The story of an Eldorado – a conference by Juan Villena

The story of an Eldorado

“What could have been the great industrial investment of the 20th. century in Uruguay…the story of my own experience on Uruguay 1993-2006”

Eldorado… the mythical search for riches that transform the life of those who found it…and the life adventure that implies for those who attempt it.

In his conference given March 25, 2019, after his designation as Correspondent Academic, the Spanish engineer Juan Villena invites us to share his search of an Uruguayan Eldorado, his professional and personal experiences in the decades between the 20th. and the 21st. century, leading the first foreign investor deciding to bet for Uruguay in order to produce cellulose from Eucaliptus trees.

“ENCE and Uruguay” is a business case analyzed, very rich in content, told in the first person. It speaks of the meaning and trascendency of decisions and actions of the stakeholders in those years of change in the sector and in the country, and contributes lessons learned on the explosion of this activity in Uruguay. ENCE, he says, was surely the detonator of everything, the hare in the race.

He tells (from his perspective as an investor) about the bet of Uruguay to develop through the forest industry, the scenario in which this decision came out, and the stakeholders…

“…what for ENCE was the key action for its future, striving to be a pioneer in many aspects as a vital demand, was not so clear for others, at least of course not in the beginning…”

“…today, any annual report in this sector speaks grandly about belonging to a world of bioproducts, and even some describe the weight of electric power generation in its business mix, but -when in the second half of the 1990’s this was told to the financial analists in our sector, they were very surprised- let alone the chance that would come to collect for fixing CO2…”

Villena explains the bet of that management team on what was named M’bopicuá…their name for Eldorado.

“…this idea took form progressively along the years, with its differences with other stakeholders in the sector…according to a strategic model that was always in the cutting edge of its approach…volatility of cellulose prices…¡is it a commodity?…logistics…technology…environmental tolerances, objective and subjective…power generation…compatibility of Eucaliptus with other uses…”

“…what was done in order to bring it to reality…location and its conditionants…scale of the factory…design and management model of the project…investment providers…financing.”

He also warns about what may carry the vision of a changing population of shareholders – their interests unaligned with the big strategic jump — the decisive weight in the outcome – and shares his reflections on success and decision making in windows of opportunity…on the role of property rights and managers…and the frequent controversy among them when windows open.

A trip, finally, that has left a deep footprint in the life of its protagonits, whieh he ends looking to the future with positive expectations, if well managed, because: Uruguay has already reached its Eldorado.