Fortunes 2021: Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Founder, Grupo Aval

Although it would be inaccurate to claim he came from modest origins, Colombia's richest man Luis Carlos Sarmiento is a self-made man nonetheless.

Posted Wednesday, October 20th 2021
Fortunes 2021: Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Founder, Grupo Aval

Luis Carlos Sarmiento is the chairman of the board of directors of Grupo Aval Acciones y Valores holding company and the founder of the Centro de Tratamiento e Investigación sobre Cáncer, the main medical center for cancer care in Latin America. 

Sarmiento was born on January 27th 1933 in Bogota, the second-to-last of nine siblings. He began working at a very young age, graduated from high school with excellent grades and studied civil engineering at the National University. He made his fortune in the construction industry, and became a multimillionaire when he jumped into the financial sector. Excelling, it seems, is just what he does. 

Tragedy and opportunity
During his studies and immediately after graduating, he worked at the company of a prominent engineer from Antioquia, one Santiago Berrío. As assistant manager, Sarmiento learned the business of building roads and railways, but tragedy was soon to strike. Berrío was assassinated in the Magdalena Medio region in 1956 and the company was liquidated.

With his share of the proceeds from the liquidation, Sarmiento began working as an independent freelance engineer, taking small-ticket contracts to build roads in remote, and often dangerous, parts of the country.

In 1959, at the age of 26, he created his first company. Entitled Organización Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, he hoped it would be the springboard that led to larger constructon contracts. He also invested a significant portion of his savings in a cotton farm in Codazzi in the north of the country, but got out of the trade a few years later and went all-in in the burgeoning real-estate sector in Bogota, building much of what is now the El Paseo neighborhood.

The 1960s was a decade of rapid urban development and Sarmiento rode that wave

This was the point where his real financial growth began. The 1960s was a decade of rapid urban development and Sarmiento rode that wave, building ever-larger developments in residential neighborhoods, including the Las Villas housing estate on Avenida Suba in 1966.

Inspired by the success of Las Villas, many other "Villas" followed. Never one to rest on his laurels, Sarmiento started to invest in the financial sector. In 1980, he bought his first shares in Banco de Bogotá and finally, after a major struggle with the Bolívar group, ended up with a controlling interest in 1988.

Not satisfied with just one bank, in 1996 he bought Banco Popular and between 1998 and 1999 added several financial corporations to his portfolio, merging them with Corficolombiana. Finally, in 1998, he formed Grupo Aval as a holding company for all his businesses.

Tradition and legacy
In 2000 his son, Luis Carlos Sarmiento Gutiérrez, was appointed president of Grupo AVAL; today, the largest financial conglomerate in Colombia, with more than 14.7 million banking customers served through a retail-banking network with 1,421 branches and 3,781 ATMs in Colombia.

In 2012, the elder Sarmiento bought Casa Editorial El Tiempo, a publishing group whose main newspaper, El Tiempo, has the largest circulation in Colombia.

Throughout his life, Sarmiento has made numerous charitable contributions, notably in the healthcare sector. He built and donated Colombia’s Cancer Treatment and Research Center and recently gave $20 million to help alleviate the impact of Covid 19 in his native land.

As his wealth has grown, so too has Sarmiento’s sense of duty. “One starts with a company thinking of having a secure future for oneself and one's family. Then, one begins to feel like a member of a community, of a country and to feel the responsibility to help and serve”.