Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga
Colombia
Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga
  • Former President, Bancolombia (Banking; Finance)
Born Medellín, Colombia. BA, Business Administration, EAFIT University (1972); MPhil, Economic Development, University of Glasgow (1976)
“Disaster can teach us important lessons”

Summary

Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga is a former president of Bancolombia, the largest bank in Colombia in terms of number of clients. In this interview, Londoño describes the early days of his career where he entered academic life as a professor of economic development. After a few years, Londoño made the decision to change career paths. He first developed an intermediary real estate firm that specialized in sales and project development. He eventually became involved in trading activity, became a stock specialist, and then purchased his company a seat on the stock exchange. In 1990, Londoño made the decision to sell his business and sold his company’s seat on the stock exchange to the Medellín-based holding company Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana (Grupo Sura after 2009), which itself formed part of a networked business group known as Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño (which includes the food processing company Nutresa and the energy producer Grupo Argos). Londoño went on to work for Suramericana for three years, managing the security brokerage division and eventually becoming financial vice president of Suramericana. In 1996 he became president of Banco Industrial Colombiano (BIC), which soon became Bancolombia, and stayed in that position for fifteen years.

In this interview, Londoño speaks about the complexities of the Colombian economy in the 1990s under the Gaviria administration and how companies in Colombia navigated years of major changes with the shift from a highly regulated economy to a deregulated economy. Londoño charts the evolution of BIC from a small bank representing only 3.5% of the Colombian market to become the country’s largest bank. He describes that this was facilitated by becoming the first Colombian business to list on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. Londoño led a merger between BIC and Banco de Colombia, which was the largest merger in Colombian history to date, in 1997 to create Bancolombia. BIC was able to purchase the larger bank using the capital from listing on the NYSE. Londoño describes his concept of “cultural transformation,” where essentially a new bank and a new bank culture was built and a new identity was created.

Londoño addresses the question why the Colombian banking sector remained primarily locally owned even as foreign banks grew important in many other emerging markets. He credits the maintenance of high standards of professionalism in the sector, while Colombia’s diverse regions made it hard for foreign banks to compete with local bankers. Londoño explains how the bank was able to survive the 1994 Tequila Crisis in Mexico and the 1999 financial and exchange rate crisis in Colombia. Londoño explains that it was the bank’s international vision that helped them combat the crisis in two ways: communication with international investors and by securing capital in the international market. The bank recovered faster than other companies, enabling rapid growth in the 2000s. The bank was also able to expand internationally. Bancolombia, acquired El Salvador’s Banco Agrícola for $900 million in 2006.This was the first successful foreign acquisition made by a Colombian bank.

Towards the end of the interview, Londoño sheds light on the unique structure of the Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño, including the distinctive identities of companies linked to it. He also touches on the importance of corporate reputation, the role of business should be in Colombia’s post-conflict era, and corporate responsibility to address poverty and sustainability.

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Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga is a former president of Bancolombia, the largest bank in Colombia in terms of number of clients. In this interview, Londoño describes the early days of his career where he entered academic life as a professor of economic development. After a few years, Londoño made the decision to change career paths. He first developed an intermediary real estate firm that specialized in sales and project development. He eventually became involved in trading activity, became a stock specialist, and then purchased his company a seat on the stock exchange. In 1990, Londoño made the decision to sell his business and sold his company’s seat on the stock exchange to the Medellín-based holding company Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana (Grupo Sura after 2009), which itself formed part of a networked business group known as Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño (which includes the food processing company Nutresa and the energy producer Grupo Argos). Londoño went on to work for Suramericana for three years, managing the security brokerage division and eventually becoming financial vice president of Suramericana. In 1996 he became president of Banco Industrial Colombiano (BIC), which soon became Bancolombia, and stayed in that position for fifteen years.

In this interview, Londoño speaks about the complexities of the Colombian economy in the 1990s under the Gaviria administration and how companies in Colombia navigated years of major changes with the shift from a highly regulated economy to a deregulated economy. Londoño charts the evolution of BIC from a small bank representing only 3.5% of the Colombian market to become the country’s largest bank. He describes that this was facilitated by becoming the first Colombian business to list on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. Londoño led a merger between BIC and Banco de Colombia, which was the largest merger in Colombian history to date, in 1997 to create Bancolombia. BIC was able to purchase the larger bank using the capital from listing on the NYSE. Londoño describes his concept of “cultural transformation,” where essentially a new bank and a new bank culture was built and a new identity was created.

Londoño addresses the question why the Colombian banking sector remained primarily locally owned even as foreign banks grew important in many other emerging markets. He credits the maintenance of high standards of professionalism in the sector, while Colombia’s diverse regions made it hard for foreign banks to compete with local bankers. Londoño explains how the bank was able to survive the 1994 Tequila Crisis in Mexico and the 1999 financial and exchange rate crisis in Colombia. Londoño explains that it was the bank’s international vision that helped them combat the crisis in two ways: communication with international investors and by securing capital in the international market. The bank recovered faster than other companies, enabling rapid growth in the 2000s. The bank was also able to expand internationally. Bancolombia, acquired El Salvador’s Banco Agrícola for $900 million in 2006.This was the first successful foreign acquisition made by a Colombian bank.

Towards the end of the interview, Londoño sheds light on the unique structure of the Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño, including the distinctive identities of companies linked to it. He also touches on the importance of corporate reputation, the role of business should be in Colombia’s post-conflict era, and corporate responsibility to address poverty and sustainability.

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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga, interviewed by Andrea Lluch, Bogotá, Colombia, November 26, 2019, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.