One of Mexico's richest businessmen, the self-made millionaire Jorge Vergara, has vowed to invest heavily in the plastics processing and recycling sectors, not only in Mexico but also in Colombia and China.
Vergara, 52 - who rose from a taco salesman on the streets of Guadalajara 16 years ago to become the owner of a business empire based on a line of health drinks called Omnilife - was a guest speaker at the annual Anipac convention in Puerto Vallarta, held Nov. 15-18.
During a question-and-answer session, Vergara was vague about whether he plans to increase his investment in plastics-related projects, but he mentioned China as a market where Grupo Omnilife SA de CV, based in Zapopan, is looking to expand.
In a later interview, he said his group was planning to invest $4 million in plastics recycling projects in Guadalajara and Colombia in the next three years.
Omnilife, which reportedly has annual sales of $1 billion from its drinks business, claims to have 1 million distributors in 17 countries, including Mexico and the United States.
According to one estimate, the group comprises 19 different firms, with interests ranging from PET bottle production to consumer magazine and music publishing, feature film financing and the sale of beauty products and accessories.
Sergio Beutelspacher, founder of Beutelspacher SA de CV of Mexico City, recalls how he sold 10 blow molding machines of his own design to Vergara a decade ago.
``I eventually lost contact with him as his company was growing so quickly that my company couldn't keep up with his demand for new machinery,'' Beutelspacher said.
Omnilife also owns three professional soccer clubs, in Guadalajara and Costa Rica and the Carson, Calif.-based Chivas USA club.
``I got into plastics not because I wanted to, but because I needed to,'' he told his convention audience. ``I started with three employees and now I have 4,000.''
At the age of 23, after having worked successively as a car mechanic, a translator and a car salesman, Vergara opted for independence, first cooking and selling tacos. He then became owner of an Italian restaurant, with which, by his own admission, he had little success.
Later, he put on weight and became sick, prompting him to accept a job as a salesman at U.S. nutrition and weight-loss products firm Herbalife.
Several years later, at the age of 31, he founded Omnilife with the help of his wife, three friends and $10,000.
The company, which Vergara describes as a producer of ``vitamins for the poor,'' is among Mexico's top 200 firms today, and the entrepreneur, who did not receive a college education, travels the world in his private Boeing 737 executive jet.
Omnilife has 71 distribution centers in Mexico and 79 in 16 other countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, Spain, Russia, Canada and the United States.