María Gabriela Jijón – Holcim Ecuador
In 2021, Holcim Ecuador did not just celebrate 100 years in business; it also welcomed its first female CEO, Dolores Prado, as well as the first woman to head its shareholders meeting, Caterina Costa. Today, 67 percent of the Ecuadorian branch of the international cement and concrete manufacturer’s leadership team is women—compared with the U.S. where only 2.9 percent of all concrete and cement workers are women.
One of these leaders is María Gabriela Jijón, who joined Holcim in January 2021 as its general counsel and chief compliance officer. She has since become a member of the company’s diversity and inclusion committee as well.
Although plans for a new materials sourcing site were already in place before she arrived, Jijón helped open the Loma Alta plant later that year—a facility where 52 percent of the employees are female, an impressive number in an industry that tends to be male dominated.
“Each of Holcim’s four pillars revolve around sustainability and are imperative for the company’s continued success,” Jijón says. “Holcim’s motto is ‘building progress for people and the planet.’ It’s inspiring, and I love working with a company where I can make a positive impact on the future of women and of the ecosystem.”
Aggregating a zero-carbon footprint
Holcim’s new Loma Alta plant—located in Daule, Guayaquil—exemplifies how the company is expanding its gender diversity and eco-friendly initiatives, she says. In addition to its majority-female employees, the location is the second to become an aggregate facility among Holcim Ecuador’s 14 nationwide plants.
As Jijón explains, aggregate plants allow construction companies to produce raw materials from natural resources—gravel, crushed stone and even recycled concrete—that can then be mixed with water, cement and other chemical additives to produce concrete.
“Aggregate plants are a huge step in the company’s mission to reach a zero-carbon footprint by 2050—a major challenge for a cement company,” she says.
While environmental protection is important, actions such as recycling and using sustainable materials also keep Holcim Ecuador in compliance with local and international regulations, such as those from the Ecuadorian Standards Institute regarding emissions. INEN, Jijón says, became more focused on emissions during the global pandemic when it became clear the quarantine had led to reduced air pollution.
The company, according to Jijón, is also committed to using renewable energy and sustainable materials as much as possible. For instance, it created Geocycle, an industrial waste management solutions company. The company processes industrial waste to be used as alternative fuels. According to Jijón, Geocycle’s goal is to co-process 400,000 tons of waste by 2025.
“With Geocycle, we’re working on outstanding projects as part of our goal to make Ecuador a waste-zero country,” she says. “One project is located in one my favorite sites in the world: The Galapagos.”
Holcim’s third and fourth pillars—“water and nature” and “climate”—also relate to the environment. In fact, Ecuador’s Ministry for Environment, Water and Ecological Transition has recognized 10 of Holcim’s plants as eco-efficient. The company is also a conservation sponsor of the nearly 15,000-acre Cerro Blanco Forests in the Guayaquil-Ecuador protected zone.
“It helps us to ensure that 100 percent of our operations include biodiversity conservation and water use reduction plans,” she says.
Making smart risk decisions
Jijón is also helping the company grow through mergers and acquisitions, with the aim of further diversifying the company’s use of recycled products. As she considers deals, she says she keeps business objectives in mind while “detecting and responsibly managing legal and regulatory risks.”
In 2022, the efforts of Jijón and her legal and compliance team earned them the Saco de Oro Award, given annually to employees who’ve displayed high ethics and quality participation in corporate projects.
“We’re working towards the same purpose. At the core of every action of any Holcim department is the mission and drive to maintain integrity and advance sustainable business practices,” she says.
Reflecting on her career, Jijón says she wanted to work for companies that positively impacted the world. When she graduated from Universidad San Francisco de Quito in 2005 with a minor in international relations, she became involved in the “Law and Justice for the Poor Project-Japan Social Development Fund Grant” project sponsored by World Bank. As part of the initiative, she helped set up mediation centers throughout Ecuador, to encourage the resolution of community disputes.
After earning her master of law from Duke University in 2007, she worked as a foreign associate with White & Case international law firm in New York, where she was part of the Energy Infrastructure and Project Finance group. Jijón helped the firm develop several pro bono declarations.
In 2021, after working in Ecuador as a lawyer at Perez Bustamante & Ponce, as a legal director at Phillip Morris International and Kimberly-Clark and then as a corporate affairs director at the Chamber of Industries and Production, someone from Holcim headquarters reached out to her about working for the company. She took the job.
Now, she’s added a third title to her role: corporate affairs manager. And while the added responsibility will present plenty of challenges, Jijón is more than ready to take them on.
“I feel grateful for my chaotically beautiful life with my three wonderful children. I love what I do, creating value and having a significant impact on the future,” says Jijón, who recently named to The Legal500’s GC Powerlist for Ecuador for 2022. “Being perseverant and passionate for what we do are key factors for success.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2022 Edition here.
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