From Farming to Finance

Ismael Benavides,
MBA 67
Former Minister of Economy and Finance,
Lima, Peru


A career in politics wasn't part of the plan for Ismael Benavides, a man born into one of Southern Peru's most well-known entrepreneurial families.

He expected to take over his family's farm, where he would oversee the production of cotton and grapes for pisco, a national liquor. The 1968 military coup, however, sent him down a much different path, leading to top bank posts in Peru and abroad and three ministerial appointments.

"I had always wanted to go into agriculture, but we lost it all," Benavides says, remembering the land reforms that followed the coup. "I studied agriculture at the Universidad Agraria in Lima and at a small college in Alabama. Then my father encouraged me to get an MBA. That's how I ended up at Berkeley."

Berkeley in the 1960s demanded students keep an open mind and question the status quo, Benavides says. "Later on, to be able to change things in Peru, which is quite conservative, that way of thinking was an asset."

After graduation Benavides worked for Citibank in New York and for private South American banking firms, ultimately holding the top post-- general manager­­--of Banco Internacional de Peru for 14 years.

Benavides was appointed minister of fishery in the '80s, minister of agriculture from 2007 to 2008, and then minister of economy and finance from 2010 to 2011. To raise Peru's profile and trustworthiness as a financial hub, Benavides promoted national and foreign investment and issued bonds in the international market.

"Our hope was to usher Peru's economy into an era as a force in a new market. The country's just getting started in that regard," he says.

Now retired, Benavides has returned to his first love: agriculture. "We have a new farm in Pisco, where we grow asparagus, citrus, and grapes and produce pisco. But I maintain interests in banking as well as politics."

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