Professional of the Month. We visited one of the three offices of the Sui Color network in Buenos Aires, where we interviewed its manager, Guillermo Ortega, in the midst of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of this painting shop in permanent expansion.
By Federico Duarte Garcés
At the beginning of this century, Guillermo Ortega's painting venture was 'cornered' by the suffocating economic situation in Argentina. The longest recession in the country's history had led to the "Corralito" decreed by then-President Fernando de la Rua.Sales began to fall sharply and the checks he usually received could no longer be paid by his customers. Thus, it had to file for bankruptcy and resolve the closure of a business adventure that began in the 80s.
However, there would remain the ashes of the network of paint shops that he would form a couple of years later and that today celebrates two decades of existence in three different offices in Buenos Aires.
Driver of dreams clothed in effort
Guillermo was born in Colón, but arrived in the capital with his parents when he was nine years old. The ball in the street and a bit of tennis were part of his planning in those days. However, motor racing was already the sport that attracted him the most; Much more than football, a novelty for an Argentinian.
Despite being a River Plate fan, he would only attend the Monumental twice. On the other hand, on a couple of occasions he would follow in the footsteps of a friend who lived near the racetrack to enter unnoticed this, the scene of a score of Formula 1 competitions, conquered by racers such as Emerson Fittipaldi and Michael Schumacher.
However, the formula they applied was for national category events: they would get into the wire fence at six in the morning to avoid paying, and wait until 9 a.m. lying on the top step of the grandstand so that they would not be detected by the security personnel, enduring the respective summer heat or winter cold.
"You look at it today and it's an ordeal," he says in retrospect, acknowledging that fanaticism has not been his thing, in any sense, although this passion for automobiles led him to train as a mechanical engineer.
It was 1973 when he finished high school and chose that career. He was 20 years old. The following year, however, he did his military service; On his way back, an uncle who ran a paint shop called Casa Poggi, near the college where he was studying, invited him to work with him. Thus began his immersion in the world of coatings.
Ten years later, around the time that Raúl Alfonsín was taking over as the 'father of democracy' after the period of civil-military dictatorship led by the National Reorganization Process, a retired military officer who sold products for the Armed Forces approached the place where Guillermo worked inquiring about the value of ten cans of paint.
Guillermo was in charge of this client, who would eventually become his business partner after encouraging him to start his own paint distributor.
It was a small place, but it began to grow as tenders were made with the State and private companies. His days lasted more than 16 hours in which he drove a van to pick up and deliver the different orders he answered on the phone. However, at the end of the 90s, problems with collections began and sales decreased until they reached almost zero in that fateful 2001.
Reborn to grow
"I'm not one to give up easily," says Guillermo, who by then, close to his 50th birthday, still considered himself a young man, and that "from that experience, like so many other SMEs, I had to rise from the ashes."
"The country was being reborn, with a new government, with new rules, with a brutal devaluation that had led to an exit from convertibility. The issue of the Corralito in part helped families to buy paints, coatings with debit cards since, remember that you couldn't take out much cash, and families repaired and fixed their weekend houses in case they had them," recalls Guillermo, noting that construction began to be reactivated and, Therefore, architects, engineers, painters, among others, also began to buy from us."
Thus, he realized that the country and life gave him a second chance in a subject in which he was an expert, "that the failure of my previous SME had not been due to poor management or ignorance, but due to situations typical of a very difficult country such as Argentina. And it was a personal challenge to be a benchmark in this field again, correcting mistakes."
In this way, he brought together the two partners who had remained with him, with whom he fought for two years in which he was able to reach an agreement with the owner of the rented premises on Álvarez Thomas Avenue (today with a mural of Maradona at the entrance), and in 2003, under the corporate name of Propimat S.R.L., he founded the Sui Color network of paint shops.
From the contribution of 4,000 dollars from new partners and the credit of different factories, among which he cites Revestimientos Sitex, Emapi and PPG, who "supported us from the beginning, trusting in our knowledge of the market", the company was reborn and flourished even more over time.
Today, apart from the company's product showroom in the town of Posadas, province of Misiones, which sells and distributes its products, as well as a franchise in the city of La Plata, the network has six of its own stores in the Buenos Aires neighborhoods of Colegiales, Parque Chacabuco, an outlet in Villa Urquiza and the last store inaugurated at the end of June 2019 in Caballito. This was the one we visited last October in the middle of the celebration of the network's 20th anniversary.
More than a paint shop
Behind a series of shelves of industrial and architectural paintings, which labyrinthine mark the way to the first floor, there is a small corridor to ascend the stairs that lead to the Training Center inaugurated last May under the name of Ale Gherzi, in tribute to one of the company's most beloved employees.
Before entering the 70-square-meter room where the theoretical/practical training is carried out, which gives continuity to the courses started in 2019 for professionals in the paints and coatings industry, there is Mr. Guillermo. He remains seated with his head held high and fully willing to attend to us, despite a commitment later in Belgrano and the fact that his cell phone rings from time to time, which he puts aside.
Just like on the days of his first job, his day begins when he wakes up at 6 a.m. and runs until 7 p.m. when he returns home to turn on his computer and get to work on a budget or order, before going to bed at 11 p.m. A few months ago, before his wife died of advanced cancer, he kept the computer with him at home to devote himself fully to the care of her, María Marta.
During this time he has been supported by the company's 17 current employees, eight of them direct salespeople, who have become a family. She knows each one of them personally and recognizes their abilities and potential to build their own professional path, like that marketing girl who, before making the leap to a multinational, proposed the slogan "More than a paint shop" that endures as part of the organization's name.
"I tell the kids who work with me: look, I'm not going to take anything from here. If you are alive, you work all your life and that's it; but when I'm in the wheelchair, I'm not going to need more than that," says Guillermo, with his gaze fixed on his glasses, after pointing out his desire for the members of his team to learn the functions that he has developed for so long on his own and establish themselves in new positions.
"There is no more room for the self-taught entrepreneur or one who has the desire, nothing more. Today you're competing with monsters, so you have to be creative from the experience side; the only thing you have at the moment is not money, but experience: having lived through a lot of crises, like the one in 2001 or now," says Guillermo, who in more than 40 years of work considers that he has a master's degree in crisis management and unexpected situations.
For this reason, his call to all entrepreneurs is that "do not give up in the face of adversity, that you learn from mistakes so as not to make them again, that going bankrupt and starting over is not the death of anyone". He says this by reaffirming that in five years he sees himself "working with the same enthusiasm that I have now".
"In ten years I'll be 80, so I don't know if I'll still be at the helm of the company or advising it from my home and going a few times a week. But I don't see myself totally retired. I have a lot of energy and a lot of my life put into Sui Color," he remarks.