The Colombian financial world lives these days a history of intrigue, revenge and desire for power. In a move that has taken everyone by surprise, banker Jaime Gilinski has launched two hostile takeover bids to take control of the most important assets of Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño (GEA), the food company Nutresa and the financial holding Grupo Sura. . In the latter is Bancolombia, with whom the businessman drags an old trauma. The injured have received the news as a declaration of war. Gilinski, if his plans were successful, would become the second most important businessman in the country, only behind the richest of all, Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo.
The movement has blown up the calm that accompanies Christmas in Colombia, a time of recess with hardly any activity. You don’t talk about anything else in business circles. The Gilinskis (Jaime and his son Gabriel) sell the operation as the deal of the year for shareholders, who could charge up to about 40% more than its value. The takeovers end the second week of January, when it will be known if they have been successful. Gea administrators believe that Gilinski has taken advantage of a weak moment in which the stock is very low due to the pandemic and does not reflect the real value of the business. They believe that among their plans is to break up the companies and sell them in parts, a good short-term operation that, however, ends up with a powerful conglomerate that could obtain better results with more time.
The GEA is a rarity within the financial world of the country, in which the large owner families predominate. In contrast, this company has 14,000 shareholders, 40% with a stake below 2%. Among the minorities are pension funds, a guarantee for their affiliates. In the 70s they devised a strategy, that of castling, which consists of dividing the property in a series of crossed investments between the different companies that compose it. It was a tropicalization of the Japanese Keiretsu method. His goal was to protect himself from business families like the one now seeking control.
The regional component should not be forgotten in this matter. The GEA was created in Antioquia, whose capital is Medellín. In front of the aristocratic Bogotá, Medellín is considered the business heart of the country. Its entrepreneurs feel strong regional pride. Gilinski’s irruption, backed in the operation by the Abu Dhabi royal family with a letter of credit, means the arrival of a stranger who has come to change the entire local scene. Gilisnki, according to Bloomberg, has a net worth of $ 4.4 billion.
“I have many doubts about this operation,” says Jorge Restrepo, professor of economics at the Javeriana University. “Is it suitable for long-term interest? No. Is it suitable for the Colombian capital market? Either. If the Gikinskis take control of companies and take them out of the stock market, the market dries up. It would hardly exist ”, he adds.
Restrepo explains that the Colombian stock market does not have the depth to mark a correct price for companies in a context of crisis such as the current one. It is a market with very few participants, where it is difficult to have high marketability. There are hardly any people who buy and sell shares as a method of saving or speculation. The Antioquia union and its way of doing business was a way to stay afloat without being swallowed up by the great fortunes of the country. “The Antioquia business class is responsible for the development of the country, for the environment. Gilinski does not have these standards of community good ”, Restrepo ditch.
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From Antioquia they recognize that they have not been quick enough to look for investors who could avoid an operation like this. Or that they have been delayed in listing on more packaged exchanges, such as the one in New York. But his defense is to ensure that stocks will rise in the medium term and that in the long run there will be a solid profit. There they distrust Gilinski’s methods to take over their companies by force, with two companies created 12 months ago and with a capital of 250 dollars. Only Sura, for example, has an equity value close to 7,000 million dollars. The guarantees of the real bank adhere to the takeover bid, but not to a hypothetical civil liability. The group has felt unprotected by regulators and the government itself, which in a situation of financial prostration like the current one, they believe, should set limits.
Behind this hostile takeover are old squabbles. Bancolombia, the jewel of the Sura group, is at the center of the dispute, again. We must go back a quarter of a century. In 1997, the Gilinskis turned Banco de Colombia into one of the main financial entities in the country. The Colombian Industrial Bank, of Antioquia, kept 51% of its shares in exchange for paying the Gilinski 418 million. The entities merged, and from there Bancolombia was born. Later, the sellers showed their discomfort at how the operation had developed and brought to justice that part of the payment had been made with the investors’ own money, something that the other party denied. In the end, the banker lost, he was left without any stake in the merged bank. There are those who see in the current Opa an amendment by Giliiski to what happened then.
The battle between the parties has been transferred to the press. “The takeover bid for Nutresa: expectation for what would be the business deal of the year,” titled Semana last week. The magazine, once a journalistic reference, has belonged to the Gilinskis for more than a year. La Silla Vacía, a medium with less history, analyzed the 70 pieces of information that the magazine had published to conclude that the medium spread that the Opas were a big business and that Antioqueños are the villains in all this mess. Semana counterattacked by assuring that the GEA has financed the independent journalism of the Chair, something that was known because the media publishes its accounts every year. The confrontation has escalated on all fronts.
When Gilinski bought Semana, Colombians remembered him again. People had forgotten him because he was focused on his business abroad. Now, it definitely takes center stage. The banker wants to reign in Colombia and, incidentally, fix his past mistakes.
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