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May 2017

The woman who leads Grupo Energía de Bogotá - El Espectador

09 May 2017


Economía - Diario El Espectador

9 May 2017

Edwin Bohórquez aya

Astrid Alvarez Hernandez has worked at Ecopetrol and the Bogota Water and Sewage Company. Now, at the head of the largest energy conglomerate in the country, she talks about how the key to success is time spent at work and with the family along with social awareness.


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How is Grupo Energía de Bogotá (GEB) lead?

First of all, it is led with a lot of passion; we at the company and I like to get up each morning feeling motivated. Some of the employees say that it is as if the obstacles give me more gas to go on, to get ahead; this is the main thing. Passion and emotion to achieve the goals.

As all leaders say, you lead by example

Absolutely, and that is very important because here, in addition to the existing rules, we have designed a set of rules that we call Corporate Governance in this new organization; but, in addition to those rules, it requires competent and trained people, but excited people, because without them it is very difficult to achieve the objectives.

How has your academic background led you to this position? And not just this one, but the others you have worked your way through.

I've been very lucky, because ever since I graduated from university, even when I was studying, I was told that I was the only student with an office. That's because I managed to have a lot of tutoring and led many groups within the Javeriana University, which was the institution where I studied civil engineering. After graduation I was able to get a management position; I was a concrete plant manager. My first boss was Dr. Daniel Boada, who has since died. They hired me in sales, but I said, "No, five years of engineering are not for sales. I wanted to get an operating position and so they said, "This is your position. And I was one of the first women in the operational field of the concrete business in Bogotá and in the rest of the country, because they trusted me.

I understand you also specialized in environmental studies. How was that?

After those positions, I spent a lot of time in the private sector, particularly in mining, in difficult areas, with many men operating and few women at that time. Then I went to study, to do my master's degree in management issues, then I became very interested in environmental issues, because another of my bosses made me see that I liked community relations, taking action on environmental issues, and he told me that it would be very good for me to specialize and I also listened to him. And it served me well in the second part of my work.

You also worked at Ecopetrol and were responsible for the Bogotá Water and Sewage Company. What did you learn there and what do you apply today at GEB?

I have the best memories when I worked at the Water Company of Bogota, six years; perhaps I was the only woman manager at the Water Company of Bogota after 100 years of organization. That was very important for me in a wonderful team we had. It was six years in which the knowledge was achieved with the long term strategic plan. From there comes thousands of experiences and also in Ecopetrol, because they made me challenge myself not as the general manager, but as the leader of a process called supply. It consisted of reforming the entire Ecopetrol contracting process in a national context. All that was very exciting, even though both sectors are very macho. We had great engineers, many projects and few women who made decisions, but I was fortunate enough to have wonderful male bosses, I have not had the first female boss; those men trusted me completely.

How does a woman lead in a company that is so dominated by men?

Having bosses like Dr. Boada, Sergio Uribe, Antanas Mockus, the mayor Enrique Peñalosa, Dr. Isaac Yanovich at Ecopetrol; all of them are persons who bet on women, believe in women and have a lot of confidence in them. It hasn't been easy, most of the moments were very positive, but there were also some moments when one became disappointed with some of the male leaders in the organizations. I think we should give more space to our women in leadership positions. In the Transmission business there were no women; now we have two and that is important, that they can be nurtured within the group. In the other countries there is a significant increase of women in high decision-making positions. The legal vice-president and the entire legal team of the parent company of Empresa de Energía de Bogotá are mostly women. So I am also doing a job where more competitive women and men can participate. Having men in some roles and women in others does the company a lot of good.

How do you allocate your time between the company, the subsidiaries and your family?

This is very difficult, especially for women who never stop being mothers. I only had one son, and today he's already in college. We must remember something I have told all my employees: children first, family first. You don't have to ask me for permission to go to your child's graduation or to an important event for your child or your parents; we shouldn't have that regret of not being in the most important part of our family. I don't have any regrets that I wasn't at my child's most important moments; I was always there. That is important for companies: the balancing of family time. There are rules that I have: I try not to accept dinner at night, because I like to get home early, because I leave very early. When I travel, that's what I suffer the most. We had a rule with my husband: when I traveled outside the country, he did not. But for all that you need to have a good companion. In Latin America we are fortunate to have such families. That's why it's so important to take care of them; that's why I always say family first. We must be successful for our families. That has been important in my life.

This is a time of conscious leadership. How do you transfer it to the thousands of employees you have?

We are living a genuine relationship with the communities. As a company, I am valuable only if I share with the community, if they receive the benefits of this action that we develop.

And that is what you’re doing...

That's what we're doing. In Guatemala we pass through many municipalities with different indigenous languages, with different cultural forms, and we are respecting all those levels of life of the communities. We also created a program called Social Volunteering.

I understand you've been very close to the Javier de Nicoló Foundation. What are you doing there?

In essence, a leader, besides liking it and having to work with communities, must help those communities. We have a social volunteering program and that moves me, because I have always been a standard-bearer for street kids. They are not there because they want to be. That's why Grupo Energía de Bogotá sponsors Idipron. This institution for the protection of children depends on the mayor's office in Bogotá and we have a joint action: a building on loan so that they can operate, administrative issues and a part of the essence, the time that I took from them, which is not from my company, to do social volunteering. A company without sensitivity cannot be a successful company.

If you were a teacher in a leadership class, what message would you leave?

Firstly, passion for what you do, no matter what the role, and secondly, discipline. If one is careful and rigorous, everything will be fine. Those are the two key factors to success. We must be sensitive to those around us. You can't be successful if those around you are suffering.

Is a leader like you born or made?

Actually, it's made. There are many things in one's genes and character, some are stronger, others are more passionate, but in the end the experience does a lot. I invite many young people to take advantage of the experience, of others, of doing. Any person who does not know how to do it will hardly achieve his objectives.