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Fox Fulbright Scholar cements his place in Colombia

July 28, 2014 //
Photograph of Juan David Penagos
Juan David Penagos

The cement and concrete industry – an industry that has not substantially changed its production methods in 80 years – may not be the first place one would expect to find innovation, but innovating seems to come naturally to Juan David Penagos, director of new business for Colombian-based Argos, the fifth-largest cement producer in Latin America and the fourth-largest concrete producer in the United States.

Penagos, who is pursuing a Master of Science in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (IME) at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, hopes to foster innovation in both the cement company and in his home country, Colombia.

One of two Fulbright Scholars in Fox’s IME program, Penagos has already worked in the banking industry, where he and two partners created the first financial network for low-income individuals in Colombia, and in the technology industry, where he introduced the first outdoor LED screens to Colombia’s five largest cities.

In each case, Penagos was driven by a sense of social responsibility. With the LED screens, for instance, the company Penagos worked for provided screen time to local governments and hosted social events. Penagos’ understanding of the potential of business to turn a profit and also benefit the greater good drove Argos to offer Penagos a job.

Seven years later, that combined desire to enhance business practices and make the world a better place has led Penagos to the Fox School’s IME program. He sees innovation as a way to create new business solutions and jobs, improve quality of life and reduce society’s dependence on local governments.

“For me that’s the most important thing about innovation,” Penagos said. “The potential to not be expecting solutions from the government, to be the ones who create opportunities, to be the ones who create solutions for our daily lives.”

Argos already has innovation systems in place, but Penagos wanted “to be more involved in a deeper way in this concept, which I think is very new for us and I think for humanity as well,” he said. Since he already has an MBA, Penagos was attracted to the Fox School because it offers one of few dedicated innovation master’s degree programs in the United States.

“The courses that they offer, they are actually focused on what is happening in the world right now in innovation,” Penagos said.

The Fox School IME program provides the tools to create and manage change, and Penagos is eager to share this knowledge with his company and with his country.

“The better innovations in companies always occur in the lowest part of the chain,” he said. “The people who are facing the customers, the people who are facing the logistical problems, all of these people who are facing daily problems, they actually are the ones who have the better innovations.”

“What we have to do is create a path – to listen, to believe in what they’re saying and to give them the tools and the money to create the innovations.”