1991. In addition to providing a more social focus to the government and welfare to Colombians, he largely ended import substitution and opened the country to other markets—both with imports by lowering tariffs and exports.” In addition to regulatory challenges, the new administration “attacked the large mafias that plagued Colombia at the time. It was a very dangerous time.” In the interview, Restrepo explains how he successfully navigated these and other challenges—as well as both the successes and failures that he experienced along the way.

Restrepo concludes the interview by discussing the groups IPO in the late 1990s, the company’s strategy for regional and international expansion, as well as his involvement with the recent peace negotiations between the government of Colombia and the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] in 2016.

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Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Gonzalo Restrepo, interviewed by Andrea Lluch, November 20, 2017, Bogota, Colombia, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/.