Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- As confetti and balloons fall from the ceiling, scores of bankers dressed as characters from TV shows and movies hit the dance floor in a circus-sized party tent in Lima, Peru. Jedi knights from Star Wars wave glowing green light sabers while the Flintstones groove to blasting techno-pop. Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor, one of Latin America’s least known billionaires, joins the throng, wearing a white wig, a silly hat and a big smile.
Rodriguez-Pastor, who normally shuns publicity, is hosting the costume party on this June evening for 4,000 employees of IFH Peru Ltd., the Lima-based financial services and retail conglomerate he has built and run since 1995. His top managers, made up as Batman, Herman Munster and Happy Days’ Fonzie, perform musical skits that showcase corporate values such as innovation and teamwork, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue.
“This is the best team-building exercise I know,” says Rodriguez-Pastor, 52, as members of his bank’s board of directors, dressed in Star Trek uniforms, dance behind him. “We can all be ridiculous together.”
The tycoon, little known outside Peru, belongs to a new breed of Latin empire builders who are capitalizing on a decade-long boom in the region. Rodriguez-Pastor has cobbled together a family of companies that offers everything from credit cards to groceries to mutual funds, making him worth about $3 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on his various holdings.
Wave of Wealth
“Our sweet spot is the emerging middle class,” Rodriguez-Pastor says. “Our big bet is that it’s going to take off.” He granted Bloomberg Markets his first extensive interview to highlight how his company’s growth reflects the rising fortunes of Peru, one of South America’s most impoverished nations.
Rodriguez-Pastor’s story shows how the industrialization of Asia and the commodities boom in Latin America have set off a wave of wealth creation reaching from Beijing and New Delhi to Sao Paulo and Lima.
After enduring debt meltdowns and hyperinflation in the 1980s and 1990s, governments in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other Latin American nations have embraced free trade and fiscal discipline. Even left-leaning leaders such as Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, have produced budget surpluses and repaid International Monetary Fund loans early.
Latin nations cleaned up their act just as China’s explosive growth drove demand for the natural resources found in abundance in the region. While corruption and income inequality still plague Latin America, not even the global financial crash in 2008 could derail its robust economies. The region’s GDP grew 6 percent in 2010, and the IMF forecasts it will expand another 4.7 percent this year, compared with an average of 2.3 percent for the Group of Seven nations.
A Different Reality
No major Latin American country has grown more than Peru since 2001, according to the IMF. Its mineral-rich, $168 billion economy jumped 73 percent from 2001 to 2010. Peru, which defaulted on its sovereign debt in the mid-1980s and suffered years of runaway inflation and the terrorism of the Shining Path insurgency, now boasts a solid government-debt-to-GDP ratio of 23 percent compared with 93 percent for the U.S.
The World Bank reports that Peru has lifted more than 65 percent of its 29 million people out of poverty from less than 50 percent in 2000. And Lima, a sprawling city of 9 million that has long been emblematic of Third World misery, is today bristling with construction cranes and new shopping centers. The Plaza San Martin, in its historic center, which used to be overrun by child thieves known as piranhas, is now ringed with bustling sidewalk cafes.
State of Crisis
“Our generation grew up in a constant state of crisis, and for the first time, we see a different reality,” says Luis Enrique Pardo-Figueroa, 48, a Lima-based lawyer who represents industrial companies. “We feel like Peru is a viable country.”
Rodriguez-Pastor has focused his conglomerate of supermarkets, department stores, fast-food restaurants, hotels and movie theaters directly on Peru’s rising tide of consumers. The group, which is on course to produce $3 billion in revenue this year, has even started developing for-profit private elementary schools that immerse students as young as 3 years old in English. Rodriguez-Pastor and his family control these assets through IFH Peru, a private holding company.
Intergroup Financial Services Corp., his flagship, is a consumer-banking and insurance group that trades on the Lima Stock Exchange. Known as Interbank in Peru, the company is the country’s No. 4 financial services firm, with more than $8 billion in assets.
106 Percent Return
The bank’s return on equity, which shows how well it manages its capital, was 32 percent in the first quarter compared with an average ROE of 7.7 percent for U.S. retail banks. As of Aug. 3, Intergroup’s shares had returned 120 percent since the company’s initial public offering on June 20, 2007.
The stock’s performance has made Rodriguez-Pastor a billionaire: IFH Peru owns a 71 percent stake in Intergroup Financial. In March, he also raised a $350 million private-equity fund with outside investors under the name Nexus Group, which buys stakes in many of IFH Peru’s companies.
“Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor understood that our economic growth would require modernized offerings,” former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who was set to step down on July 28 after completing his second non-consecutive term in office, said in an interview at the presidential palace in Lima. “He built shopping centers in parts of the country where none had existed before. I believe Interbank is, perhaps, the most modern company in Peru.”
Growth in Jeopardy
This new Peru was thrown into doubt on June 5 when Ollanta Humala, a former army lieutenant colonel, was elected president after promising more programs to help the poor. Humala has long-standing ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and in the past, he embraced the socialist firebrand’s policies of nationalization. Humala supports steep tax hikes on mining operators to fund anti-poverty initiatives and the introduction of a national pension system financed solely from tax revenue. He has pledged not to nationalize Peru’s natural gas reserves and to respect private enterprise. The Lima Stock Exchange has increased less than 1 percent from the election through Aug. 3, and Intergroup slid 10 percent.
“People feel our growth could be in jeopardy,” says Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru’s finance minister, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and a presidential candidate this year for a center-right coalition party.
Fled by Foot
Rodriguez-Pastor says he’s confident that Peruvian consumers will keep spending. IFH Peru’s real-estate development arm, headed by Carlos Casa-bonne, is building Interbank villages in Peru’s provinces that bring together the company’s numerous businesses in one location to maximize sales.
In Chimbote, an industrial city on the north coast, the company is financing the construction of 5,000 houses around a town center that features a new courthouse. Interbank will supply home-owners with their mortgages, and the $170 million development will be anchored by the company’s Plaza Vea supermarket, its InkaFarma pharmacy and its movie theater, private school and burger joint.
“We are in full development mode, and unless there are some crazy things that happen in the next five years, I see no need to slow down,” Rodriguez-Pastor says. “We only have Plan A; there is no Plan B.”
Savored the Action
Rodriguez-Pastor was 9 years old when General Juan Velasco Alvarado seized power in a nonviolent coup in 1968. Rodriguez-Pastor’s father, Carlos, chief executive officer of Peru’s central bank, resisted Velasco’s efforts to nationalize industries. When Velasco ordered his arrest in March 1969, Carlos Sr. fled by foot across the Ecuadorian border and eventually settled with his wife and six children in Lafayette, California, a suburb east of San Francisco.
Carlos Sr. went to work as an international banker at Wells Fargo & Co. Rodriguez-Pastor enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1979 and worked as a teller in a Wells Fargo branch for four years to pay for school. He forced himself to overcome his shyness by taking a job conducting marketing surveys in a suburban shopping mall.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in social studies, Rodriguez-Pastor went on to receive an MBA at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1988. He then moved to New York and became co-head of the emerging-markets sales and trading desk at Citigroup Inc.
He savored the action on Wall Street, and in 1993, he jumped at the chance to set up a New York-based hedge fund at Banco Santander SA with fellow Citi alumni Hari Hariharan and Manuel Balbontin. Called New World Investments, the firm focused on emerging markets.
Returns to Peru
By 1994, Carlos Sr. had returned to Peru and led a group of investors that acquired a distressed 98-year-old firm called Banco Internacional del Peru from the government for $51 million. The next year, he asked his son to come and help him run it.
Rodriguez-Pastor, then 36, was torn. He was determined to make his own way without his father’s help, and he loved his hedge-fund career. He also had a long-standing agreement to work with his dad once they each managed about the same amount of money. Rodriguez-Pastor was overseeing $1 billion at New World compared with the $600 million that Carlos Sr. managed in Lima. He agreed to return to Peru for a spell.
“I wanted my independence, but my heart was always in Latin America,” he says, sitting at a table heaped with platters of grilled octopus and other Peruvian delicacies at Central, a Lima eatery. “So I said, ‘Let’s see how this goes.’”
Assumes Full Control
Four months after father and son joined forces, Carlos Sr., then 60, suffered a fatal heart attack on a treadmill during a business trip to Detroit. Rodriguez-Pastor, who had invested in the bank, now assumed control of the company and considered selling it. Peru, then in the throes of President Alberto Fujimori’s autocratic rule, was roiled by corruption scandals and the aftershocks of the war on Marxist insurgencies.
Yet the government had curbed inflation largely through introduction of a new currency, the nuevo sol, and gross domestic product had rallied almost 13 percent in 1994. Rodriguez-Pastor bet that Peru was stabilizing and opted to stay at what is now Interbank. There was only one problem: He didn’t know how to run a retail bank.
So Rodriguez-Pastor called Thomas Brown, an analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. in New York who took clients on tours of U.S. banks. Rodriguez-Pastor showed up for Brown’s 1996 trip with five deputies in tow, and they visited Commerce Bank and Wells Fargo. They quizzed executives on everything from customer service to credit card management, to locating ATMs.
“What he really wanted to know was: How do you get engaged front-line employees? How do you get them motivated?” says Brown, who now runs a New York-based hedge fund called Second Curve Capital LLC.
Rodriguez-Pastor figured that the only way to break into a market dominated by Banco de Credito del Peru was salesmanship. Emulating marketing maestros such as former Southwest Airlines Co. CEO Herb Kelleher, he cultivated a loose corporate culture that turned branches into balloon-filled playrooms for kids and encouraged employees to sell products with humor.
Rodriguez-Pastor, who shuttles between Lima and an apartment in Manhattan, has surrounded himself with Ivy League-trained Peruvian executives willing to perform in company talent shows. He introduced his management philosophy by riding a Harley-Davidson on stage dressed as Elvis Presley at the company party in 1996.
Sense of Urgency
He’s also an exacting, detail-obsessed boss who’s fond of posing as a customer in his supermarkets to see how well clerks know their shelves. And he imparts his sense of urgency on his managers, says Luis Felipe Castellanos, the retail bank’s CEO and a former investment banker at Salomon Smith Barney in New York.
“I can come out dressed as a clown one day, but we have to hit our goals every month,” says Castellanos, 40, a Dartmouth grad.
Rodriguez-Pastor’s push into retailing came about almost by accident. In 1996, he negotiated a deal to place Interbank mini branches in stores operated by Grupo de Supermercados Wong, the No. 1 grocery chain in Peru. He dressed up as a giant carrot and handed out credit card promotions at the markets. By 2003, Interbank was operating more than 20 percent of its outlets inside Wong supermarkets. Negotiations to renew the deal stalled.
A Serious Threat
“That posed a serious threat,” says Juan Carlos Vallejo, head of Interseguro, Interbank’s insurance unit. “So Carlos decided to go out and buy our own supermarkets.”
In 2003, Interbank acquired a troubled chain of 30 Peruvian supermarkets owned by Dutch retailer Royal Ahold NV for only $70 million and transferred its mini branches from Wong stores. Eight years later, Interbank’s Supermercados Peruanos unit, with 68 stores and plans for nine more, expects to record $1 billion in revenue in 2011 compared with $787 million for the bank.
Rodriguez-Pastor says he wants to take his retail group public in the next 12 to 24 months. And his real-estate unit, in partnership with a Peruvian builder, plans to break ground next year on IFH Peru’s most ambitious venture to date: a $500 million project designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel that will place three office towers, a luxury hotel, 300 residences and a shopping mall featuring IFH Peru stores on 16 acres of the Lima waterfront.
Rodriguez-Pastor’s big plans might backfire if Chinese demand for metals, Peru’s No. 1 export, ebbs. And should Humala, who was to take office on July 28, pursue radical tax and spending policies, investors may export their capital to more-favorable countries.
There’s no sign of worry inside the mammoth tent at IFH Peru’s annual party. Several young women dressed as Morticia Addams ask Rodriguez-Pastor, beer in hand, to pose with them for a smartphone photo. The billionaire looks sheepish afterward.
“I’m a very public figure inside my company but not on the outside,” he says. As IFH Peru grows more influential, and Rodriguez-Pastor’s wealth mounts, his days of anonymity are coming to an end.
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