Finance minister of the year 1999: José Angel Gurría – Staying tough in a crisis
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Finance minister of the year 1999: José Angel Gurría – Staying tough in a crisis

Plummeting oil prices, turmoil in world markets and natural disasters: José Angel Gurría's first months as Mexico's finance secretary were a baptism of fire. But his legendary powers of persuasion enabled him to make vital budget cuts to keep Mexico on track. By Brian Caplen

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With some trepidation José Angel Gurría Trevino walked into the office of president Ernesto Zedillo's chief of staff in early 1998 knowing that the post of finance secretary (minister) was vacant. At that time Gurría was foreign minister, a surprise appointment considering he had worked 20 years in the finance ministry. Now change was afoot. With Guillermo Ortiz having vacated the finance post to be central bank governor, the odds were on Gurría replacing him.

So he was taken aback when the chief of staff told him he was going to be minister of agriculture. Agriculture! Gurría said that he was extremely flexible but the only thing he knew about agriculture was what he had learned accompanying his wife to the food market.

It was a remark Gurría immediately regretted. Within seconds the chief of staff was on the phone to Zedillo recounting Gurría's reasons for not taking the job. "He says he can't take agriculture because he doesn't know anything about it."

Hugely embarrassed, Gurría quickly began to change his story.

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