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Puerto Rico Profile: Richard Carrión

August 25, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Two recent economic trends show auspicious signs for Puerto Rican businesses.

First, after decades of stagnation, the economy of Puerto Rico surged in the late 1990s, showing a growth rate of 4.2% in 1999 (up from 2.8% growth over the past ten years). Such economic expansion is much needed to keep Puerto Rico from slipping further behind the economy of the mainland United States.

Second, the rapid expansion of the Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. is providing a distinct advantage to businesses in the U.S. that operate in both English and Spanish. The Orlando Sentinel reported earlier this year that as businesses accustomed to speaking either English or Spanish look to new customers, "bilingualism is increasingly seen as an asset."

This is all good news for Richard Carrión, who runs the largest bank in Puerto Rico and the largest Hispanic bank in the mainland United States.

Carrión is the Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Popular, Inc., the holding company for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Banco Popular North America, and several other subsidiaries. Popular, Inc., is the 34th largest financial institution in the United States, with holdings of $25 billion.

Banco Popular was founded in Puerto Rico in 1893, five years before the island became a territory of the United States. The bank now has 200 branches in Puerto Rico, as well as 400 ATMs. It has expanded throughout the Caribbean and the mainland U.S.

Richard Carrión was groomed from an early age to take the helm of Banco Popular. He was born in San Juan on November 26, 1952. At that time, his grandfather, Rafael Carrión Pacheco, was President of the bank, a title he had held since 1927. Four years after Richard’s birth, in 1956, control of the bank passed to his father, Rafael Carrión, Jr., who became President and Chairman.

Richard Carrión received a top-notch education in business. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. Three years later, he received a master’s degree in business management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is also the alma mater of such distinguished Puerto Ricans as former Governor and business leader Luis Ferre and Admiral Horacio Rivero, the first Hispanic four-star officer in the U.S. military.

Carrión joined the family business in 1976 and proceeded to consolidate power. He became President of the bank in 1985 and CEO four years later. In 1991, his father retired as Chairman, and Richard Carrión took full control of Popular, Inc., and its holdings.

Carrión’s tenure as the head of Popular, Inc., has been marked by expansion and technological innovation.

In 1961, the first branch of Banco Popular in North America opened in the South Bronx. Today, the bank’s North American division has over 90 locations throughout the United States. Its heart remains in the New York area, but it has spread to all regions of the country with heavy Hispanic populations, from Florida to Illinois to Texas to California. In recent years Carrión has overseen the acquisition of Aurora Bank in the suburbs of Chicago, and he has pledged to continue to growth of Banco Popular - and the creation of new jobs - in New York City.

Carrión is also a major proponent of applying new technologies to business. He instigated the creation of an ATM network throughout Puerto Rico. He also pushed Popular, Inc., to institute e-banking, by which private and commercial customers can check their accounts and make transactions via the Internet. The bank’s Web site,, has recently won an innovation award from the Puerto Rico Association of Electronic Information Systems Directors. With these forays into emerging technology, Popular, Inc., reports that today over 75% of all their bank transactions occur electronically.

Another aspect of Carrión’s interest in technological innovation became evident in his support of the controversial privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company in 1998. The announcement that Texas-based GTE would lead a consortium to acquire a majority stake of the phone company sparked a bitter labor struggle and a brief general strike in Puerto Rico. Banco Popular was a major player in the transaction and ended up with 5% of the stock of Puerto Rico Telephone (PRT).

Carrión has defended the privatization as essential to Puerto Rico’s economic progress in a global economy. In a speech in 1998, he portrayed the government-run telephone company as crippled by political patronage. "In sports terms," he said, "if the game is tied and you need a pinch hitter, I would prefer to put the bat in the hands of an Iván Rodríguez or an Igor González without worrying if they are from the same political party as the owner of the team."

He also promised to encourage other Puerto Rican businesses to invest in PRT, which in combination with the Puerto Rican government’s 44% shared would result in "a company better prepared to compete, with 60 percent of its shares in Puerto Rican hands."

The long term effects of the privatization of the telephone company remain to be seen, but early reports seem positive. In the meantime, Richard Carrión continues to be an active proponent of Puerto Rican business and figures to be an important force in the U.S. business community well into the new century.

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