Sector: Fuel distribution
Founded: 2002 in Colombia
President: Juan Antonio Perez
BOGOTA -- When Alvaro Uribe assumed the presidency in 2002, he vowed to improve security, especially on the highways where Marxist guerrillas regularly hijacked trucks, burned buses and kidnapped motorists. Roadside abductions were so common that many Colombians simply refused to travel overland for long distances.
Amid the chaos, roadside gasoline stations hardly seemed like a budding business opportunity.
Yet a group of independent gas station owners, unhappy with their contracts with market leader Terpel and other distributors, decided to unite and launch their own wholesale distribution company. Brio de Colombia S.A. was formed in 2002.
As a newcomer looking for a niche, Brio focused on rural areas, like the southern state of Meta, which had been hit hard by the guerrilla war. The gamble paid off.
Under Uribe, a military offensive weakened the guerrillas and pushed them out of strategic areas. The number of annual abductions fell from several thousand to fewer than 200. As the Colombian economy rebounded, both commercial and leisure drivers returned to the highways.
"When you feel secure, you begin to make new investments," said Juan Antonio Perez, president of Brio. "People are buying machinery and spending money. Sales of gasoline and lubricants are growing and that shows there's a higher level of confidence in the country."
After selling just a few thousand gallons of gasoline in 2002 and flagging a handful of service stations, Brio last year sold 136 million gallons to a burgeoning network of 237 service stations. It is now the fourth-largest gasoline wholesaler in Colombia after Terpel, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco.
Last year, Brio began supplying corporate customers in the petroleum, mining and transportation sectors as well as several Colombian government institutions, including the anti-narcotics police. Revenue from gas and lubricants totaled about $370 million in 2009. Perez projects that sales will top $450 million this year and that the company will sign up 100 more station affiliates.
"Brio is expanding very aggressively," said Alvaro Younes, the president of Fedispetrol Colombia, an industry group that represents service-station owners.
The founding partners of Brio built a storage site for gasoline in the town of Facatativa, just outside of...