We are focused on maintaining the company’s traditional values while also refreshing its vision for the future.
Avila Wagner SAS represents an entrepreneurial legacy that has been sustained across the family for close to 50 years. It began with the passionate efforts of the original founders, Nelly Vélez and her husband José Ávila, who acquired a retail hardware operation in 1971. Ferretería Argentina (Argentina Hardware Store) was located in the town of Pasto outside the main markets of southern Colombia, where hardware companies were not well-situated at the time. The couple’s ambition was to stand out from their competitors. Energized by that competitive spirit, they made an 8-hour journey across rural roads every 2 weeks to stock up on products in the city of Popayán.
With a larger inventory of high-quality products, lower prices and great customer service, Nelly and José succeeded in setting themselves apart. By 2010, Ferretería Argentina employed 150 people in three stores with sales approaching 40 billion pesos (US$11 million). They also succeeded in sharing their values and entrepreneurial character with their children and their youngest daughter, María Fernanda, in particular.
From its earliest days, the Avila family’s entrepreneurial ambition was reflected in a commitment to shared leadership by both men and women in a traditionally male-dominated business. The starting point was a bold decision by Nelly Vélez to sell her family home in order to finance the acquisition of Ferretería Argentina, the starting point for her and husband José to work side-by-side and build a thriving business together.
That same entrepreneurial energy reemerged with another female member of the family in 1997 when María Fernanda, the youngest daughter of Nelly and José, opened Ferretería Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Hardware Store) together with her husband Petter Wagner under the legal entity Avila Wagner Limited.
In a business that might typically be seen as ‘men’s work’, the contributions of mother Nelly and daughter María Fernanda are noteworthy. In addition to being the cofounder of her business, María Fernanda has held several influential roles in Ferretería Buenos Aires, ranging from sales and treasury to overseeing the company’s substantial financial affairs.
The founders of Ferretería Argentina and Ferretería Buenos Aires have built a strong sense of ’emotional ownership’ into their businesses with family and non-family members alike. This affinity and loyalty to the business underpins their strong commitment to its success and the family’s keen interest in keeping it growing for future generations.
It is widely recognized that succession planning is not an event that happens on a scheduled date, but rather a process that takes place over a period of time. This process had not yet started in the Avila family. Following the passing of José Avila in 2015, a protracted 2-year succession began. The succession choices between the son and daughter of his first marriage and the daughter of his second were intricate and it took time to resolve them satisfactorily.
Despite the complexity of the Avila family structure and this challenging succession experience, the motivation to keep the business in the family remains strong. The second-generation successors to the Avila family of businesses have reaffirmed their commitment to keeping the leadership and ownership of the business within the family in order to secure the emotional roots that were fostered by the founders’ entrepreneurial energy.
The hope is that the third and fourth generations will be interested in joining the business, bringing more diversity of ideas and plans for the future with them, while staying committed to the core values that have made the businesses great. By tapping into the knowledge of these younger generations who have grown up in technological environments, the family is eager to add a fresh, contemporary perspective to a very traditional retail business – one that creates a powerful new competitive advantage.
While the commitment is there, varied perspectives are arising between the second and third generations regarding the plans for sustaining Avila Wagner’s prosperity. María Fernanda and Petter are focused on maintaining the company’s traditional values of excellent customer service, good prices and high-quality products, all which have been the foundation for the success of their business to-date. Their children are introducing challenges to the company’s traditional vision with the goal of charting a refreshed path for taking the business forward.
It is evident that María Fernanda and Petter want the next generations of the family to be their successors and they acknowledge that resolving the differing points of view regarding the company’s vision will be the first critically important step before this goal can be realized. Family discussions are already underway to surface the new perspectives and to consider them carefully to ensure that the business will continue to prosper for generations to come.
While the Avila Wagner family hopes to keep the business in the family and the family in the business, they also recognize this may not be the career choice for future generations. Some are already pursuing careers outside the family, particularly if they haven’t been involved directly in the decision-making and don’t have a significant enough emotional ownership and attachment to the business to make it their career choice.
Others, such as Stefano, the youngest son of María Fernanda and Petter, are charting their own paths inside Avila Wagner. Stefano’s emotional attachment to the business is already strong and he is focused on learning by observation and respecting the history of the successful businesses that his family has built. He is learning each task that his parents perform, sharing in the day-to-day operations and contributing a next-generation point of view on the future of the company.
María Fernanda and Petter’s retirement plans and the stability of their post-retirement income are another important part of the family conversation regarding the path ahead for Ferretería Buenos Aires. The creation of a family council is being considered to maintain communication and unity among the family members and to contribute to the smooth transfer of the ownership and leadership of the business down the road.
The emotional ownership of the family business is embedded in María Fernanda and Petter’s retirement decisions due to their strong desire to protect the company’s values as a fundamental basis for its continuing success. As a result, they are contemplating the creation of a board of directors so that they can continue to participate in the business and transfer their knowledge to future generations through this new role. They are also considering the formation of a family council to maintain open communication and unity among all the family members and support the smooth transfer of ownership and leadership in the business when the time for their retirement arrives.
The entrepreneurial spirit of the Avila Wagner family is the engine that drives its leaders. Looking ahead, María Fernanda Avila and Petter Wagner fully understand the need to ensure that the vision for the future is fully aligned throughout the family to help achieve the company’s economic goals. At the same time, they have also recognized that welcoming greater diversity of ideas from the younger generations may help transform the traditional retail business and continue to advance the entrepreneurial spirt of the family.