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Roberto Roy

From the very beginning, Roberto Roy’s career has been bound to the development of Panama, his home country. Now, his greatest achievement so far, Central America’s first metro, is on the cusp of being unveiled.

2013 has been an incredible year for the country of Panama. Economic growth has continued unabated, with the country’s GDP expanding by a record 10.7% in 2012, turning the strategically located Panama, the ‘Crossroads of the Universe’, into an international business capital. A boom in large-scale construction and transportation projects, notably a $6.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, has fueled this economic revolution, while regulatory reform and smart public policy inspired the 2013 World Economic Forum to declare Panama the second most competitive economy in Latin America.

Much of this success can be attributed to the unassuming Roberto Roy, who has spent his entire career building up Panama’s infrastructure.

Currently Panama’s Minister of State for Canal Affairs, a position that also comes with the title of Chairman of the Panama Canal’s Board of Directors, Roy is an engineer at heart. He first studied civil engineering at Panama’s Universidad Santa Maria La Antigua before moving to Georgia Tech (USA), where he graduated with a double Masters in mechanical engineering and industrial management. Roy continues to keep close ties with Georgia, often returning to participate in alumni events and dine on the state’s famous chili dogs.

In 1975, Roy founded the construction company R-M Ingenieria, or R-M Engineering with his friend Tomás Mendizábal. The firm started small, mainly building modest steel-structures, such as warehouses. As the reputation of R-M Engineering as an efficient and reliable company grew (the company has never been the subject of a lawsuit and has never defaulted in a performance or bid), so too did the size and number of the firm’s contracts, diversifying its portfolio to include the construction of structures such as universities, banks, hotels and high-rise condominiums.

For Roy and the other R-M associates, reputation is everything. Their business philosophy has never changed: if good working relationships with clients and partner companies are maintained, word will spread and demand for the company’s services will increase. It is simple yet effective judging by R-M’s rapid ascension in the construction industry.

In less than 40 years, the company has grown to employ more than 1,500 employees and works with over 2,000 associates. In 2004, Pritzker award-winning Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry chose Roy’s R-M to build the daring and iconic new Biodiversity Museum, the radical shapes and angles of the building’s design requiring construction techniques that had never before been seen in Panama.

A man, a canal

At noon on December 31st, 1999, Panama’s prospects changed forever as ownership of the Panama Canal was officially handed over from the United States to the Panamanian government. The event was also a key turning point in the career of Roberto Roy, who, in 2000, found himself on the Canal’s first 100% Panamanian Board of Directors, of which he is now the Chairman. As a member of the Board and, now, Minister of Canal Affairs, Roy has been key in overseeing the Panama Canal expansion project, also known as the Third Set of Locks Project, which aims to double the capacity of the Panama canal by 2015.

Continuing with his work on massive infrastructure projects, Roy was handpicked by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to manage the government’s flagship initiative: the construction of Central America’s first metro in Panama City. The metro has long been a desired addition to Panama City, which is notorious for its congested roads that connect the different suburbs.  The first metro line, which will run 14 kilometers from the north to the south of the city, will be used by an estimated 1.5 million people and cost $1.8 billion.

As one would expect in Panama, administration of the canal has always stood in close proximity to state power. Before becoming President, Martinelli was himself the Minister of Canal Affairs and Chairman of the Board of Directors. To what heights will Roberto Roy, who has recently been awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French Ambassador to Panama, ascend? It may not be unreasonable to think that Georgia Tech has in its alumni the next President of Panama.

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