Alfonso Cortina de Alcocer

President, chairman, and chief executive officer of Repsol YPF

Nationality: Spanish.

Born: March 13, 1944, in Madrid, Spain.

Education: Madrid University; Higher Technical School of Industrial Engineers, Madrid.

Family: Son of Pedro Cortina Mauri (foreign minister during government of Carlos Arias Navarro); children: two.

Career: Banco de Vizcaya Group, 1968–1982, various positions including engineer, vice chairman, and managing director; Portland Valderrivas, 1984–1990, vice president; 1990–1996, president; Repsol YPF, 1996–, president, chairman, and CEO.

Awards: Businessman of the Year, Madrid Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1995.

Address: Repsol YPF, Paseo de la Castellana, 278, 28046 Madrid, Spain;

■ After serving for more than a decade as vice president and president of the Portland Valderrivas cement company, Alfonso Cortina de Alcocer became president of the Spanish oil firm Repsol in 1996 despite his lack of experience in the petroleum industry. Under Cortina de Alcocer's leadership Repsol invested heavily abroad, particularly in Latin America. Notable among its investments was the purchase of the Argentine oil company YPF. Cortina de Alcocer's aggressive investments brought Repsol YPF both great profits and major financial problems.


Cortina de Alcocer was born in the Spanish capital of Madrid. He remained in Madrid for his higher education, receiving a degree in economics from Madrid University. He also obtained a degree in industrial engineering from the Higher Technical School of Industrial Engineers in Madrid before beginning his professional career. He spent his early career working in various positions for the Banco de Vizcaya Group from 1968 until 1982. In the 1980s he joined the Construccionesy Contratas Group along with his brother Alberto Cortina and his cousin Alberto Alcocer. He served as vice president of the Portland Valderrivas cement company, and he became president of the same firm in 1990. By the end of his tenure at Portland Valderrivas in 1996, Cortina de Alcocer had become one of Spain's wealthiest and most successful businessmen.


Cortina de Alcocer became president of Repsol in 1996, a result of both his successful business career and his political maneuverings. He became a member of the board of directors of the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBV) in 1995 and soon was the bank's largest shareholder. BBV, in turn, was a major shareholder in Repsol, which allowed Cortina de Alcocer to use his connections to become a favorite to replace Repsol's president, Oscar Fanjul. Furthermore, the new center-right Spanish government of the Popular Party sought to remove Fanjul, who had been appointed by the previous Socialist government. The state owned 10 percent of Repsol at the time, giving the government a degree of influence in company decisions. In June 1996 Cortina de Alcocer joined Repsol's board of directors and then was named chairman of the company. The move was not without controversy, as Fanjul had built Repsol into a successful corporation and was regarded as one of Spain's top executives.


After Cortina de Alcocer took over at the helm of Repsol, he largely continued the strategies of his predecessor, such as becoming more involved in the electricity sector. A notable change, however, was that the company expanded significantly overseas, especially in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2003 Repsol invested $44.5 billion, two-thirds of which went to Latin American countries. Cortina de Alcocer saw many opportunities in the region. He told the New York Times , "There was good stability in South America, good opportunities and liberalization. Of course, too, these opportunities were much cheaper than European investments" (June 29, 2003).

His boldest move was the acquisition of the Argentine oil company YPF. In January 1999 Repsol bought the 15 percent of YPF still owned by the Argentine government. Many experts saw the $2 billion purchase as a risky maneuver, as Argentine nationalists were sensitive to foreign ownership of a former state-run monopoly. Also, oil prices were low at the time, potentially limiting profits. Then, in May 1999, Cortina de Alcocer bought the remaining 85 percent of YPF for more than $13 billion. Despite some resistance in Argentina the generous cash offer persuaded YPF shareholders to sell.

Cortina de Alcocer explained that his audacious takeover would make the newly created Repsol YPF into a major force in the world petroleum industry. Indeed, the purchase made Repsol YPF the eighth-largest oil company in the world. The merger combined Repsol's expertise in marketing and refining with YPF's large reserves and production capacity. Cortina de Alcocer told the Financial Times that "Repsol and YPF are a prefect strategic fit, forming a powerful international oil company with a balance of upstream and downstream earnings"(May 12, 1999). He rejected claims that Spanish companies were simply trying to reconquer a region that was once part of the Spanish Empire. He believed that Spanish investment in Latin America helped support local communities there.

Cortina de Alcocer did not foresee the dramatic downturn in the Argentine economy that occurred soon after his company purchased YPF. A major scandal in the Argentine government in late 2001 that included bribes being paid to senators led to protests against President Fernando de la Rua. De la Rua resigned, and at one point Argentina had five different presidents in a two-week period. This political crisis soon developed into a severe economic crisis. The Argentine government devalued the peso and defaulted on its foreign debt, and the country suffered through record unemployment and poverty. The value of Repsol YPF shares in Madrid decreased significantly in 2001 and 2002, leading to many questions and criticisms about the company's expansion in Latin America.


Cortina de Alcocer was not a charismatic leader. His voice was monotone, he possessed little sense of humor, and he was sensitive to criticism. Some described him as evasive. He had minimal contact with the public, and his communication style was dry and laconic. Cortina de Alcocer told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo , "I think you should come out only when there is something important to communicate; if not, you run the risk of boring people. I don't think the president has to tell everything he does all day. That is my nature, I don't like to be at the podium" (February 21, 1999).

Cortina de Alcocer was extremely loyal. He continued working despite having amassed great wealth. With the onset of the Argentine economic crisis in 2002, however, he chose to remain at the helm of Repsol YPF despite many calls for his removal. One source close to Cortina de Alcocer told El Mundo that "Alfonso is not going to leave things half done. YPF was the apple of his eye and he is not going to throw in the towel" (May 5, 2002).

See also entry on Repsol-YPF S.A. in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

"El Reto," El Mundo , May 5, 2002.

Tagliabue, John, "With Capital in Hand, Spain Revisits Empire," New York Times , June 29, 2003.

Tizón, Alvaro, "Alfonso Cortina, del 18 al 10," El Mundo , February 21, 1999.

Warn, Ken, " YPF Board Backs Merger with Repsol," Financial Times , May 12, 1999.

—Ronald Young

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