High performance: the 11th Bravo Business Award honorees put the important things first--people.

Author:Brown, Greg
Position:Cover Story
 
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The common thread that binds the business leaders of Latin America can be summed up in one word: excellence. As the world rockets toward ever-deeper globalization, as interdependence and information--even understanding--become the norm for cultures as disparate as China and Mexico, the United States and India, Brazil and Spain, so too do the basic, most important things.

Excellence in this sense isn't simply wizardry with financial balance sheets, although our finance and CEO categories have plenty of flashy numbers-runners. Nor does it mean fanaticism about detail, or customers, service or sales. Got that, too. Read through the following pages, and you'll end up reading last about the humanitarians and environmentalists. Then go back and start over. The bankers talk about providing financing to immigrants. The technicians want to connect everyone, not just the big paycheck-earners. The industrialists wax poetic about teamwork, getting the best of people, developing leaders and winners.

In the end, it's really about the people, not the widgets, not the cents per share. As the old saw goes, "Watch the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves." For the Bravo Business Awards honorees, watching out for the people--employees and customers, rich or poor--means greater rewards than simply another quarter of positive returns. Excellence means humanity first. (For a list of the Bravo winners, see page 60.)

LEADER OF THE YEAR

RICARDO LAGOS

President of Chile

ACHIEVEMENTS The long-predicted collapse of the Chilean juggernaut--it averaged 8% growth for most of the 1990s--isn't coming on Lagos' watch. After a slight dip in the late 1990s as Russia and Asia reeled, the free trade model of the region instead exported its way out of the mess. Growth averaged 4.3% during Lagos's six-year term ending this December as he inked deals with the European Union and South Korea and started serious talks with the Asian giants. Unemployment steadily fell and exports boomed.

Yet Lagos did take one prescient step back to his big-government roots as an economist, signing off on a multi-billion dollar road and subway project that provided immediate employment to thousands in their worst hour, early in his term, and finally tackled Chile's awful traffic and pollution problems. As the latest opposition politician to manage a never-ending transition to full democracy, Lagos handled with aplomb both the right's outrage at sputtering attempts to prosecute the aging General Augusto Pinochet, and the outrage of victims' families that Pinochet might die in peace of old age without facing them in court.

BACKGROUNDER A doctorate in economics from Duke University in North Carolina, Lagos made an early name for himself in leftist politics by advocating nationalization of the economy as the only means to break the elites grip on production and end poverty. Keeping his anti-dictatorship credentials intact, Lagos nevertheless managed to later make the hard right turn from his Socialist roots to centrist leadership, accepting the open-market gospel of the dictatorship while occupying a middle ground once utterly smothered by the center-left Christian Democrats.

QUOTE "There are those who have repeated for years that economic growth automatically produces social justice. How wrong they are to wait for this! The market distinguishes, it discriminates, according to how much money each person has for consumption. Equality and social justice require political will. They demand the design and implementation of realistic policies, so that the fruits of growth are distributed among all of Chile's families. This is the essence of our task as government."

MOST INNOVATIVE LEADER

The government official who has enacted the farthest-reaching reforms in Latin America

ALBERTO ALEMAN ZUBIETA

CEO, Panama Canal Authority

ACHIEVEMENTS Just beginning a new, seven-year term, Aleman has been working to save his country's single biggest asset--a major two-ocean port, one which generates nearly US$1 billion in tolls and service fees annually--from oblivion. He needs public approval to widen the canal to prepare for an era named on the assumption that the canal itself soon won't matter: post-panamax. (So-called "post" panamax ships are too wide to cross at Panama.) Spending on preliminary improvements has topped $1.50 billion, but private estimates put the project at many billions more.

BACKGROUNDER A former construction executive educated at Texas A&M, Aleman served as CEO of the commission that ran the canal until the 1999 U.S. handover to Panama. He then oversaw its transfer to domestic control.

QUOTE "When we present the plan, we want it to be a serious proposal, given that this decision is transcendental for our country."

FRANCISCO GIL DIAZ

Finance Minister, Mexico

ACHIEVEMENTS Unlike many politicians, "Paco" Gil Diaz is plain-spoken, confident--and delivers: Mexico's inflation and exchange rate have been stable during his run as Finance Minister while financial markets deepened and matured. Public spending and debt have declined steadily while tax collection rose even as tax rates fell.

BACKGROUNDER Gil Diaz studied at the University of Chicago, a kind of free-market incubator for Latin American economists of his generation, under Nobel Prize-winning economists Milton Friedman and Robert A. Mundell. Did stints at Mexico's Central Bank and the Finance Ministry, as well as in the private sector as head of Mexican telecom Avantel.

QUOTE "Subsidies, artificially low prices, budget transfers and market manipulations provide in some circumstances greater prosperity. But, soon or later, given the current conditions of information and sophistication of the market, it sends one down an alleyway with no exit."

PEDRO PABLO KUCZYNSKI

Prime Minister of Peru

ACHIEVEMENTS Mostly on Kuczynski's watch, the country has experienced 47 consecutive months of gross domestic product (GDP) growth, expected to be sustained in coming years. Exports are booming, inflation is low, and Peru's currency rating is just below investment grade. Government spending is at 1% of GDP.

BACKGROUNDER Widely known as PPK, Kuczynski has a strong track record in private business,...

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