Ricardo Claro

  • Interviewed 4 January 2008 in Santiago, Chile, by Andrea Lluch, Research Fellow, HBS
  • Clip Duration – 3:26

Mr. Claro reviews the different stages in his professional and business career, identifying specific moments in his activities and his gradual acquisition of shares in his companies. He also describes the most difficult and expansive times for the company businesses. Furthermore, he explores investment, diversification, and internationalization policies. He highlights the importance of a long-term vision, specificities of the Chilean context, and factors conducive to business success.

Interview Excerpt

R: Bueno, yo había sido formado por mi abuelo. Ganaba buenos honorarios. Había ganado muy buen dinero con este asunto del Banco Alemán, y, junto con mi hermano y dos compañeros de colegio, empezamos a comprar acciones de una compañía de seguros, y nos quedamos con el control. Luego compramos acciones de otra compañía de seguros y también la controlamos. A través de las inversiones en las compañías de seguros, obtuvimos influencia en el Banco Hipotecario, que después fue liquidado.

Yo tenía idea de formar un grupo empresarial joven, muy dinámico, porque el directorio del banco estaba formado por mucha gente vieja. No es que menosprecie a los viejos, tienen mucha experiencia, que uno no tiene, pero había un cambio en el mundo y hacía falta mucho más dinamismo. Por otra parte, esta gente no era partidaria de dirigir empresas con un gran sentido de lo que hoy en día se denomina responsabilidad social empresarial.

Para resumir el cuento, el grupo se metió en el Banco Hipotecario. El Banco Hipotecario estaba dirigido por una serie de señores muy venerables, pero su promedio de edad era como de 70 años. En ese entonces, había elecciones parciales de directores. El banco tenía nueve directores, o sea tres, tres y tres. Pero estuvimos juntando poderes, porque teníamos poderes –digamos, acciones propias de la compañía de seguros- para elegir un director en cada Junta. Conseguimos muchos poderes. Y en un momento dado, me di cuenta de que teníamos más de la mayoría. Entonces me acordé de un artículo del Código de Comercio que dice que la junta de accionistas puede revocar el poder de veto. Le comenté a mi socio: “podemos revocar y elegir todo el directorio por sorpresa”. Se rieron y dijeron: “no, no es posible”. “Sí, lo es, y estén seguros todos de que lo voy a hacer.” Fui a hablar con el superintendente de bancos, que era un gran profesor de Derecho Comercial de la misma facultad y un gran sabio de derecho comercial. Lo fui a ver y le dije: “mire, la situación es ésta”. “Entre usted y yo, tiene toda la razón”, me respondió, y agregó, “mandaré un delegado de la Superintendencia con instrucciones”. Entonces, organizamos un golpe de Estado.

A: I had been trained by my grandfather. I had earned a considerable amount of money; the Banco Alemán affair had yielded me significant fees, and I bought shares in an insurance company, together with my brother and two schoolmates. Eventually, we gained a controlling interest. Later, we bought shares in another insurance company, and we also got a controlling stake. Through these investments in insurance companies, we obtained influence on the Banco Hipotecario, which was later sold off.

My idea was to form a young, entrepreneurial and dynamic group, because many of the bank’s board members were elderly people. I don’t underestimate elderly people, as they have vast experience that the young do not, but the world was changing and it called for more dynamic forces. In addition, these members didn’t exactly favor the practice of what we currently call corporate social responsibility in company management.

To make a long story short, our group entered the Banco Hipotecario. The bank was led by a team of very revered men, with an average age of 70. At the time, board directors were appointed through partial elections. The bank had nine board directors: three, three and three. So we set out to collect votes, since we had power –insurance companies´ stock – to elect a director to each board. We raised a lot of votes. At this point, I realized we had majority voting power, and I recalled an article in the Code of Commerce that states that a shareholders´ board can revoke veto power. I told my partner, “We can revoke and replace the whole board.” Everybody laughed and said, “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can, and I will.” I went to see the Bank’s Superintendent, who was a renowned Commercial Law professor at the University; he was an expert in business law. I went to see him and I told him, “This is the situation”. And he answered, “Between you and me, you’re absolutely right,” and he added, “I will send a Superintendency delegate with instructions.” Thus, we set about organizing a coup d´état.

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