Hoffman Family Business Lecture Speaker's Journey From UVM to Colombia
- By John M Turner
Carlos Enrique Cavelier was raised on a small dairy farm in Colombia and graduated from UVM in 1983. After obtaining his masters from Harvard, he returned home to serve as an elected official and in the ministries of agriculture and justice, and subsequently built his family's dairy business, Alquería Dairy, into the largest liquid milk producer in Colombia. In doing so, he is changing the lives of thousands of small farmers struggling to make a living.
“Once we started to understand where we were going with the business, we had to dream, dream and dream some more,” said Cavelier, invoking the business philosophy of one of his heroes, Walt Disney.
Cavelier spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, former professors and staff on Wednesday, April 2 as part of the Hoffman Family Business Lecture Series, hosted by the School of Business Administration. The Hoffman Family Business Lecture Series provides opportunities for students to learn about innovative business practices from leading scholars and practitioners.
In his role as President of Alquería, Cavelier leads the company and socially responsible business initiatives focused around increasing the prosperity and productivity of small dairy farmers, using an initiative called the Maca Project. The project provides a path for farmers away from growing other crops, including cocoa leaves, with haphazard payments and potentially dangerous consequences, to a more formalized milk production arrangement.
“The Maca project is intended to generate sustainable economic alternatives for farmers in the former guerilla area of Serrania, in Macarena,” said Cavelier. “We just did 2 things that are normal for most business transactions, but had never happened to the farmers. We went every day and picked up their milk and we paid them for that milk every 2 weeks.”
Under Maca, the milk supplied to Cavalier has increased by more than 1500% with plans to continue the expansion at a similar rate.
In building his business he had to understand and cater to local tastes, endlessly researching the product formula, packaging, while developing and modernizing the branding and distribution. “It was all about research, research, research,” Cavelier told the audience.
Cavelier is now spearheading Alquería’s efforts to expand their market to include exports to neighboring countries under a newly signed trade agreement, as well as increasing prosperity and productivity for his dairy suppliers and their communities within Colombia.
“It was fascinating to hear Mr. Cavelier talk about his extraordinary journey from UVM and learn how he created this booming dairy business,” said Rachel Burt, a senior Business School student. “The insights he shared into how he understands his consumers, develops new products and innovative packaging, then market and update their brand identity, was very interesting.”
Carlos Enrique Cavelier’s journey is not over yet, but he acknowledged and remembered how UVM helped shape his thinking and understanding of the world. Our school motto, Studis et Rebus Honestis (in the name of studies and other honest pursuits), appears to have served him well.