Next Gen Colombia

FloraCulture International sat down with Pablo Bazzani, a second-generation flower grower/exporter from Colombia and recipient of AIPH’s 2022 Young International Grower of the Year Award.

Just recently, Pablo Bazzani took up his new role as general manager of La Plazoleta, a highly successful flower exporting company specialising in fillers initiated by his father nearly 40 years ago.

With Colombia’s first flower exports occurring nearly 55 years ago and ASOCOLFLORES (the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters) celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, an important topic comes into the horizon: succession planning. This is key to a business’s healthy continuity, particularly in Colombia, where many companies are family-owned, yet, a smooth transition can be difficult to achieve.

Pablo studied visual arts and started his career in TV production; soon after, wanting to strengthen his management skills, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in marketing. His specialism lies in the realm of digital topics.

FloraCulture International: What does horticulture mean to you?

Pablo Bazzani: “I grew up in close contact with flower production and export, and upon graduating, I was offered a position at La Plazoleta. My first job was marketing assistant, and I completely fell in love with flowers in no time. From the onset, my focus was on setting a difference: new flower colours -mainly by offering dyed flowers – a novel communications campaign geared at existing and potential clients. Next, I was upgraded to the marketing manager, and as I am fully bilingual in Spanish and English, this allowed me to give this position a truly international dimension. Meanwhile, I became somewhat worried about the company’s strong dependence on bouquet traders and the US market. So I decided it was time to diversify, aiming at customers in Asia and Europe. This has been my course of action over the past few years.”

Last year, you took great pleasure participating in Jungle Talks Pro Manager Mastercourse. Tell us about this experience.

“I came across the Jungle Talks Pro Manager Mastercourse and contacted Ed and Renee Smit to apply. This course, developed by Jungle Talks in collaboration with Dutch horticultural supply and ag tech companies, provides top training for young skilled professionals in the international horticulture sector. Fortunately, I was promptly admitted to the course, through which I also received a nomination for the inaugural International Young Grower of the Year Award in 2022. Needless to say, how proud I felt when I won it.”

In 2022, Pablo Bazzani won AIPH’s first Young International Grower of the Year Award in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Succession is thus on the correct path at La Plazoleta, but does that make your job easier?

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, 25 per cent of the flower farm’s sales accounted for former Soviet countries. Until April 2022 – thus including International Women’s Day on 8 March, things turned really complicated. Accounts were blocked, some customers were impossible to reach, and many supplies, plus freight, increased by at least 30 per cent. But importers are ingenious – especially in Russia – and the market reacted. In the ensuing months, we consolidated orders and found new distribution channels. The situation is almost back to normal.”

Are the ripple effects of the pandemic still being felt?

“At first, in 2020/21, just like everyone else, demand was high, and we were scrambling to get our product to customers everywhere. But from the second half of 2022, things have slowed down. The outlook for Valentine’s Day 2023 looks OK, but production costs have climbed significantly. Plus, recession and inflation in the US are very likely to translate into reduced demand for flowers. There’s an economic contraction in Europe and reduced production in the Netherlands due to the energy crises. We have not felt a void in the Dutch market that calls for more flowers from Colombia, not even in Chrysanthemums. Possibly the Africans are filling that void if it is indeed there.”

How would you describe the state of Colombian floriculture?

“Speaking about the local situation in Colombia, there is a labour shortage. Flower growing in Colombia is highly concentrated around Bogotá and Medellin. There is very strong competition from many kinds of large industries also located around these two large cities. He is convinced the solution is to make flower companies ‘a great place to work’. With this in mind, the company is reinforcing employee benefits, including competitive salaries and bonuses, health and dental care provided on-site, day-care centres where employees can bring their young children (considering that many are single mothers, this is a real bonus), and continuing education. If we don’t become true professionals and provide an innovative, interesting and appealing work atmosphere, we will not be able to compete.”

What about succession planning?

“The story is not always as simple as it may seem. It is not always the case that offspring follow in their parents’ footsteps and ensure business continuity. Instituting solid corporate governance within a company is essential. This will ensure there is always someone ready to continue the effort.”

ASOCOLFLORES has helped with this by offering specialised training for their members, am I right?

“They launched a ‘Next Gen’campaign, whereby they get the younger generation of managers together to exchange ideas, learn from history, and promote networking. Colombian floriculture has reached full maturity and a prominent, long-standing place in the international scenario, but how it got there is just as important.”

Click here to learn more about AIPH’s International Grower of the Year 2024.

This interview was first published in the February 2023 FloraCulture International magazine.

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