The capital Montevideo, founded by the Spanish in 1726 as a military stronghold, soon took advantage of its natural harbor to become an important commercial center. Claimed by Argentina but annexed by Brazil in 1821, Uruguay declared its independence four years later and secured its freedom in 1828. Uruguay is a small country, located at the south of South America, between Argentina and Brazil. It has a population of about three million people scattered over a flat surface of 176,220 km², which means Uruguay would fit almost four times into France. It is a Spanish-speaking country, and most of the population is of Spanish or Italian descent. Uruguay’s political and labor conditions are among the most liberal on the continent.
We went to Montevideo and visited Oscar Baccaro, the General Manager of Sika Uruguay.
What are your personal secrets for leading a team?
I don’t think that they are personal secrets. Motivation is generally a key factor for maintaining a spirit of proactivity, innovation and commitment. Team cohesiveness is also very important, especially because the different roles could create conflicts of interest. Part of my job is to reconcile differing opinions and put the focus on our common goals, underpinning the notion that we are one team. And I also try to encourage the whole organization to permanently live up to the Sika culture, as clearly expressed in our values and principles: Customer First, Courage for Innovation, Managing for Results, Sustainability and Integrity, Empowerment and Respect.
What is the first thing that springs to mind when someone asks you how it is to work in Uruguay? What makes this little country special?
When you consider that Uruguay is inside Latin America, the country has some clear advantages in terms of political stability, institutions, investor protection, education standards, and social awareness of sustainability, etc. On the other hand, as we are a small country with only 3.3 million inhabitants, the domestic market is quite small and foreign investment is not so high as it should be given the country’s political and business landscape. Thanks to these favorable conditions, the country has achieved a reasonable level of education and social development which, on the whole, is higher compared to the majority of Latin America.
Uruguay is characterized by an export-oriented agricultural sector and a well-educated work force, along with high levels of social spending, although the economy is very dependent on Brazil and Argentina, neither of which can boast a stable economic track record. Do you think Uruguay can keep up these great achievements going forward?
Like all Latin America, clearly the economic situation in Uruguay is currently not as favorable as in the past ten years, mainly because of the fall in the prices of raw materials. And also, as you pointed out, because our two neighboring countries are not as financially stable. In general terms, Uruguay has tried in the last few years to diversify its exports, reducing its dependence on Argentina in particular. So while the short-term view shows a scenario of market slowdown, in the middle and long term, we expect Uruguay to continue growing.
How about the construction market? Where exactly does the country need Sika?
Public investment in infrastructure is normally not high, with government spending frequently directed at social housing. Renewable energy sources are a clear priority and part of long-term government policy, particularly wind energy. As for private investment, the real estate business is concentrated in Montevideo and Punta del Este. The rest of the market is composed of small building projects, recycling schemes and the DIY market. For this reason, the distribution channel is very important for us, covering almost 2/3 of our total sales through builder’s merchants, hardware stores, paint dealers, etc. That is also the reason why the markets refurbishment and roofing are Sika Uruguay’s biggest market. We are leading the market for interior finishing, mainly with tile adhesives, renderings, coatings and waterproofing products.
Any new trends in construction?
Uruguay still has a very “traditional” way of construction, based on the Italian influence, with the emphasis on manual labor. However, the last few years have witnessed some new trends, spelling an increase in precast and industrialized methods, in particular in the social housing and industrial building segments. The concrete sector has seen further integration of the ready-mix industry, which accounts for the major part of the concrete currently manufactured in Uruguay. And this widescale industrialization of processes is being accompanied by increased use of pre-packed dry mortars, a new trend that is growing slowly but surely.
Where is Sika Uruguay heading to?
Our main focus is on maintaining our market leadership and brand awareness, which is probably among the highest worldwide, on continuing to bring innovation to the market in the form of new products, systems and solutions, and on giving added value to our customers. We need to reinforce this with strong communication, so we have to improve our digital strategy and move quickly to find new ways of interacting with customers, institutions and society. And of course, it is very important to remain committed to driving sustainability, both outside and inside Sika, including our engagement in socially responsible projects.
Internally, we aim to continue developing our people, promoting them or assigning them new responsibilities, and keeping Sika Uruguay as efficient and fit as possible.
What do you personally enjoy most about living in Uruguay?
Many things: Montevideo is a very nice city, with very little traffic congestion (a rare and welcome claim for any Latin American capital), it’s quite safe, and most importantly, Uruguayans are all very friendly and respectful. They are extremely open-minded, which provides numerous opportunities to suggest new ideas and new projects and to enjoy working on them together.
What do you wish for your country for the future?
Primarily, to maintain our key advantages as the country I described above: with respect for institutions, political stability, investment protection, and high standards of education and social responsibility. And we should also improve our productivity and infrastructure in order to be more competitive as a country.
Get more information about Sika Uruguay.