Andronico Luksic Manof summits
Andronico Luksic, chairman of this year's APEC CEO Summit, talks to Ruth Bradleyabout conquering mountains - in business and in life
For Chilean businessman Andronico Luksic, summits are very much on the agenda this year. In May, satisfying along-standing ambition as a mountaineer, he stood at the summit of Mount Everest. Thismonth, in what promises to be one of the crowning glories of a successful business career, he will chair the APECCEO Summit in Santiago. And, to top off the year, he plans to tackle yet another summit nextmonth - Mount Vinson in the Antarctic. Luksic is not a typical Chilean businessman. While many of his colleagues sport MBAsfrom prestigious US universities, Luksic unassumingly admits to being a 'collegedropout'. And, despite chairing Banco de Chile, Chile's largest locally-owned bank, he is a fundamentally shy man,who prefers a low profile and rarely gives interviews. But he commands an enormous respect that has itsroots partly in his perseverance - the quality that helps him to conquer summits.The history of the Luksic family conglomerate which, as well as financial services, includesimportant stakes in Chile's mining and manufacturing industries, dates back to the beginningof the last century when Luksic's paternal grandfather emigrated from his nativeCroatia. After working in Chile's flourishing nitrates industry, he built up aprofitable niche importing cattle from Argentina to feed the saltpeter miners - and latercopper miners - of northern Chile's arid Atacama desert.
Despite its success in Chile, however, the family has not forgotten its roots andalso has important investments in Croatia. As well as being a major player in thecountry's hotel industry, it also controls a leading tour operator.
In addition, the Luksic group has some important business ties with Asia. Three Japanesecompanies - Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Nippon Mining - are partners in its Los Pelambrescopper mine in northern Chile. And, in the 1980s, the group's Madeco copper manufacturer was the first Chileancompany - and possibly the first in Latin America - to invest in China when,along with Codelco, Chile's state copper company, it formed a joint venture with the municipalityof Beijing to build a plant to produce copper piping for use in the construction industry.
Asia Inc: What do you see as the main importance of the CEO Summit from Chile'spoint of view?
Andronico Luksic: Chile's presidency of APEC 2004 and the CEO Summit are an opportunityfor business and political leaders to get to know a part of the world that's not easyto reach and that they don't normally visit. And that includes not only Chile, butalso the rest of South America.
Business people from Asia will be able to become better acquainted with Chile, itseconomy, its institutions and its people, in a direct and palpable way. And that'simportant because Chile can serve as a two-way platform for goods to and from Asia,not just to Chile, with its 15 million inhabitants, but also to much larger economies, like Argentina and Brazil. And,of course, most importantly, it will encourage businesses from other APEC economiesto invest in Chile and form partnerships with local businesses. That is, after all, themost profound expression of economic integration within the Asia-Pacific region.
What have been the main challengesof organising the Summit?
Although it's certainly the most important business meeting that Chile has ever organised, it's been facilitated by our country's international experience and its organisational capacity. We have a committee in which I am joined by Juan Claro, chairmanof Chile's Confederation of Industry and Trade; HernĂˇn Somerville, this year's chairmanof the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC); and Juan VillarzĂş, executive presidentof Codelco. In addition, there's an operational committee and an executive secretariat that help implementdecisions regarding the programme and logistical matters.The main challenges have beento obtain the human and financial resources required for this important Summit andto ensure the presence of the top-level business executives and political leaders we've invitedfrom around the Pacific Basin. However, I must say we've had a very good response.
What issues is the Summitgoing to focus on?
We plan to concentrate on four or five main issues, and to be really productive on them: the safetyof international trade; transparency and corporate governance; human resources as the keyto competitiveness; economic reform processes; and the digital gap and its impacton the competitiveness of companies and of our respective economies.The Summit starts on Friday, Nov 19, with a luncheon at the CasaPiedra conventioncentre, where the entire meeting will take place. During lunch, the opening speech will be given by Erik Weihenmayer, the athlete andmountaineer who, although blind, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest.
Over the course of the event, we also hope to be able to listen to addresses from PresidentGeorge W Bush, President Ricardo Lagos, President Hu Jintao, Prime MinisterJunichiro Koizumi, President Vladimir Putin, President Luiz InĂˇcio Lula da Silva andformer Secretary of the US Treasury Robert E Rubin, as well as allowing time forquestions and answers, and debate.Finally, it will be my responsibility to close the Summit and introduce the chairmanof the APEC CEO Summit 2005, which will take place in Seoul.
What do business people travellingto Chile for the Summit stand to gain?
The CEO Summit always produces some very interesting networking and, this year, given thatso many people will be travelling from so far, we're trying to maximise opportunitiesfor making contact not only with Chileans, but also with colleagues from other partsof the region. That's why we've invited people from, for example, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela -countries that aren't necessarily members of APEC but which make us, as a continent, muchmore interesting to Asian businesses. And we've organised parallel programmesboth before and after the Summit for different leisure, cultural and tourist activities. Ialso have the impression that most of our guests are going to take the opportunityto visit two or three other countries. You're also one of Chile's representatives in ABAC, which set anambitious agenda for this year in terms of increasing its effectiveness. How has that playedout?ABAC has worked very well this year under the chairmanship of HernĂˇn Somerville. It hasintroduced numerous procedural reforms that make it more efficient. It has energeticallypromoted the issue of liberalising trade through the Doha talks in the frameworkof the World Trade Organization. This is, without doubt, the most important issueof the year for APEC and the global economy.
We've also given priority to analysing free trade agreements between APEC membereconomies, the issue of safe trade, the facilitation of trade, and the use of English as the languageof business.It's also important to point out that, in the execution of ABAC's agenda, we havedeveloped a valuable and fluid relationship with the public sector. This relationship isalso part of the success of ABAC 2004. We have ready communication with RicardoLagos, chairman of APEC Senior Officials' Meetings, with Ambassador Milenko Skoknic, executivedirector of APEC Chile 2004, and with Ambassador Adolfo CarafĂ, director of the Asia-PacificDivision of Chile's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We have transmitted to all of them, inour own language, the opinions that business people have about the agenda and other aspectsof the APEC process.
Through your role in the CEO Summit and ABAC, you've travelled extensively, promoting Chile. What has thisshown you about Chile's international image?
Chile has an excellent image in the eyes of the business people and authorities of the Asia-Pacificregion. It's seen as a serious and stable country that's good at fulfilling its undertakings. Theenormous effort that the Chilean business sector has put into globalisation isalso admired abroad. That means a great opportunity for Chile to develop as aplatform from which many opportunities geared to business in other Latin Americancountries may arise.As a Chilean businessman, what do you see as the main challenges facing the country asgrowth rebounds?
Its main challenges are to reduce its international vulnerability and to maintain the high and stablegrowth that reduces social and educational deficiencies and, particularly, poverty.And specifically for the banking sector in which you're involved as president of Banco de Chile?
The banking sector has made an enormous effort in terms of global competitiveness andproviding high-standard, low-cost services for its domestic and internationalcustomers. The banking industry is one of the ‘great assets' of the Chileaneconomy and its image is optimum, as is shown by the low spreads it pays for overseasresources.As a family group, what do you see as the most interesting opportunities for futureexpansion in Chile and internationally? Our investments in Croatia may have theirroot in family ties, but they're also very profitable and important. In Chile,our idea is to consolidate in the sectors in which we already operate - mining,copper manufacturing, beverages and banking - rather than diversifying. There aresome very significant opportunities in mining.
You recently climbed Everest. What was that like as a challenge?
The physical and psychological preparation was very tough. And there's a point in thepreparation that's really important - forming a team. That's about being ableto face difficult moments together, without ever losing sight of the objective. That's why, during a littleover a year, we climbed various peaks of more than 6,000m in the Andes to test notonly our physical shape, but also to consolidate the team that was to face the challengeof Everest.
You've probably been asked this question a thousand times, but what did it feel liketo conquer Everest?
I must say that, when I reached the summit, I shed more than a few tears; it was a reallyemotional moment and I felt deep gratitude to God and to the team that had made itpossible. I remember that all my family was in the United States celebrating thegraduation of my eldest son and the birthdays of two of my other children; I wasn't there, but they were with me and that's what was reallyimportant. I also remember thinking that my presence there showed that dreams arenot just dreams, but the starting point of a project, and that with a great dealof work, enthusiasm and perseverance, they can become reality. I would like toknow that many others feel the same way. At 50, I firmly believe that there'sno age limit on new challenges and rising to them; there's no age limit on new dreams. Isuppose what remains from that adventure is the lesson that those who do not follow their dreamsonly sleep through life.
So what's the bigger challenge: Everestor the CEO Summit?
The CEO Summit. As chairman, it's not only my reputation that's at stake, but thereputation of my country and its business people; that's why it's so importantto achieve a really excellent event. If I hadn't made it to the summit of Everest, theworst that would have happened was that a few friends would have laughed at me. If theCEO Summit doesn't do well, it's the country that suffers; but if I do well there, it's a triumphfor all of us who organised it. It's a different type of responsibility and Ialso feel that it's not only on behalf of Chile, but also of South America.
After the CEO Summit, what are the next summitson your personal agenda?
In the short term, I'd like to conquer the highest summit of each continent or, inother words, to complete the seven-summit circuit. I've already climbed Aconcagua inSouth America, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and Everest in Asia. And later this year, I'mgoing to make a second attempt at the Vinson Massif in the Antarctic. I was there in 2003, but we were beaten by bad weather. That's the list but,more importantly, I'd like to stress that I have a very serious interest in mountaineering and that,more than a sport, it's simply a way of life.