BOGOTA, Colombia -- As an executive with Procter & Gamble Co. in the early 1990s, Luis Carlos Sarmiento Gutierrez felt at ease in the United States and with the American way of doing business. He had no plans to return to his native Colombia.
But as an ambitious businessman, he also had a lot to learn. And who better to school him than his own father?
Sarmiento Gutierrez is the only son of Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, who seems to possess a magic touch when it comes to making deals. Over the past haft-century, Sarmiento Angulo put together Grupo Aval, the huge and very successful Bogota-based banking and construction holding company. Last year, Forbes ranked Sarmiento Angulo No. 135 on its list of the world's billionaires.
"I had met some very incredible executives in my time at Procter & Gamble. It took me a while, but I finally realized that I had one of those executives back home, and he was related to me," Sarmiento Gutierrez tells Latin Trade. "My father had put together such an interesting business. He could teach me a lot of things. So I decided to grab the opportunity."
The father-son team has taken Grupo Aval to new heights.
Last year, Sarmiento Gutierrez, who has served as Grupo Aval's CEO since 2000, oversaw the most important acquisition in the company's history: the $1.9 billion purchase of the Central American financial group BAC-Credomatic. It was by far the largest-ever foreign acquisition by a Colombian company.
In addition, Grupo Aval has greatly expanded its presence in Colombia, with projects ranging from the construction of an 18-tower trade center in downtown Bogota to opening branches of the Bangladeshi-founded Grameen Bank, which provides microcredit to the poor. Grupo Aval also has cemented its reputation as a heavyweight in philanthropy through its Fundacion Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo.
The Sarmiento partnership works not only because of the deep trust between father and son but also because of their differences. They approach potential mergers and acquisitions from distinct angles but often arrive at the same conclusions.
Besides belonging to different generations, they have different backgrounds. Sarmiento Angulo, Grupo Aval's chairman, has spent nearly his entire life in Colombia, but his son has lived 19 of his 50 years in the United States.
Sarmiento Gutierrez was born in Bogota but moved to Miami when he was a teenager for security reasons after one of his sisters and a cousin were...