Embracing Innovation and the Diversity of the New

The career of Alejandro Betancourt Lopez is one marked by adaptation and innovation. Armed with two undergraduate degrees (economics and business administration) from Massachusetts’s Suffolk University, Betancourt returned to his native Venezuela — he is the great-grandson of Hermógenes López, who was briefly president in the late 19th century — and began working in the oil industry. As he advanced professionally, he came to increasingly embrace new technologies and expand his expertise into the sustainable-energy sector. And as he embraced life as an entrepreneur, he went onto diversify his portfolio into other fields, including finance and cutting-edge retail products.

His success is built on the idea of welcoming innovation and bringing new approaches to established business models — he has become ever more fascinated with technological change. While his career has expanded into the European Union via Spain, the opportunities that high-tech affords the developing world has driven him to work in both South America and Africa. The prospect for new lines of communication and development presented by the Internet is now a focal point of his investing and business efforts.

“When we think of an entrepreneur we usually have the idea of a person who creates a company and develops his own business, but entrepreneurship has other facets […] Corporate entrepreneurship is the set of initiatives that are developed within companies to create and generate value by promoting innovation with internal actions or by incorporating external knowledge to generate business opportunities,” Betancourt wrote in a blog entry entitled Corporate Entrepreneurship: Innovation Inward [all quotes are translated from the original Spanish]. “We must always remember that changes and the generation of ideas are slow processes in which the results may take time to appear. However, perseverance is important. As leaders of our companies, we must try to encourage and reward entrepreneurship to achieve continuous innovation in our products and services.”

Betancourt’s professional career began as a manager at several companies, including the commodities trader Guruceaga Group and BGB Energy (the Venezuelan arm of Kawasaki Heavy Industries). He was also the Latin American commercial manager for ICC-OEOC, a U.K. company that provides technological solutions to the offshore oil industry.

Eventually, Betancourt reached a point in his career when it was time to branch out on his own. He had accumulated a deep understanding of not only the oil industry but other sectors as well — including the particulars of international trade within the energy sector. He had also developed a great appreciation for technical application of innovation and an understanding of how it could be adapted across the modern economy.

“In general, it is essential to focus on looking for a niche market and identify a product or service that generates a better value than competitors offer in terms of quality or price,” he sums up in his blog Business Ideas to Undertake In 2019. “The options to undertake are very numerous — it is only necessary to know how to manage risk and be aware that constant innovation is a prerequisite for every successful entrepreneur. There will always be processes to improve and lessons to learn.”

In 2007, in partnership with Pedro Trebbau López, Betancourt founded his first company in order to play a leading role in the expanding thermoelectric power sector. At its outset, the company’s focus was overseeing the development and construction of efficient electricity-production facilities and the supply chain for their operation. It also offered testing and commissioning services.

Its strategy was to apply innovation and cutting-edge technology to a field — power generation — that, like the oil-extraction industry, had become somewhat established in its ways. Within a few years, the company had established itself as a leader in Venezuela and the wider region. It has built eleven simple-cycle thermoelectric power plants that have brought 1,386 megawatts onto the Venezuelan power grid and gone on to expand into wind, and solar projects as well. One of the underlying goals of the company is to create opportunities for homegrown research and development in Latin America.

A project in pursuit of that goal is the Technological Turbine Center (CTT) in Guácara, Carabobo State. Designed to provide faster and more comprehensive services to regional power producers — who have often had to wait for contractors from elsewhere in the world — it was a significant leap forward for Central America’s energy sector. The project received a “best technological initiative in Latin America” award from the Spanish magazine Capital in 2013.

When the project was announced Betancourt — whose company was also expanding operations into Spain at the time — spoke to the Spanish daily newspaper ABC.

“Spain has technology centers in the area of energy storage and very important networks. The technological advance of Spain in these centers is overwhelming. We want to invest in that technology and take it to countries like Venezuela,” Betancourt said. “[This is] a bet that aspires to position Venezuela as a great technology provider in Latin America. Come to our workshop instead of going to Germany or the United States. If you are from Mercosur [the economic bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela] or Alba [consisting of ten member states in the region], going to CTT will be cheaper and more efficient.”

Similarly, Alejandro’s company entered into a joint agreement with Simón Bolivar University in Caracas to create opportunities for training and career advancement in the energy sector. Such efforts fit into the company’s commitment to not only mitigate the macro issue of climate change, but also the micro impacts of development on the localities.

The company has established several in-house social responsibility initiatives. Its Green program sponsors reforestation and energy efficiency campaigns that target young people. The Foundation created under Alejandro’s leadership supports educational initiatives, especially in sports, science and technology (STEM), and efforts by the Oficina Nacional Antidrogas (ONA, National Anti-Drug Organization). The corporation also donates cash and makes in-kind contributions to communities in which it is active via its Hermógenes López Foundation, which has supported schools, community centers, and efforts to preserve the culture of the region’s indigenous people.

“The Hermógenes López Foundation is something which is of extreme importance to us all. We created the Foundation to ensure that our communities — and especially our children — are getting the best future possible,” Betancourt explained in a company press release. “When we take on a project, like building the Carmen Salles School in Ciudad Bolívar, we don’t just complete the build and that’s the end of it. We become completely involved in the projects. By doing this, we can ensure that the projects are successful and continue to be successful in the future. Knowing that we are making a difference is great, and we hope to continue doing more things like this for as long as we can. We are conscious that our electric power plants do generate emissions, so we are constantly looking for ways to balance out these emissions. To try and leave a greener footprint on the world, we also take part in ecological (environmental?) events and reforestation campaigns.”

O’Hara Administration

After founding and leading a business to a prominent role in the energy-production sector, Betancourt decided to explore new opportunities by founding O’Hara Administration. It’s an international asset management company with a stake in a wide range of investment vehicles, including two other companies that Betancourt is active in, Pacific Exploration & Production Corporation (formerly Pacific Rubiales Energy) and Hawkers.

Similar to his previous efforts to modernize electrical production outside developed countries, O’Hara ties into Betancourt’s belief in the need to strengthen the underlying business and entrepreneurial infrastructure of developing nations.

“The importance of banks for a country’s economy — and, of course, for the global free-market economy — is something long accepted and assumed. But, although in the developed countries it is already a more than consolidated sector, and its role is not a matter of debate, the same does not happen in developing countries ,” Betancourt writes in a blog entitled Banking Development as a Decisive Factor for Third World Economies. “In countries with developing economies, not only is there a lack of funds and financing capacity, but in many cases, there is also a huge deficit of access to banking in more physical terms. Although the growth possibilities of these countries are enormous, in many cases it is not easy to establish and prosper, since their conditions are not similar to those of European, American, or Asian states.”

BDK Group

This has led Betancourt into being active in developing banking service in Africa, including holding a major stake in the Banque du Dakar (BDK), based in Senegal and serving French-speaking Africa. The bank was created by a group of international investors who saw the need to create an economic engine in the sub-Saharan region.

“Opening banks in Africa is one of the biggest challenges, as there are great difficulties. However, BDK efforts are already paying off and thanks to a series of agreements we have managed to establish in countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Mali. Through our offices, companies and individuals can opt for payment solutions and financial savings, investment, or financing products, including microcredits,” Betancourt explains in his blog Business Development, Key to the Future of Africa. “The final objective is to favor the population’s approach to banking products by allowing them to do business and, therefore, energize the business development that is so necessary throughout the continent.”

Pacific Exploration & Production

A major investment in 2015 by O’Hara into Pacific Exploration & Production was a throwback to Betancourt’s early days in the oil industry. It was already a major Latin American oil company when he became director of its board after acquiring approximately 20 percent of its stock. He has overseen continued growth as it has expanded into Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela.

“We were nimble, fast. We wouldn’t ask for a down payment; we took the risk,” Betancourt explained to Bloomberg in 2015 about his aggressive move back into the petroleum sector. “We have taken similar risks many times before. And we will continue to do it.”

Hawkers

Speaking of taking aggressive risks — and unlike his investment into an industry with which he was deeply familiar with Pacific Exploration & Production — in 2016 Betancourt partnered with several Spanish investors and infused 50 million euros into the sunglasses startup Hawkers. He became president of the company in November of 2016. The goal is to make the company a force in international fashion.

Of all of Betancourt’s holdings, it is the one in which he can most directly explore his interest in the possibilities of technological innovation in the marketplace. The ability to use social media — instead of traditional media advertising campaigns — appeals to his innovative spirit, especially as it relates to business operations outside of developed nations.

“Hawkers generated a business model based on the strategy of creating an innovative and user-friendly market, thanks to the opportunities of digital transformation, which has revolutionized the fashion and accessories industry,” he writes in his blog Hawkers, The Innovation Revolution. “One of the keys to the success of Hawkers has been user-focused marketing through social networks. Social networks have served as advertising tools to position the brand, as data collection instruments to make key decisions, and as a means to campaign with influencers that dominate these platforms. Facebook recognizes us as the company with the best advertising performance in Europe, the East, and Africa. And on Twitter, we have managed to break records of organic trending topics.”

Betancourt is very bullish on his company and his foray into direct retail.

“We’re going to eat at Ray-Ban,” he told El Mundo in an interview late in 2016. “With Hawkers, we did a study of the company and saw that it was an innovative company. We invented a concept of a market that was not being used — the sale of quality designer glasses at an affordable price through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google.”

The use of developing technology that is global in scope makes Hawkers the perfect vehicle for Betancourt’s ambitions.

The company has enjoyed strong growth and, supplementing its robust online sales, it is now expanding into brick-and-mortar retail with its flagship Madrid store and new outlets in Barcelona, Rome, Mexico, and Columbia. It has also created micro-stores throughout Spanish-speaking Europe.

“As a manager and enthusiast of a brand that started with 300 euros and that, in less than four years, has billed €100 million in 50 countries thanks to the Internet and good digital marketing practices, I can say that today Hawkers represents a reference point to establishing a business. It continues making history in an increasingly changing and competitive world,” Betancourt summed up in the blog post Break Schemes to Make History.

Conclusion

Though still under the age of 40, Alejandro Betancourt Lopez has built a vibrant career based on his investment in and management of diverse holdings. Recognizing the power of new technologies and innovation to impact established business models, he is forging ahead with initiatives cutting across industries and business models.

Connect with Alejandro Bentacourt Lopez

Originally published at https://thenewsversion.com on September 27, 2019.

President of Hawkers Co. | International businessman, based in London, UK | Learn More: www.alejandrobetancourt.es or www.alejandro-betancourt.com

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