Tomás Hudson

  • Interviewed 17 December 2007 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Andrea Lluch, Research Fellow, HBS
  • Clip Duration – 3:44

Mr. Hudson summarizes his professional career at ICI-Duperial Argentina, his time at Indian Rubber in the early 1960s, and his return to ICI-Duperial as head of the plastic division, as well as various positions he held at the company until his retirement in 1992. From his experience as CEO of an English multinational company, he elaborates on the affiliate-parent company relationship. He analyzes the company-state relationship and multinationals’ strategies to adapt themselves to different Argentine economic cycles.

Interview Excerpt

R: Bueno, volviendo al tema de Malvinas, fue una época difícil. Pero mirando hacia atrás realmente, fue un momento donde podrían haber ocurrido cosas muy complicadas y dramáticas, pero, en la práctica, como se dice, no pasó nada. Es decir, muy hábilmente, el estado nacional decidió poner veedores en empresas de capital británico. Nosotros como fabricábamos munición, aunque era munición de caza, recibimos un veedor militar, un coronel de Fabricaciones Militares que no conocíamos, a pesar de que tenemos muy estrechas conexiones con Fabricaciones Militares porque le comprábamos la pólvora, etc. para la munición deportiva. Pero esto nos vino muy bien.

Porque no existía la menor razón para esconderle algo a él. La empresa tenía una ética, y desde el punto de vista ética moral a ética financiera, a la ética de medio ambiente, a la ética de seguridad, todo era una cosa completamente transparente. Yo no tenía que esconderle nada a nadie. Esto es muy importante en la vida de un ejecutivo. Siempre la empresa tuvo esa política y me apoyó en eso. Es decir, claro, fue un momento dramático, porque las comunicaciones con la casa matriz se redujeron. No tuvimos visitas, no fuimos allí. Pero, por otra parte, la parte positiva es que teniendo un veedor, yo le daba acceso a toda reunión de Directorio, a las copias -en ese momento télex- y el recibía copias de todo. Además, lo paseé por todas las fábricas, todos los departamento, como un trainee. El se hizo empresario, en ese sentido. Se puso la camiseta. Le gustaba la empresa, se dio cuenta de que era una empresa transparente, de que todos nosotros teníamos un objetivo: que la empresa tuviera éxito. Entonces lo que podría haber sido difícil en la práctica no pasó nada.

P: ¿Y el gobierno se limitó a poner un veedor, no intervino?

R: Nada. Todo el resto seguía la rutina de cualquier otra empresa multinacional. Salvo que importar algo directamente del Reino Unido estaba básicamente vedado. Pero siendo una empresa internacional, y no era meter la mula, si un producto lo fabricaba nuestra asociada en Sudáfrica (que era una empresa mixta) lo podíamos traer. Yo podía decirle al veedor: solicito un permiso de importación para traer tal producto farmacéutico, del cual ya teníamos otro sector para mí nuevo y fascinante que era farmacéuticos. Entonces tuvimos angustias personales por el conflicto, evidentemente, pero pasó como si nada.

A: Going back to the Malvinas crisis…it was a very tough time. However, upon looking back, it could be said that even though it was a time when complicated and dramatic events could have occurred, in practice, so to say, nothing happened. In a deft move, the government assigned overseers to all companies of British capital. Since we manufactured ammunition, hunting ammunition actually, we were assigned a military overseer, a colonel from Fabricaciones Militares. We did not know the man, even though we had a tight relationship with Fabricaciones Militares because we bought gunpowder from them for sporting ammunition.

However, we were not worried, we had nothing to hide. The company had ethics, not just moral ethics, but financial, environmental and security-related ethics as well. Everything was crystal clear; I had nothing to hide. This is crucial in the life of an executive. The company had always upheld this policy and supported me. I mean, it was a difficult time because communications with our parent company were reduced; we neither received nor made visits. However, there was a positive side to it. I gave the overseer access to copies of all board meeting documents –telex copies; he received copies of everything. In addition, I walked him around all the plants and departments, as if he were a trainee. In a way, he became a business man. He wore the company’s colors. He liked the company and he realized that its operations were transparent and that all of us were of a singular mindset: making the company succeed. So, what could have been tough was actually not so.

Q: Did the government limit itself to assigning an overseer? Was there no governmental intervention?

A: No. Besides the presence of overseers, operations continued in routine fashion. Except that direct imports from the British Kingdom were banned. But since we were an international company, if our partner company in South Africa manufactured any one product (it was a joint venture), we could import it from there. And it was legal alright. I could tell the overseer: we need an import permit to bring, say, a pharmaceutical product. And by the way, the company had opened a new pharmaceutical sector which I found fascinating. So, we did have personal worries on account of the conflict, of course, but nothing much happened at the company level.

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