Carlos Quintanilla, MBA '80, receives 2011 Distinguished Latino Alumni Award
In accepting the award on behalf of her husband on October 29, Clara Quintanilla expressed his gratitude for the honor and spoke warmly of Johnson. "Beyond the fine education that Carlos received at Johnson, Cornell is a special place for both Carlos and me," she said. "This is the place where Carlos and I met more than 30 years ago."
Quintanilla is president of Quintanilla, Hache y Asociados (QHYA), a family-owned and -operated business that focuses on investments in the Mexican financial sector and on developing industrial parks in the United States. A leader in the Monterrey, Mexico financial community, he founded and actively participates in several financial services companies, including securities brokerage houses, asset management companies, and banks.
What initially propelled Quintanilla into action in the financial sector was "a disaster that, to Mexicans, was the equivalent of the recent residential mortgage meltdown in the United States," he says. "In 1982, less than two years after my graduation from Johnson, Mexico defaulted on its sovereign debt," which caused a devastating devaluation of the peso relative to the U.S. dollar and other currencies. As a result, there was a wave of defaults by Mexican corporations that relied on foreign currency to service their debt. In turn, this had a negative effect on many international banks with Latin American debt exposure.
"I always wanted to strike out on my own and thought that the Mexican crisis gave me the right opportunity," he says. "So I partnered with a friend to set up a distressed debt investment firm to invest in Latin American debt, and we began a long and successful history of investing in emerging markets debt. Our initial success gave us enough liquidity and optimism to be a very active participant in the Mexican financial sector."
Quintanilla's interest in the other side of his business – industrial real estate – was triggered by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). "While the U.S. and Mexican governments were working on NAFTA, there was a real estate crisis in Texas," he explains. "Following our investment philosophy to look at distressed situations that might have a clear upside potential, we thought that if NAFTA passed, the daily truck crossing through the Laredo-Mexico border was going to grow exponentially. Back then, Mexico was the second largest trading partner of the U.S., and 60 percent of all the U.S.-Mexican trade was done through Laredo. We were convinced that to support all the post-NAFTA trade activity, many warehouses would need to be built in Laredo. So we bought 200 acres there at very distressed prices for the purpose of building industrial parks along the Rio Grande."
Quintanilla's shrewd purchase paid off handsomely. After NAFTA passed in 1993, the daily traffic through the Laredo-Mexico border skyrocketed, with 12,000 trucks passing through daily. "Over an 18-year period, we developed five industrial parks with more than 350 warehouses spread over 500 acres." He goes on to say, "The success of these projects gave me a lot of satisfaction because we built these hotspots of economic activity in places that were completely undeveloped and, in the process, we created many jobs as well as tax revenue for Laredo."
Although his entrepreneurial ventures place great demands on him, Quintanilla is committed to making time for public service. He has served on the boards of several Catholic schools and charitable organizations and is well known in Monterrey for his philanthropic works. A chemical engineer with a degree from Tecnologico de Monterrey, Quintanilla currently serves on the University of Michigan Engineering Advisory Council.
He serves on the Johnson Advisory Council and, along with other alumni, is helping to initiate a Cornell-Queens EMBA program in Mexico. With his wife, Quintanilla has recently created an international scholarship to help future Latino Johnson students. Cornell is fortunate in benefitting from his gifts of service, advocacy, wisdom, and funding.