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From agriculture to air conditioning

On this occasion, the professional of the month is dedicated to a representative of the Central American region. His name is Salo Ponchner, CEO of the Costa Rican company, Multifrio.

By Duván Chaverra Agudelo

The history of Salo Ponchner Geller is full of examples to keep in mind for many of the professionals who are immersed in this air conditioning and refrigeration industry. For those who do not know him, Salo is the CEO of the company Multifrio, one of the most important brands in the sector in Costa Rica.

Salo is a charismatic businessman who has managed to guide a group of workers to position the company in such a competitive sector and with so many players looking to be the best. His knowledge is based on multiple experiences throughout his life with a remarkable academic complement. 

- Publicidad -

From school and school, Salo already had the idea of being an entrepreneur. At this time he was already working on holidays in shops and as an accountant. Later, upon his arrival at the university, he decided that the best educational initiative was to be an Agricultural Engineer, a goal he achieved. In addition, not satisfied with his professional degree, Salo has consistently supplemented his education with postgraduate studies.

"My first professional job was in 1990 as Manager of a pineapple farm in the north of Costa Rica, called Frutas Tropicales de Venecia, in San Carlos. I then secured a scholarship for academic excellence at the University of California, Davis, one of the world's top universities in agriculture. I graduated with a Master of Science in 1992 in fruit tree production. From 1992-1995 I was a professor and researcher at the UCR, as Head of the Department of Fruit Trees of the university. In 1995 I started as an agronomist for Chiquita Brands International. I worked in Chiquita until 1997 where I ended up as Regional Research Manager, covering all research and development from Guatemala to Colombia. My agronomic life in those years included the planting and development of a large number of mango, avocado, pineapple and papaya farms," said the guest.

But it was in 1997, after the birth of his first child, when his life took a turn of industry and he arrived at what is now his home. Salo has been the CEO of Multifrio since he was a small business operating in a two-car garage on Avenida 10 (downtown) in San Jose. It should be noted that the company was founded in 1996 (it bore another name) by his brother Marcos Ponchner, who currently serves as Director of Operations.

"In 1999 we decided that it was not profitable to continue with the automotive air conditioning business and we focused on residential and commercial airs. In 2010 we moved to the city of Athens, near the international airport, taking advantage of the logistical advantages given by the new highway with a land of 2 hectares and enough area to integrate offices, training rooms, meeting rooms, pipeline factory and metal structures, 5,000 m2 of winery and areas for future expansion".

And as we mentioned before, the professional of the month has been able to take advantage of the opportunities to expand his knowledge in the administrative area: "I got a scholarship to achieve a Master in Sciences of Finance Management at the Université  de Management in Switzerland and also an MBA in International Management at the International University of Catalonia and a Master of Business Management in finance and control of management of the Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid. I have also attended multiple seminars and refresher courses in Top Management, Senior Management, Human Capital, Lean Management, Negotiation, Strategic Planning, Marketing and Sales and other technical courses in the area of air conditioning."

A recognized professional
All these actions, both professional and academic, have led him to be recognized in his country. For example, in 2006 the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce chose him as the Entrepreneur of the Year, and since 2008 he has been chosen as a World Leader Businessperson, obtaining the Bizz Awards.

And in addition, Salo has also founded several other companies in different sectors, such as Multimaq (group company that sells heavy machinery for tunnels, mining and construction), BizSmart Business Launcher for the incubation and development of start-ups, small and medium-sized companies, EcoConcretos for road construction and others. He has also led the development of multiple properties and participates in several boards of directors of different companies. He advises family groups on issues of succession, investment, and corporate governance, and is writing a book on the creation and growth of family businesses and on personal finance.

- Publicidad -

Another important reason why Salo deserves recognition is due to its leadership capacity, as it has managed to generate a pleasant work environment for all the people who are part of Multifrio. 

"We have never remained in a fictitious stability, we always seek continuous improvement in a linear and disruptive way breaking the paradigms of the air conditioning industry and construction in general. We provide much more services than simply being air conditioning contractors and installers; we give excellent after-sales service; we developed a professional call center for that purpose, as well as a first-world maintenance department with immediate response. That, in addition to all the support from the financial, engineering, Project Management point of view that complement the customer service;  one of our great achievements is the creation of a high-performance work team in Multifrio with excellent results", said the Professional of the Month.

Challenges and achievements within the work group
Multifrio has managed to generate different activities that have been important for the company in its development within the sector. Salo mentions the "large amount of in-house software for thermal load studies, electrical simulation, hour by hour 365 days a year, for the response and immediate attention of our customers, online quote, immediate reporting, etc.. Other activities that help us a lot in staff development and public relations are all the courses and trainings we do with the help of our suppliers both open and in the offices of our customers."

Our guest also mentioned the importance of the company's recent 20th anniversary: "The anniversary event served us enormously for the union and identification of the staff. Other events and certifications are equally important such as ISO 9001, carbon neutrality, obtaining the Essential Costa Rica country brand, the development of our Professional Responsibility seal and others in which we have all had to be participants".

Costa Rica Market Perceptions
On this aspect, the Professional of the Month highlights the growth that the Costa Rican industry has had, in aspects such as the knowledge of entrepreneurs: "In Costa Rica we have evolved a lot in the knowledge and technologies used. 15 years ago you had to explain to customers what a Mini Split was and explain that there is a condenser unit that goes outside, that it is not just the internal unit they see, etc.  The consultants were used to the manuals of a single brand and there was very little field for innovation; the same thing happened with ventilation, control systems, etc."

In addition, Salo highlights the contribution that his company has had in this growth: "In part the activity of Multifrio has awakened the market in the introduction of new technologies, new brands, new alternatives, new ways of quoting and analyzing projects. As a key example is the development of VRF systems and to which much older companies are still trying to adapt. For 18 years we have established an excellent relationship with the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory, which has served us directly from Japan and has propelled us into the market."

- Publicidad -

On the future, our guest sees with good eyes the evolution of the Latin American industry in terms of the concept of prices and all that this entails: "Investments cannot be seen only in the short term, in addition the operating expenses must be considered, the inconveniences of putting poor quality equipment. Another concept that has evolved a lot is the understanding of the importance of proper preventive maintenance to equipment. We've also learned to take advantage of technology and not be afraid of change."  Today Multifrio has established strategic alliances with manufacturers such as Daikin, Johnson Controls, Systemair, which are also innovative leaders worldwide.

Family and hobbies
Salo Ponchner is married and has two children, ages 17 and 20. He says that family is a central aspect of his life and focuses him on working and improving himself more every day. 

Despite his multiple occupations, he finds time to practice his favorite activities that he mixes with another of his passions such as teaching: "I love reading, mountain walks, helping companies or people in financial problems, crossfit, playing tennis, riding mountain biking, etc. I do daily meditation. I love teaching. At Multifrio I teach all the basic air conditioning courses and all the management skills courses. I teach courses in entrepreneurship and professional finance in academic and professional colleges in Costa Rica as part of multifrio's Social Responsibility program and because I love doing it."

And it is described as follows: "I am a reliable, disciplined, hard-working and grateful person with life and everything that has touched me. I like to enjoy life and be useful to others.  I like to learn more every day."

Duván Chaverra Agudelo
Author: Duván Chaverra Agudelo
Jefe Editorial en Latin Press, Inc,.
Comunicador Social y Periodista con experiencia de más de 16 años en medios de comunicación. Apasionado por la tecnología y por esta industria. [email protected]

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