Awarded by Council of the Americas
Delia Air Lines
Maria Fernanda Mejia
ANGEL GURRIA: LEGACY AWARD
ON A DRIZZLY AFTERNOON in Mexico City in the late 1990s, Finance Minister Angel Gurria was slated to speak at Mexico's stock exchange located on one of the main avenues in the congested capital. Stuck in gridlock traffic, it was clear he would arrive late. Gurria left his driver, flagged down a passing cop on a motorcycle, hopped on, and made it to the bourse in good time to address his audience. It was true to Gurria's style: natural, spontaneous, and enthusiastic, making every effort to reach out and communicate.
Today, the quick-thinking economist is serving his third term as head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an institution which promotes standards and policies for open economies, quality education and health services, and works to fight corruption.
Gurria is the first Secretary-General who hails from an emerging economy, following 45 years of leadership by representatives of industrialized nations. "The OECD was prepared, given how the world was changing, emerging economies are taking a bigger share of the pie," Gurria said modestly in a telephone interview with Latin Trade.
In fact, he could boast of a distinguished career in public service in Mexico, including two cabinet posts, before being considered for the OECD's top job.
Gurria became steeped in financial crisis management and deeply familiar with the international banking community while serving as chief debt negotiator for Mexico from 1982-1990. Leading difficult talks, he ultimately hammered out a debt restructuring and reduction deal that involved hundreds of foreign banks. While Minister of Foreign Affairs, from 1994 to 1997, he supported negotiations that resulted in a Mexico-European Union free trade agreement. As Minister of Finance (1998-2000), he successfully shepherded Mexico through its first presidential transition in 25 years without a financial crisis.
Born in 1950, Gurria earned a B.A. in Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a Master's degree in Economics from Leeds University in the United Kingdom. Gurria is fluent in English and speaks five other European languages.
Since taking office in 2006, Gurria accelerated moves to expand what he calls a "do tank" and make it more global. Three Baltic nations, Chile, and Israel became members. Emerging markets Colombia, Costa Rica, and Lithuania will soon join. In May, Brazil joined Peru, Argentina, Rumania, Croatia, and Bulgaria in applying for membership.
The Secretary-General is also extending the OECD's reach through intensified engagement with leading non-member economies that are considered Key Partners--China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa. In recent years, the relationship with China has "changed completely from a formal one with a broad understanding to a very specific, concrete, intense program of work," Gurria told LT.
"We are heavily invested in the relationship with China. It's making the cooperation more comfortable, more natural both for us and for them," he added. Under Gurria's leadership, the OECD has gained a stronger role and higher profile in the global architecture for economic governance which includes the G7 and the G20. "No country, no matter how big, can go it alone," he said.
One of the most impressive achievements of OECD-G20 collaboration--a sweeping upgrade of the international tax transparency standards to combat tax evasion--began in September. OECD and G20 governments agreed to end banking secrecy and implement automatic exchange of financial account information. The G20's support of OECD's longstanding work on taxes was critical. "You can move fast and go very far," Gurria told LT. "People are now convinced the exchange of information is going to happen so they might as well go to the taxman," Gurria explained, adding that governments have already identified close to $85 billion in additional revenues.
The next step in this "huge revolution"--tackling Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS)--updates the rules for multinational corporations to prevent them from shifting their tax burden to countries that charge low rates. Countries are now updating the global network of 3,500 bilateral tax treaties, and more than 71 jurisdictions have joined the OECD's new Multilateral Instrument so far. "Potentially, BEPS could generate 240 billion Euros annually in uncollected multinational corporate taxes, he added.
Gurria isn't stopping there. The rest of his mandate, which extends through 2021, he will apply his characteristic energy and zest to completing the accession of the new members into the OECD family and put his charisma at the service of expanding the organization's role in shaping policies to improve the well-being of people and make economies sustainable and inclusive.
Gurria's legacy will be a more diverse and global OECD better equipped to respond to the challenges confronting the global economy in the 21st century.
LUCY CONGER REPORTED FROM FLORIDA
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD AND FOUNDER, CENCOSUD S.A.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
IT'S A RAGS TO RICHES STORY. As a child in post-war Germany, Horst Paulmann scavenged in dustbins for food. Today the 82-year-old businessman is Chile's second richest person with a net worth of $4.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
The founder and chairman of the Cencosud retail empire is the epitome of a self-made man. Lacking both formal education and private wealth, Paulmann built Latin America's third largest listed retail company from scratch with dedication and a shrewd business nose. In 2016, the holding company generated earnings of almost $618 million, providing jobs for over 138,000 people.
It reaches 180 million consumers across five South American countries.
Paulmann left his native Germany with his parents and six siblings soon after the end of the Second World War. The family headed for Buenos Aires in 1948 where the 13-year-old worked as a messenger boy and telephone operator. His meager wages helped provide for the family. "It was the only time in my career that I worked for another company," he told a business forum in Bogota in 2014.
In 1950, due to Argentina's economic woes, the family moved to the town of Temuco in southern Chile. Stretched finances meant Paulmann had to skip school to work as a waiter in the family restaurant. His formal education never progressed further than night-school at the age of 16.
The first step towards his future as a retail magnate came in 1962 when he and his brother, Jurgen, closed the restaurant and opened a small delicatessen. The initiative's success led them to open the first Las Brisas supermarket in Temuco a year later, eventually expanding to three other southern Chilean towns.
But the big break came after the brothers parted ways and Paulmann moved to Santiago to open the country's first hypermarket, Jumbo, in the mid-1970s. It was a visionary step given the country's poverty at the time and the lack of available imports to stock the shelves of the 4,000-square-meter space. "We filled the empty shelves with dolls," he recalled.
When Chile's major economic crisis hit in 1982, Paulmann moved...