Uribe: Smart & Hard Working

The secret to Alvaro Uribe’s impressive success as Colombia’s president.


In the cabinet room of the Narino presidential palace in Bogota, there’s a long table where President Alvaro Uribe meets with his ministers. Except for one, all of the chairs around that table are large – the type CEO’s like to have in front of a luxurious desk. 

The one chair that is the exception is a simple – relatively small – office chair. That’s where Uribe sits.

That kind of no-nonsense modesty is just one of Uribe’s many traits that have made him popular in Colombia and among foreign investors. 

“I was always impressed with President Uribe’s drive and no-nonsense approach,” says Alvaro Diago, COO for Latin America & Caribbean at UK-based InterContinental Hotels Group. 

Other key traits behind his success as president include good old-fashioned hard work, intelligence, a knack for details and numbers and a passion for Colombia, say business executives. 

”I think everything about President Uribe is impressive,” says Susan Segal, President & CEO of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas. “He is extremely serious and focused yet very charismatic. He has a strong and assertive personality but engages his team and everyone around him. His vision and passion for his country, his knowledge of every detail and his strong sense of history are evident in all that he does and says.  But in summary, possibly, it is his optimism and tenacity never accepting no as an answer sprinkled with a sense of humor which has always impressed me.”


The attention to detail is one of the factors that most impressed foreign business executives meeting him for the first time. 

“He did not have to consult anyone to give an accurate number about the economy or any other data,” says Gabriel Rozman, Executive VP for Global Delivery Network at India-based Tata Consultancy Services. He also points to Uribe’s willingness to speak to any audience about any subject anyplace.  “In any meeting, without prior preparation, he accepted questions from press and public without fear of consequences,” he says.

Marcelo Modai, Colombia Country Manager for UK-based Standard Chartered Bank, agrees. “He has one of the brightest memories and the he way manages statistics and information is astonishing,” he says.

And that knowledge of detail hasn’t been limited to politics or economics, adds Yolanda Auza, General Manager of the LACSA Division at US-based Unisys. “No matter what kind of conversation he sounds [like an] expert in the most diverse subjects -- from energy to economy, from agriculture to technology, from health to history and so on,” she says.


Another key word that business executives who have met him repeat again and again is “passion.” 

Asked what impressed him most about Uribe, Cisco Latin America president Jaime Valles responds: “His passion and commitment to Colombia, his passion for details, his focus to analyze problems and formulate best possible solutions, his leadership and courage to face and solved some of the key problems of the country.” 

Modai agrees. “His passion for Colombia is …remarkable,” he says.

While Colombian presidents typically concentrated their time in capital Bogota or the business hub of Medellin, Uribe made a point to travel extensively throughout Colombia. He frequently held cabinet meetings outside of Bogota – even in remote villages. “He was able to engage different parts of the country outside the main cities,” Modai says.

During those travels he did what he always did when meeting groups – patiently going around, shaking hands with everyone, exchanging a few words. Acting more like Bill Clinton than a president with a price on his head from one of the world’s most ruthless terror groups, FARC.

One of the traits most admired among Colombians and foreign investors alike, is Uribe’s hard work. “He has … led by example, working long hours,” says Woods Staton, President and Chief Executive Officer of Argentina-based Arcos Dorados, the world’s largest McDonald’s franchise. 

During the World Economic Forum Latin America in Cartagena in April, Uribe typically started the day with a breakfast meeting and ended the day hosting the attendees. In between he had gone from meeting to meeting and held countless speeches. At one point he almost lost his voice, yet continued at full speed. 

“He’s a workaholic,” says Andres Ramirez, Vice President for Latin America for US-based Alberto Culver. Adds Alberto J. Bernal-León, Head of Research at Bulltick Capital Markets: “I doubt that Colombia will ever see a president that works more than Alvaro Uribe.”

Originally published in Latin Business Chronicle, August 3, 2010