Tecnoglass: Our employees are our best and most important stakeholders
Andrea Zambrano explains how Tecnoglass' commitment to quality also embraces its corporate governance and ethics
Tecnoglass is a leading manufacturer of high specification architectural glass and windows, based in Colombia. Andrea Zambrano is its Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs – she discusses the business’s structure, its principles of quality and ethics, and its evolving governance and strategy.
World Finance: Tecnoglass is three companies in one; tell me about your origins and vertical integration.
Andrea Zambrano: We started back in 1984 as a solar heater company. It was called Energia Solar, and it’s still part of our structure today.
In 1988 we went out of business, because gas-producing companies were selling gas heaters way more cheaply than ours. So: we had aluminium, we had glass, and we reinvented ourselves for the first time.
We started fabricating and manufacturing Colombia Windows; and by 1994 we were selling approximately $50m, and thought that it was a very good opportunity to do some vertical integration, and started our own transformation glass company. Which is Tecnoglass.
In 2007 we saw another business opportunity, and started our extrusion plant. And we were doing the aluminium profiles for ourselves, the transformated glass for ourselves as well. And we were having a lot of cost efficiencies in our structure.
World Finance: You have said that Tecnoglass lives quality in everything that you do; that’s clearly true in your products, but what about your corporate ethics and your stakeholder relationships as well?
Andrea Zambrano: Certainly – our vision has always been quality. As a Colombian company exporting to the US, quality control measures were more stringent for us. We were getting looked at with a magnifying glass. So that led us to be more strict with our quality procedures and the products that we were exporting.
But our corporate ethics have never been in question. Our employees are our best and most important stakeholders. For them we have certain benefits, and we have been working to surpass their expectations for 30 years. We have a university scholarship programme for our employees and their children as well. We have a home grant for them to acquire new homes or to remodel their existing ones. We have Tecnoglass Foundation as well, which works with local communities to transform lives – through school recycling programmes, and even infrastructure development. We recently donated a fire station, for example, to a local community.
World Finance: You’ve been listed on NASDAQ since 2013; how has your transparency and governance changed over the years?
Andrea Zambrano: Since 2012, when we started the process of getting listed on NASDAQ, there were a lot of things that changed; that were lived before in the culture, but that were not materialised, or very formal.
So what we started working on was a very strong, reliable, and replicable ethics and compliance programme. And strengthening our entity level controls. In that way what we were trying to generate is a culture where transparency comes in naturally to all our employees.
We have a code of conduct that is like our constitution. That is: train our employees, divulge to our suppliers and to our clients, and people have to actually know what they’re capable of doing, what they’re allowed to do, and what are the procedures to take this in place.
We’re training our employees – we work like an octopus with lots of hands – and in that way we’re trying to reach everybody from different angles, and make them live the culture of the company.
World Finance: You put a real emphasis on reinvesting in the company to improve your products. What technologies are you exploring, and how has this strategy impacted your shareholder value?
Andrea Zambrano: Well we have more than 30 years of track record, of innovation in technology and investment in technology.
We started tempering and laminating glass only. And today we have curved glass, which is a very exotic way of fabricating glass. We have hurricane resistant windows. And recently we have a soft-coat plant, which produces low-emissivity glass.
So we’re reinvesting in ourselves, and we reinvent ourselves according to our clients’ and the market’s needs. The last couple of years, capex has been about $200m in reinvestment. In 2015 we got a new solar tech plant, which has these low-emissivity glasses. We additionally finished the installation of 15,000 solar panels, which are generating 4.8MW of energy for our consumption.
So we’re there. We’re reinvesting in ourselves all the time, and we’re trying to be a vanguard about it.
World Finance: And what’s Tecnoglass’s strategy and ambition for the next five years?
Andrea Zambrano: Oh, we want it all! The global construction industry was valued in 2016 at $86bn a year. We want to increase our market share in existing markets, where we’re currently selling – we had several recent acquisitions that have helped us permeate further the market in the US. And we have established new branches in Latin America. We have a new branch in Bolivia, another one in Paraguay, and we opened offices last year in Italy as well.
But we also want to expand into other markets. Global trends are different today, and we have to adapt to those global trends. So our research and development department is constantly trying to innovate high-end products that will grant end-to-end solutions to the construction industry.
We’re also always looking for M&A opportunities. They are always on the table. There are several opportunities on the market that might work, that we’re exploring right now. But we always think in the long-run. We’re here to stay.
World Finance: Andrea, thank you very much.
Andrea Zambrano: Thank you Paul.