Reflecting on my recent “tour-the-force” across Latin America

From October 23 to November 15 of this year, I embarked on a whirlwind journey that brought me to Lima, Peru; Cordoba, Argentina; Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bogota, Colombia. I returned to San Francisco for two days, at which point I returned to Lima, Peru for three days to join the Global Entrepreneurship Week celebrations organized by Prof. Karen Weinberger Villarán, Director of Emprende UP and her team at Universidad del Pacifico, one of the leading business schools of Peru.

Global Entrepreneurship Week closing ceremony at Universidad del Pacifico, 12/14/2014.

Global Entrepreneurship Week closing ceremony at Universidad del Pacifico, 11/14/2014.

I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the vitality and progress of these unique Latin American ecosystems and am happy to report that innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well across Latin America. In this blog, I would like to share my distilled view that resulted from over one dozen conferences delivered and hundreds of conversations with entrepreneurs of all ages and nationalities, university professors, business executives and government officials. I would also like to reflect on what I learned from dozens of pitches for for-profit ventures, social ventures, and innovation challenges. Here is a summary of my views for you my dear reader:

1. Most Latin American entrepreneurs have a tendency to think small. Their target market is their city or at most their immediate region. I’m unsure if this small thinking is due to their desire to remain in their comfort zones or if it’s due to their fear of the unknown. Very seldom on this trip did I hear a pitch that positioned a new Latin American-bred venture globally that sought international markets, technology partners or funding sources.

Creating a start-up it is a risky and challenging endeavor, which reminds me of a saying from my youth: “The difference between a difficult and an impossible job is that the difficult one takes lots of hard work… The impossible one takes just a bit of additional work!” Since envisioning/developing the new ventures that I met with suggests that Latin American entrepreneurs have embraced the idea of working hard, why not encourage these entrepreneurs to work a bit harder to become global players? The rewards can be enormously higher!

2. Most Latin American entrepreneurs do not “copy,” “plagiarize” or simply attempt to learn from other similar or comparable global ventures. This unwillingness to study the global competitive landscape limits the horizons of their ventures in their immediate locations and is possibly compounded by the discomfort of accessing information in foreign languages (English being the dominant one). Very seldom did I come across a competitive analysis, benchmarking or stakeholder studies that included global players.

Launching a start-up is not a classroom exercise, where budding entrepreneurs are penalized by plagiarizing, imitating or copying someone else’s work. While we must respect the trade secrets and intellectual property of our competitors, everything that is in the public domain is fair game. Hence, we must leverage, learn, avoid similar mistakes and be ready to explain how we will succeed where others have failed, or improve in our go-to-market strategy, pricing, internal processes or internal culture. Doing so can save months and/or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

3. Most Latin American entrepreneurs do not sufficiently leverage technology. Many pitches I heard were timid in the technologies that their start-ups used and simply started with a multi-lingual web site, an e-commerce platform, and a strong digital/social media presence. Furthermore, there are hosts of technology tools to increase the internal productivity of the team as well as those optimized to enhance the customer experience.

Technology is one of the great value creation points of leverage for new Latin American ventures. We must embrace its use and be aware of the constant disruptions it potentially brings to all human activities. It is in fact one of the greatest insurance policies for our venture to remain current and viable over time. Developing your own Intellectual Property (IP) and protecting this IP is an essential element of a Latin American entrepreneur’s value creation journey!

4. Most Latin American entrepreneurs fail to recognize that they cannot go at it alone. They are neither heroes nor saints willing to endure extraordinary sacrificies. Instead, Latin American entrepreneurs are bright, hard-working human beings that need ALL the help they can get. Therefore, it is essential that they share their vision with other like-minded individuals they trust, form coalitions and a broad network of supporters, and tap hard into their respective ecosystems. It is also important that these entrepreneurs align all the tangible and intangible resources they can get during the bootstrapping period.

Latin American entrepreneurs must recognize that is unlikely that someone will fund their PowerPoint (even in Silicon Valley is hard to get a PPT funded and Latin America is NOT Silicon Valley… yet!); investors funds teams (not individuals) and compelling solutions to large market pains. Therefore, Latin American entrepreneurs should get their pilot MVPs (minimum viable products) into the hands of their customers fast, get their feedback to their respective teams and iterate quickly until they get it right!

5. Most Latin American entrepreneurs are great “small” salespersons. They have developed great visions, identified compelling value propositions, built great teams, and demonstrated stratospheric levels of energy, passion, and commitment. All this is wonderful, but is of limited value if nobody knows it.

Latin American entrepreneurs must be the “salespersons-in-chief” of themselves and their ventures. They need to be almost obnoxious in their persistence. They cannot miss a future client, employee, investor, partner because these people are unaware of who they are and/or what they do! The world is their audience and entrepreneurs only have one shot to make a first great impression!

I finished my whirlwind trip with the conviction that the democratization process is well underway that is decreasing barriers to entry and enabling more Latin entrepreneurs than ever before to participate in the innovation revolution. This is irreversible. Governments across Latin America are slowly “getting it.” Unfortunately, often they want to “control” the process and apply the wrong metrics to a journey that is inherently chaotic, unmanageable and long term. These governments would be well served to focus on enabling policies, levelling the playing field, establishing the right incentives and simply getting out of the way… leaving the rest to Schumpeter’s creative destruction, Darwin’s survival of the fittest and Smith’s invisible hand!

Carlos Baradello during a keynote: Is Entrepreneurship a source of hope for a more equitable and sustainable  development in Latin America?

Carlos Baradello during a keynote: Is Entrepreneurship a source of hope for a more equitable and sustainable development in Latin America?

I am glad to be back writing after a one-year “sabbatical.” I hope to be back more frequently with my thoughts and continue the conversation with you my dear readers.

Until my next post – Carlos B.

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Is the Western World Testing the Limits of Incrementalism? An opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs from emerging countries

I have been reflecting on the consequences of incrementalism for a while and have come to recognize a disturbing pattern manifested in our western world across multiple aspects of our daily lives (not only in businesses, but in many aspects of everyday life). In fact, I have become convinced that incrementalism across developed countries opens a unique opportunity to entrepreneurs from the developing world.

This idea is captured by the boiling frog story. This well-known anecdote describes a frog slowly being boiled alive. The lesson is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out and survive, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

Companies and leaders try to make the most out of their strengths. At business school, we teach that companies, people, and even countries should focus on what they do best.  Certainly, the frog feels incrementally better as the cold water becomes a bit warmer. Likewise, businesses benefit from each incremental improvement of their products or services, while often the overall process could be harmful for the enterprise. Every strength, once at its limit, becomes a liability and after a while we become unable to see the consequences of the long sum of these incremental changes. Even in the rare case that the adverse consequences are seen, we might be unwilling to speak-up  against the dominant corporate orthodoxy (what I have called during my corporate career the “conspiracy of silence”).

Incrementing to the deadly cliff

Incrementing to the deadly cliff

Today, globalization and the lowering barriers to access (technology, markets, capital, etc.), are creating unique opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs; in particular in emerging countries. Since they are not invested in old/established paradigms, they are able to scale globally the opportunities they have developed for their local markets. However, these solutions become more compelling when the market needs of the developed and developing markets are in alignment. In these cases, innovations from emerging countries are not wed to the status quo (or as Machiavelli called “… the established order of things…”) but rather seek cost-effective/superior solutions to their market pains.

The consequences of incrementalism are being exacerbated, as time accelerates and side-effects happen faster and more frequently. Furthermore, the population growth is aggravating this trend, as we anticipate in about a dozen years we will share the planet with 8 billion people and moving quickly to 9 billion well before mid-century.

Some evidence with a few examples:

  • How did we get over a hundred chemicals in our processed food? One at a time! Each had a unique benefit making our food taste a little bit better, prolonging its shelf life a little bit longer, making its color a little bit more appealing, making its manufacturing a little bit cheaper, etc. I can almost imagine every corporate meeting when every decision was being made––in fact I have been in some of them.  And I can also remember how the meeting participants felt after each incremental improvement (in isolation) was fully justified. As the market responded positively, raises/bonuses/and stock options were distributed and each corporate executive felt pumped, paving the way for the next executive team seeking a larger reward by seeking the next incremental improvement. Unfortunately, the end result is that the initial tasty natural product became more a product of a chemistry lab than of nature, and sure enough decades later we discovered that, in the aggregate, these chemicals have had harmful effects on our lives. It made us more obese, raised our blood pressure, caused diabetes, or even created a dependency we previously didn’t have!
  • We now look back at the demise of Arthur Andersen, an auditing company that shined for integrity and ethical standards. However, tempted to emulate the revenues and margins of their consulting cousins, Arthur Anderson started to push the envelope and add creativity and imagination to what it was the “predictably dull” auditing activities. Every time, they were more aggressive in pushing the line enabling management to unleash their “innovative” practices for financial reward. Eventually, the ethical line was irreversibly crossed for the benefit of a few senior partners and the ruin of the entire firm.
  • Kodak was once the undisputed leader of film photography and was driven out of existence by incrementally improving film photography (does anyone remember “Aptiva”?) and ignoring digital photography.
  • Digital Equipment Corporation (“DEC”) was a revered start-up from Route 128 (remember when Boston’s Route 128 was in the same sentence as Silicon Valley?) and my former employer.  DEC was extraordinary successful in democratizing the access to computers by bringing the Mini (computer) out from the data center and into the department, in the cube next door. Yet, DEC was driven out of existence developing more and more powerful minis, in the process coining the term “Maxi-Minis” missing completely the PC market.

In the last four examples the frog is boiled to death!  And these successful enterprises disappeared.  It would be overly simplistic to point all reasons to incrementalism, but I would argue that it did play a significant role in their demise!

At this point I would be tempted to open the debate on how incrementalism is having a perverted effect on society at-large, and venture into the world of moral relativism and the globalization of superficiality[1].  However, I’ll resist the temptation, leave that for my coffee discussions with my close friends and family, and stick with the relevance of this post to the business world.

The relevancy of incrementalism as a theme for this blog-post is that its best antidote for enterprises incrementing themselves is innovation. And the likely consequence for those who fall victim of its lethal addiction is to become a “boiled frog”. Its end-result is corporate atrophy, carefully developed year after successful year yielding as end result its inability to perform a paradigm change.

Every business strength successfully utilized year after year,

 at its limit could become a liability to the entire enterprise…

Enter foreign entrepreneurs from emerging countries, who aspire to tackle the preeminent market opportunities of this era, including: providing better education for growing numbers of people, enabling participation in a knowledge/networked economy, increasing life expectancy by improving the effectiveness of and access to health care, and applying innovative green technologies to mitigate and prevent further global environmental degradation. These entrepreneurs are free to choose new solutions unconstrained by the dominant logic and unsettled in the psychological comfort zone of “on-the-job-retired” executives. This allows them to be maximally innovative in their selection of business models to enable the viral penetration. If proven successful these frugal innovations from emerging regions can also expand globally into the developed world!

JobsAt what point does incremental innovation becomes harmful? And at what point does that perilous comfort afforded by managing the “known” open up the flanks of established enterprises to attack by the young entrepreneurs from the fledging South who are willing to plunge into new disruptive paradigms?

In a future post, I will connect human centered design and design thinking as radical departures from incremental revenue maximization/cost minimization centered design.

Let me know what you think, especially if you disagree.

Until my next blog  – Carlos B.

[1] Nicolás, Adolfo, “Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today.”  Remarks for “Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe.”  Mexico City.  23 April 2010.  Available online:

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Mining the Silicon Valley Mind — Part II: A Perspective for Foreign Entrepreneurs

The content of this blog-post was presented during the keynote titled “Success Favors the Prepared Mind”, I delivered last Friday (June 21, 2013) at the 2013 Endeavor Entrepreneur Summit, in San Francisco, California, USA.

What makes Silicon Valley[1] unique?  Does the Valley’s success lie in its geography or in the mindset of the people who live here? While many of my posts focus on the Valley as a model to learn best practices and emerging trends, today’s post picks up the historical perspective of an earlier post published exactly one year ago — on June 29 2012 ( In this post, I share the ten attributes, which emerged over the past century and a half, which help to explain this region’s dynamism. Today, I expand on a new perspective on the required characteristics of today’s arriving foreign entrepreneurs to be effective and seize the opportunities that Valley offers.

I don’t believe it is Silicon Valley’s water or air that makes its people more creative, innovative or entrepreneurial than others. Instead, I’d like to share my perspective that the Valley’s entrepreneurial mindset has been 165 years in the making. In fact, this mindset has roots in Northern California’s infamous Gold Rush in the mid-19th century.

The early West Coast of the United States was largely inaccessible to the rest of the world. It was a harsh continental landscape away from the established East Coast, vast oceans away from Asia and Europe, deserts and mountains away from its even closer neighbors in Latin America. As a result, Northern California remained sparsely populated and isolated from the rest of the world for a long time, and people did not consider it worth the trouble to “Go West.” However, all this changed when gold was discovered in 1848.

Sailing to Northern California at the start of the Gold Rush

Sailing to Northern California at the start of the Gold Rush

Northern California’s Gold Rush started in 1848. Among the first to hear news of gold were people in East Asia and South America, and many chose to immigrate. Interestingly, these migrants’ motivations were very different from that of migrants who had arrived from Europe to the American Northeast two centuries prior. While the Mayflower Pilgrims came to the New World seeking the political or religious freedoms denied to them in Europe, migrants to Northern California fundamentally sought economic rewards.

The personality profile of Gold Rush migrants consisted of two key attributes: (a) a natural self-selection of risk-takers willing to migrate over vast and harsh terrains, and (b) a no-nonsense desire for economic rewards. As a result, the region’s DNA was self-selecting: people who chose to “Go West” were overwhelmingly risk-taking, adaptive, flexible, tolerant of discomfort, and even ready to die in their pursuit of economic prosperity. Seen through another lens, these migrants in fact were quintessential entrepreneurs. These gold-seekers, called “forty-niners” (in reference to the year 1849, when immigrants arrived in large numbers), often faced substantial hardships on their journeys to get here. Once they arrived, they faced mining accidents, diseases, and in many cases, death.[2]

Today’s foreign entrepreneurs mimic certain characteristics of the gold rush migrants of the 1800s. Instant broadband communications keep foreign entrepreneurs connected to the Valley prior their arrival and keep them connected to home upon their arrival.

What is the mindset required for an entrepreneur to be World Class?

What is the mindset required for an entrepreneur to be World Class?

The unique characteristic of this rugged, dangerous and isolated terrain had an enormous influence on the early settlers of the “Wild West.” I have concluded that the key attributes of the Gold Rush mindset can be summarized with 10 key characteristics that capture the spirit of the early settlers. Interestingly, these characteristics are not in isolation. They have much in common with the enabling characteristics of the 21st century’s Silicon Valley mind.[3] Furthermore, I have added a third column to the original mindset table published one year ago. This column addresses the required characteristics of the foreign entrepreneurs today to fully benefit from Silicon Valley’s resources and opportunities.

Northern California Dreaming:

Key Enabling Mindsets in the Mid-19th Century & Now[4]

and what it means for Foreign Entrepreneurs arriving today to the San Francisco Bay Area


Gold Rush Settler-Entrepreneurs in the Mid-19th Century[5]

Current Silicon Valley Mindset[6]

Characteristics required by Foreign Entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Silicon Valley


An independent and individualist mindset evidenced by their willingness to defy the naysayers in their home countries.[7]Ecosystem: NatureCost of Risk: your life (and possibly your family) The same individualistic and independent mindset is an essential characteristic of entrepreneurs attracted to Silicon Valley today.[8]  Pragmatic, confident and prepared to deal with the unknown — Willingness to defy naysayers in your home country. Become fully aware of what is required to perform, and prepare fully before arrival.Required actions before arriving:

  • Lived the Valley experience before coming,
  • Improve English knowledge and learn the business lingo,
  • Network virtually like crazy.

Ecosystem: Innovation/Knowledge Economy

Cost of Risk: your time  (and possibly some savings and/or your investor funding)

Be yourself: real and pragmatic


Risk taking mentality and tolerance of failures the adversity was such that failing was often the norm and accepted, as leaving was not an option. A climate that rewards risk-taking and tolerates failure — no stigma is attached to failure.  Readiness to deal with rejection, proven wrong, learn fast, adapt quickly, be energized by adversity Recover quickly and no one remembers. Demonstrate ability to listen, by your “improved” answers incorporating feedback. If you persevere unchanged with your perspective, you better be right! Be ready to be humbled.Required characteristics:

  • Fast learner,
  • Unfazed by adversity,
  • Quick to react/adapt; flexible,
  • “Smart” persistence and perseverance.

You will be transformed from a big fish in a small pond to a very small fish in a very large ocean!


Diversity reinforced by opennesssettlers were heterogeneous, arriving from across the world to begin their lives anew. A high-quality and mobile work force — the Valley is a global magnet for talented engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs.  You are adding to the diversity, so be yourself! — Do not try to be what you are not. However, do play by the valley rules and business protocols. Everyone expects you to master pitching and networking, and play win-win at a hyper fast-pace.Required actions:

  • Willingness to compete with the best and hold your ground,
  • Master the ins and outs of your business/industry globally,
  • Master you pitch,
  • Design your one-pager.


 Friendliness with an open mind as a consequence of diversity and isolation. They were one of the few committed to do something really hard.  Open business environment — win-win exchanges of knowledge. Rapid circulation of ideas enabling free exchange of information and experiences.  Leave the non-disclosures and confidentiality agreements in your home country Your best insurance policy is your brilliance and speed. Share as much as it is reasonable. It is likely you are not alone or the first to think on what you think is “the great idea”. However, be aware: the Valley is paved with great ideas!Required characteristics:

  • The Valley is open for business 24/7/365, are you?
  • High energy and optimist,
  • Balance between thinker and doer,
  • A connector that is willing to share,
  • Seek win/win outcomes.


 Natural cluster formation in the mining sector — by necessity to specialize was to increase overall efficiencies. Distinctive features of Gold Rush towns included bankers, goldsmiths, miners and traders.  Collaborations among stakeholders — business, government and nonprofits develop a coherent infrastructure of information sharing.Specialized business infrastructure — Financial, Legal, Investors, Headhunters, Accounting, Consultants, etc. The most distinctive feature of the Valley’s ecosystem is its array of support services for new high-tech businesses, including over 30% concentration of US-based VCs and angel investors.  Partner, partner and partner You cannot make it alone. You need help from many. Make explicit decisions on your value creation proposition (your uniqueness) and leverage the rest from partners in win-win relationships. The name of the game is to create wealth…. And share it!Required actions:

  • Identify what is core to your business,
  • Identify key partnership,
  • Be able to develop win/win relationships with the supporting stakeholders. You need all the help you can get!


Trial and error consciousness — the problems encountered had to be resolved locally with practical results.  Knowledge intensity — pro new ideas for new products, services, markets, and business models. The Valley generates the highest flow rate of ideas about information technology globally.  Global grand vision and great execution You have already demonstrated in your home country. Do you have the right stuff to play in the global business Olympics?Required characteristics:

  • Know your stuff; you will not be able to fake it!
  • The things you do not know, admit and learn quickly.
  • Get plugged in to the key information avenues either by networking or reading the right web sites/blogs.


Passion for success it was more than economic success; Gold Rush settlers loved the chase!  Passion for success that is paired with a results-oriented meritocracy — Talent and skills are king.  Age, ethnicity and seniority do not dictate opportunity or level of responsibility. Passion for success — Your success depends on your


Required characteristics:

  • No one cares about your family prestige or wealth (unless you are investing part of it in your venture). Your degrees were helpful to get the first meeting, the rest is up to you,
  • Demonstrate your passion and commitment for your venture,
  • Walk the talk!


Creation of wealth — not just money but creation of a community. Universities and research institutes that interact with industry — rich sources of well-trained, experienced scientists and engineers willing to transform their knowledge into entrepreneurial ventures.  To get from the community you will have to give to the community ­Your pressure to capture the window of opportunity is very real and your limited resources are omnipresent. Yet your success depends on others and the successes of others depend of you. You will be asking favors and you will be expected to return them.Required characteristics:

  • “T” type of individual: focused and deep in their core discipline yet broadly knowledgeable and able to reach across different disciplines,
  • Success will be measured financially, but how you get there is also important,
  • You are creating your track record, success or failure, how you conduct yourself is important.


Pitching as a way of life!each Gold Rush settler was his/her best salesperson. Pitching is the essential skill of an Entrepreneur[9] as he/she attempts to obtain the initial customers, employees, funding, etc.  Your Pitch is your currency — Like the early gold rush settlers you are the best sales person of YOU and YOUR VENTURE! Perfect Pitch = Content + Structure/Organization + DeliveryRequired actions:

  • Master the knowledge of your business
  • Develop dozens of capsules
  • Master its delivery under ALL circumstances.


Eternal Optimismovercoming the challenges was the only available option. Favorable rules of the game — pro-business formation.  You will participate in the most sophisticated ecosystem on the planet It depends on you to take full advantage of the resources and opportunities it offers!Required actions:

  • Meet, read, follow, and network with successful entrepreneurs,
  • Learn from leaders in your industry,
  • Form a support network with peers and friends,
  • Mentors could be an incredible asset, find them and use them!


 An attractive place to settle with mild weather and abundant natural resources. Attracted initially by gold, but later most stayed.  High quality of life — a beautiful place to work, live and play.  The Bay Area is a great place, enjoy the ride and make it memorable! — Whether your venture succeeds or fails, this will be a memorable period of your life. Your start-up is important, but it does not define you fully as a person. On the contrary you define your venture, Therefore, enjoy the ride! By every criterion your stay in the Bay Area will be a period of personal and professional growth! Required actions:

  • Organize your start-up so you can manage it remotely. Your stay in the Bay Area might be longer than what you anticipated,
  • Your ventured takes center focus, but leave a bit of time for others,
  • It is a marathon interspersed with many sprints in-between, manage your time efficiently and leave space to “smell the flowers”


Every day, foreign entrepreneurs bring their ventures to Silicon Valley in their quest to scale them up globally. Their goal is to leverage the SV ecosystem’s advantages to catapult their ventures to stratospheric success. However most of them fail. Actually many fail because the nature of this endeavor is very Darwinian, but there have been many others that were never in the running because they were not properly prepared, or had misaligned expectations, or probably some of both. The objective of the table above is to bring into focus the evolution of the Silicon Valley mindset from its early gestation days to today and what it means for the arriving global “gold seekers” of the knowledge economy. In fact these ten characteristics will help the entrepreneurs not only in Silicon Valley, but anywhere. Furthermore, as these ten characteristics are embraced by many they will help to transform the local ecosystem in a more dynamic and effective. As a summary these 10 characteristics are:

  1. Prepare for the unknown
  2. Adapt quickly
  3. Be yourself!
  4. Openness brings rewards
  5. Partner, partner, partner
  6. Global grand vision
  7. Passion for success
  8. Give back to the community
  9. Your pitch is your currency
  10. Eternal optimism

Hundreds of ecosystems pursuing innovation and entrepreneurship are sprouting up throughout world, and each one is seeking to create its own color and texture, learning from one another and improving and adapting the Silicon Valley model to local characteristics, norms and codes. Most have wisely given up any effort to replicate Silicon Valley after recognizing that the Valley could not replicate itself even if it wanted, since the conditions that fostered its creation are impossible to replicate! Without a doubt, though, gears are in motion to create such a “Global Valley”. However, this will take probably decades — note that SV construction did not happen overnight – in the meantime globally minded entrepreneurs will seek to come to the Valley, as actors dream to go to Hollywood or athletes crave to participate in the Olympics.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know, especially if you disagree!

Until my next post. – Carlos B.

[1] In my posts I often use three terms, Silicon Valley (SV), the Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) or simply the Bay Area interchangeably.
[2] Levy, Joann (1992). They saw the elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush. Archon:N.p., pp. xxii, 92
[3]  Adapted from The Silicon Valley Edge, Edited by Chong-Moon Lee, William F. Miller, M. Gong Hancock, and Henry S. Rowen, Stanford University Press, 2000.
[5] This is the personal perspective of the author.
[6] Adapted from The Silicon Valley Edge, Edited by Chong-Moon Lee, William F. Miller, M. Gong Hancock, and Henry S. Rowen, Stanford University Press, 2000.
[7] In 1861, the telegraph connected San Francisco to the East Coast enabling cross-continental businesses and news-share; however, it had to wait until 1869 when the railroad connecting both coasts was completed to trigger the physical integration process to the USA. Still, the ten attributes described in the table below were so deeply rooted that continued to evolve becoming a distinguishing characteristic of this region.
[8] This is not part of today’s 10 key enabling characteristics shown in reference 2.
[9] This is not part of today’s 10 key enabling characteristics shown in reference 2.
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Being an Entrepreneur in Argentina is the “Best Revenge”

As my plane reaches cruising altitude after taking off from Ezeiza (Buenos Aires’ international airport) for the long journey to Beijing via Frankfurt, I plunge into my laptop to capture some of my experiences during this journey that began ten days ago.

The world continues to cry for you, my dear Argentina, as we watch your determination to underdevelop yourself, and as Argentines hopelessly adjust to unavoidably lower “new normals.” Against this challenging backdrop, I would claim that being an entrepreneur in today’s Argentina is an Argentine’s best revenge. Why? Stay tuned…

I arrived to Argentina last week from Lima. I was invited to deliver a keynote and be part of a fireside chat during Wayra’s Demo Day. My periodic visits to Lima make me a witness of the fast transformation of Peru as a vibrant economy and its integration to the global concert of nations. Wayra, Telefonica’s corporate incubator, is making an effort across 12 countries (mostly across Latin America) to move the needle in the evolution of the entrepreneurial ecosystems within the countries where it operates. Wayra represents a kind of enlightened Corporate Social Responsibility with great multiples!

Alberto Yepes, Managing Director of Trident Capital,  Juan Francisco Rosas, Executive Director Wayra Peru  and Carlos Baradello during the Wayra Demo Day Fire- Side Chat, Lima, Peru. (May 22, 2013)

Alberto Yepes, Managing Director of Trident Capital,
Juan Francisco Rosas, Executive Director Wayra Peru
and Carlos Baradello during the Wayra Demo Day Fire-
Side Chat, Lima, Peru. (May 22, 2013)

In vast contrast from landing in Peru, landing in Argentina is like returning to the past. The country refuses to learn from history traversing similar failed paths and repeating parallel mistakes. Every week a new corruption scandal shifts the public discourse and the dinner table conversation from the prior week’s scandal now already forgotten. Argentina’s reality show exceeds any possible fiction, making the TV news program lead the ratings as the most entertaining, surpassing even a soccer game!

The institutional lies permeating every aspect of Argentine society has eroded the public trust requiring a bigger lie to cover the prior one. Its magical realism make the lyrics of Enrique Santos Discépolo’s 75 year old tango “Cambalache” more relevant today than even in the past!


Cambalache – Spanish Lyrics



Cambalache – English Lyrics

(by Google translate)

“Hoy resulta que es lo mismo
ser derecho que traidor,
ignorante, sabio o chorro,
generoso o estafador…
¡Todo es igual!
¡Nada es mejor!
Lo mismo un burro
que un gran profesor.
No hay aplazaos ni escalafón,
los ignorantes nos han igualado….
¡El que no afana es un gil!”
“Today it is the same
to be a traitor,
ignorant, wise or thief,
generous or swindler…
Everything is the same!
Nothing is better!
The same a donkey
as a great professor.
There are no failing grades or ranks,
we have been matched by the ignorant…
He who does not steal is a fool! “

While Argentina is preoccupied in its de-construction, Argentine entrepreneurs are hard at work constructing new dreams. This apparent contradiction is fueled by the quality of the country’s human capital.  Historically, Argentine professionals could use the escape valve to emigrate as they were welcomed in the USA or the European countries of their ancestors. However, the global crisis, has made that possibility largely unavailable.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s President surprise herself as well as to the Argentines with her leadership and policies.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s
President surprise herself as well as to the
Argentines with her leadership and policies.

Today, Argentine entrepreneurs are enabled to start their own ventures by the lower barriers to entry in certain technology sectors and facilitated by low opportunity costs. Young and confident, the country’s innovators and entrepreneurs are giving up very little to take the plunge and launch their new ventures. Corporate salaries are low (even lower when computed with the dollar blue, the free market floating rate) and careers are doubtful in enterprises that are afraid to plan for the uncertain medium term (forget about long-term planning). To conclude, Argentine business’ daily existence is driven by constant required trade-offs to assure its own immediate survival giving up any semblance of excellence.

Competent programmers, engineers and able business managers have made arrangements of continued support from family and friends for their personal survival and pursue the “next big thing.” Their quest to build their new venture is facilitated by (1) low barriers of entry, due to the democratization of technology, (2) their professional competence, enabled by what remains of a good educational system and (3) a global mindset, still a society constant since these Argentines are the product of immigrant parents or grandparents. Furthermore, they have grown up in an environment that has trained them in an environment that requires smart optimization of their limited resources and street smarts that require extreme flexibility, due to the country’s increasing unpredictability. In other words, Argentine entrepreneurs are well prepared to lead their start-ups. They are resilient, flexible, resourceful and adaptable to tackle the unknown global markets and optimize their venture development with very limited means.

These dreams are constructed often through a focus on foreign markets, where their ventures will unavoidably migrate. They will likely retain their product development team in country as long the cost arbitrage can justify the use of Argentine human capital. Their globally minded leadership will consider opportunities offered by programs like the now popular Start-up Chile, and similar programs offered by countries including Brazil, Portugal, Singapore and others in exchange for basing some aspects of their ventures to those locales.

Argentina’s entrepreneurs are today’s hope of the country to retain some relevance, and for the rest we will continue crying for you Argentina!

Until my next post – Carlos B.

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Reflecting on Corporate Entrepreneurship: Can Mid-Sized Latin American Firm Play Ball? Part II

In the last post (Part I), we reviewed six lessons from established companies that can sustain innovation and harvest its promises in terms of increased profitability and market growth. While these lessons apply to firms of all sizes, untapped growth opportunities are possible when applied to medium-sized Latin American firms.

This post (Part II) first considers how medium-sized Latin American firms can leverage the ongoing start-up revolution[1] happening across Latin America, to retain their vitality in the existing markets and/or enter new ones with new emerging technologies.

Second, this post considers those medium-sized firms across Latin America founded in the 1980s and 1990s that have reached annual revenues between US$5MM and $50MM. These firms are likely to have leadership teams with average ages in the 50s and 60s. Their founding coincides with the opening of Latin American economies following the so-called “Washington Consensus” and all that it implied: increased levels of deregulation, liberalization and privatization of state owned enterprises.  These firms face unique challenges today.  While they often benefited from market opacity and asymmetries of information, they now face growing transparency.  Ironically, free trade promoted by the Washington Consensus has led to the entry of new, global competitors.  For example, few have been spared from China’s ascendance as a fierce competitor and top trading partner across Latin America.

The Problem

Mid-sized firms in Latin America, despite their remarkable achievements in the face of adverse and hostile circumstances, face significant challenges today.  Their technologies are aging, their management would prefer to operate on auto-pilot, their competitive advantages are eroding, and their customer loyalty is wearing thin as customers demand next generation products and services to achieve the increased productivity promised by emerging technologies.

These firms devote their R&D budgets to making incremental improvements to their current offerings and supporting their legacy clients. As a result, these firms rarely have sufficient resources available for internal experimentation in disruptive technologies or considering new business models. This presents a great opportunity to leverage the ongoing start-up revolution happening across Latin America.

The real question is whether mid-sized Latin American firms can be successful at both (a) executing their current business models with existing products while simultaneously (b) inventing new and disruptive businesses to address the emerging needs of customers with new products/services based on new technologies?

These firms are unlikely to develop both activities within the same organizational structure. The first task is optimized to manage known knowledge, which requires executing and incrementally improving current operations in a known environment, a solid understanding of the customer base and well-understood technology/products. The second entails managing unknown-knowledge, which requires experimenting, dealing with extraordinary levels of uncertainty, learning fast and coping with failure and dead ends, and pivoting as many times as required.

Could the mid-sized firm incubate young Latin American ventures?

Could the mid-sized firm incubate young Latin American ventures?

How do we organize these firms so that new and innovative developments can take form simultaneously?  Large firms will often have their own venture capital arm (e.g., Intel Capital and Google Ventures) to make strategic bets in young start-ups through minority equity positions. These investments have a “double bottom line:” (i) it should make financial sense in terms of valuation and anticipated IRR and (ii) it should be a strategic fit for the firm.

This model could be easily adapted to the mid-sized Latin firms.  Instead of staking out minority equity share participation in new ventures, these firms can provide in-kind contributions.  These firms can act as “incubators” for selected local start-ups and offer them support in areas where the firm has underutilized capacity across its many functions including finance, accounting, marketing and legal. The hypothesis I’m asserting is that, given the right incentives, these firms could support and incubate a nascent start-up by leveraging its departments while simultaneously giving them access to new initial customers, access to pilots, access to technological infrastructure, and even new markets.

This is easier said than done! There are many barriers to implementing this model. Some of the restrictions are objective while others are cultural and subjective.  Managing these young start-ups being incubated within an established mid-sized firm will require adjusting its operating culture, performance metrics and priorities.

While this incubation poses objective management challenges, devising clear policies properly communicated and followed through could enhance the chances of achieving a successful outcome. However, some changes that do not fit prevailing Latin culture could be more problematic to implement. Several of the key changes are identified below:





Minority vs. majority participation of the mid-sized firm in the young start-up Negotiating the best possible terms in terms of percentage ownership.  “The more the better.”The higher percentage of ownership increases the risk that the acquired start-up’s entrepreneurs/founders will transition from owner to employees. Taking a 15% to 25% ownership leaving the majority of the ownership and consequentially the majority of the potential upside in the hands of the founders/entrepreneurs. This does not preclude the larger firm acquiring the start-up at a later stage, once the products or services are proven and its market developed. However, by then most of the value created will be in the hands of the entrepreneurs as a reward for their innovations and risk capitalized.
Managing a minority stake Start-up is neglected with minimum value added contributions. Not tuned into the company operations and synergies exploited.“Since I don’t own it, it can’t be interesting” Leverage firm resources to the benefit of the start-up. View the company being incubated as part of the brilliant future of the mid-sized firm.
Managing the possible failure of the start-up being incubated Start-ups are riskier and present considerably higher probability of failure. Since failure is culturally unacceptable, maintain distance. Any failure will be attributed to the founders/entrepreneurs, labeling them as losers! Embrace failure as a learning opportunity. Realization that the risk of doing business-as-usual represents even a higher long-term risk.The future will happen and the incumbents will be seriously threatened.
If the start-up is successful, could it integrate retaining its dynamic youth? If the technology and/or the market pilot is successful, the mid-sized firm will attempt to harvest the benefits immediately creating resentment from the founding team and potential departures and know-how lost. Nurture the growth of the start-up new technology base to deliver a series of products/services. If new market access is provided due to the start-up, develop this new segment to become a dominant force. Speed and customer satisfaction is more important than the % of ownership.

The Mid-Sized Latin American Firm in the Global Marketplace

These firms do not operate in a vacuum.  In fact, mid-sized Latin American firms are being subjected to increased pressure to innovate and compete in the global marketplace. As technology cycles shorten, the arrival of global competitors accelerates and more attention is focused on BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The “B” from Brazil has had a spillover effect to Latin America. Today, the developed world struggles to reach an “unthinkable” 3% GDP growth while many Latin American countries are sporting growth well over 3% and as much as 6% per year.

Mid-sized Latin American firms need to insure the present by flawlessly executing their current lines of business. However, their futures will be assured only by their ability to perform limited experiments and accept controlled failures as the cost of doing business. The key will be for these firms to fail quickly and cheaply as they compete in the global marketplace! Can the start-ups sprouting across Latin America become engines of innovation and growth for these established mid-sized firms? Will the mid-sized firms adapt to selected start-ups and incubate them by sharing their knowledge, client base and infrastructure to pilot new technologies with their existing customer base and/or address a new market segment?

What do you think?

Until my next blog-post – Carlos B.

[1] LatAm Technology: The Startup Revolution, by Alternative Latin Investor.

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Reflecting on Corporate Entrepreneurship (a.k.a. Intrapreneurship): Can an elephant dance? Part I

The rise of Silicon Valley and the wealth creation by early stage companies has increased the pressure on established corporations, as their shareholders demand to create similar shareholder value mimicking those of these young ventures. The global Innovation fever is forcing executives of large global firms to re-imagine their leadership style and management practices, their management and compensation policies for human capital, their organizational structures and their capital allocation with the aim to increase the firm’s productivity and global competitiveness. The overarching goal is to evolve the firm’s culture and regain the nimbleness of a young start-up. Often, this goal is elusive as they are too entrenched in the comfort zone, and continue operating within their traditional products (technologies) and/or in a deadly embrace with their legacy customers.

It is well understood that double or triple digit growth is more realistic when revenues are at $1MM/year than at $100B/year. But many corporations stagnate as they rest in their laurels of their glorious past. Their shareholder return tends to mimic those of a bank CD (Certificate of Deposit) than those of a vibrant high-tech enterprise. Over time these corporations become aloof, isolated from the market and technology trends, start suffering increasing doses of NIH (non-invented here) relying on their own internal departments for the innovation of the firm.


“An enterprise that does not daily innovate, inevitably ages and declines … even in a successful business the disease of bureaucracy and complacency is ever present.”
Peter F. Drucker,
Father of modern management

This bleak picture does not need to be this way. Flip-flopping between the two extremes of internal R&D and desperate M&A (Merger & Acquisition) activity become insufficient to bring back its great glory. When one really looks under the hood at great companies that sustain innovation and growth, it becomes clear that innovation is not usually the result of an accident. It’s usually driven by the CEO and the TMT (Top Management Team) and defined by the following actions:

1)    Innovation needs to be nurtured by constantly examining which initiatives to triage and which to focus on. Leading development companies regularly review their R&D pipelines with senior management and reassess and reprioritize each project based on its revenue and profit potential, the odds of success, the timeline, investments required and other key variables to focus their limited R&D resources on the highest return opportunities.

2)    R&D needs to be managed to focus on value added outputs. While many small and mid-market companies only focus on incremental development projects that will lead to product improvements for existing products, it’s important that the CEO considers disruptive technologies that can solve (probably future/new) customer’s problems better, faster and/or cheaper. If the choice is between your company being a disruptor or disrupted, what would you pick?

3)    Innovation starts with your Human Capital strategy: who you hire, how you measure, how you compensate, reward and motivate them. Make sure your Human Resources team is looking for the right attributes/attitudes and that you consider bringing in “digital natives” who possess new technical skills, approaches and attitudes that reflect your emerging customers.

4)    Innovation touches all functions of the firm beyond R&D and engineering, including PR, accounting, human resources, legal/regulatory policy management, marketing, etc. Each department needs to reimagine its role across the firm and leverage the latest technology such as cloud computing, mobility or social media, etc.

5)    To innovate means to take risks and requires the open acknowledgement of the possibility of failure. Clearly, these risks can be managed and mitigated. Don’t expect to succeed 100% of the times. If you want to foster an innovation culture, do not punish the failures, but learn from mistakes and dead ends. Dead ends and failures can’t be avoided in an innovative environment.

6)     CEO and the TMT need to created and reinforce innovation in their culture. The CEO, supported by the TMT, is the C”I”O (Chief Innovation Officer) and innovation cheerleader.

Established firms are challenged to constantly disruptive innovations. However, they cannot do it within their core businesses organization. They need to create a parallel organization that enable experimentation, ability to fail quickly with minimum customer impact, and if required pivot.

Established firms are challenged to constantly disruptive innovations. However, they cannot do it within their core businesses organization. They need to create a parallel organization that enable experimentation, ability to fail quickly with minimum customer impact, and if required pivot.

These firms need to insure the present by executing flawlessly their current businesses. However, their future will be assured only by their ability to perform experiments and accept failure as the natural cost of doing business. The key is to fail quickly and cheaply in the process of inventing the future!

In Part II of this blog-post we will address how the principles of corporate entrepreneurship reviewed in this Part I could be applied to medium size companies across Latin America. In this upcoming article we will explore how we could take advantage of the on-going Start-up Revolution in Latin America leveraging these young ventures by selecting strategically few to incubate.

Until my next posting – Carlos B.

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Reinvention Driven by Constant Discomfort

This past weekend I was invited to moderate a discussion organized by my son Federico. The group brought together young professionals with varied yet complementary backgrounds and sought to catalyze a discussion centered on a few key themes relevant to this group.  Below I summarize my salient points to the discussion which are also broadly relevant to other young emerging leaders.

In the weeks prior, I had reviewed the gathering’s five key themes listed below with Federico and his former law school colleague Alejandro which, in essence, aimed to offer food for thought for a lively discussion among this group of brilliant young professionals:

  1. Envisioning the future
  2. Being disrupted or becoming a disruptor
  3. Managing success and failure
  4. Building a community
  5. Managing risk

Envisioning the Future

Two elements are clear for today’s young professionals: (1) their lifespan will likely extend beyond their nineties, and (2) they will coexist on a planet with 9 to 10 billion other people by the time they reach their mid-careers.

The implications of these two simple facts are manifold.  Importantly, their retirement age will pass well beyond their seventies, meaning that compared to my generation theirs will have an added 10 to 20 years to their careers.  At the same time, as our world becomes ever more interdependent and interconnected, they cannot ignore but must leverage the other 9-10 billion people that reside on our planet!

Figure 1: Envisoning the future is a skill that can be developed over time.

Figure 1: Envisoning the future is a skill that can be developed over time.

Interesting take-aways from this first discussion theme include:

  • Access to knowledge and information is ever easier because of the democratization process due to the world flattening.
  • Great value creation opportunities arise when the interests of the developed and the emerging countries are aligned.
  • Every 5-7 years you must re-invent yourself through constant discomfort while surfing the waves your career for once you become comfortable others are passing you by.
  • Longer life expectancy offers an opportunity for constant re-invention but demands that one also do so more frequently to compete.

Nonetheless, the ability to “connect the dots” and envision the future is a skill that can be learned and developed over time—and indeed mastered.  The beauty is that the future will happen and we can compare the future that we envision to reality.  In other words, one must become a “trend-spotter” that applies a model-reference approach, whereby you “see” what is coming and use that as a reference to continually adapt your own model to today’s reality.  But our ability to develop different scenarios and identify different options is hard intellectual work. More often than not we tend to give up because we lack the discipline to compare and contrast, thus missing the opportunity to train our “gut” overtime.

Disrupted or Disruptor

As the pace of change intensifies and the number of participants in the knowledge economy increases from the developed as well as the developing world, chances are that every single industry, human activity, and business endeavor will be re-examined for disruption opportunities, thereby creating new value and demolishing old paradigms. As a result, each one of us will likely either be disrupted or choose to become a disruptor.

Health care, government, education, and religion are ripe “industries” for disruption.  In other words, inherently protective “big” models should be targeted and revolutionized.  In doing so, one must leverage technology to optimize processes and reduce the buy-in price for consumers and suppliers.  Importantly, opportunities to become a disruptor are not limited to just scientists and engineers, for example, but rather, passion, interest and networking are more central to that process. Furthermore, innovation, often, happens on the margins or in other words where two different disciplines (i.e. computer science and art or electrical engineering and health) overlap.

I reflect upon my own career in the telecommunications industry, as I moved from one value creation wave to the next: From digital switching to end-user equipment, from transmission and access loop to mobile, and from wireless to the mobile web––all that in a span of less than 30 years. My example goes to show how each wave of value creation was followed by a wave of value destruction. Similarly, I observed first-hand similar trends in the much younger and far less regulated computer industry. In fact these waves were the similar but just faster and the ups and downs more abrupt! In other words observe broadly the patterns. Experienced “trend-spotters” are able to map trends from one industry or area of human behavior to another.

The most important conclusion of this part of the conversation was the need for personal reinvention. Throughout our careers, the nature of our work will change as we change jobs and shift between industries––sometimes we will welcome the chance while other times it will be an unwelcome surprise.  Well-paid activities will become completely commoditized as satisfying jobs will become obsolete because of new technologies or business models or both.

As my youthful audience pondered on my words, their solemn silence was not completely different from that of my students in class.  Were they concerned, or in disbelief?  My response would be to accept the process of reinvention as the new norm and thrive in it!

Managing personal success and failures

Waves of value creation largely driven by technological innovation and market disruptions will challenge our professional careers. This will happen either because we have embraced a new venture, and thereby becoming disruptors, or because others are disrupting us.  Either way, one’s professional journey is ever riskier.

Figure 2: Every career transition represent an opportunity for failure, though the cost of avoiding the transition could be higher.

Figure 2: Every career transition represent an opportunity for failure, though the cost of avoiding the transition could be higher.

Throughout one’s own journey every transition is risky and it is exactly during those transitions that the opportunity for failure is greater.  For today’s young professionals, it will require 5 to 10 reinventions to remain competitive (unless we accept commoditization –and hence lower compensation– or early retirement). Then, the question is not if but when you will fail. Hence, the ability to manage one’s own personal failures is a necessary skill.  Using the metaphor of a surfer, falling off as we tackle a new wave is bound to happen.  What becomes really important in that process is how quickly we get back on our feet and surf the next wave!

Building community

As I reflect on my own experiences, I recognize that life for my generation was simpler and more predictable.  At the time I finished my PhD at the end of the 1970s, America provided the comfort of being the unchallenged world power as it dominated industries and global markets. Its financial resources and military might provided cover for the American “belle époque” and one’s search for their own American Dream.  Indeed, family, religious and community institutions thrived in America in times past and reinforced one another.  Unfortunately, today’s society is more rooted in vanity than in shared communities.

These rooted American institutions also helped provide opportunities to experience a shared sense of responsibilities in the success of the common enterprise and a genuine sense of belonging to many. However, for a multitude of reasons the strength of these institutions has declined significantly in the last 40 years.  Nonetheless, a fundamental human need, I believe, remains the same: the need for most individuals to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Figure 4: Community building depend on the sense of shared responsibility in the common enterprise.

Figure 3: Community building depend on the sense of shared responsibility in the common enterprise.

Current generations, however, must reformulate their communities as they combine their physical presence with their virtual one.  In doing so, they must engage in the hard work of not glossing over the differences but addressing and confronting them in search of the liberating experience of finding truth. If conflict arises due to the dizzying pluralism of choices, values, beliefs and visions of life, we must engage in the hard work of forming communities of dialogue as we all search for truth and understanding[1].

These communities will constitute our support network during our failures while keeping us accountable in the construction of the common enterprise during our successes.

Managing Risks

Evaluating and mitigating risk is central to personal re-invention.  Indeed, those who have already risked and succeeded are leading the charge in industries throughout the world.  This call inherently recognizes that what was once the American Dream is eroding and that, as the American “belle époque” becomes more uncertain, our professional journey becomes riskier.  As a result, we have no choice but to embrace risk as an inherent part of the journey and, in so doing, reject a “herd-follower” model and instead build a society of risk takers.

Individually and collectively, we are not predisposed or well trained to take risks.  It is in our nature to seek safety and security. One must only reflect upon how they oscillated to the life, personal and professional choices they have taken.  Even such notions of free-will neglect the fact that even formal careers and employment inherently hinder risk taking, as if such institutions brainwash or lock one in a utopian predictable path of career progressions.

Overcoming the temerity to take risks requires recognizing that we will always have a limited understanding of the unknown.  An apt analogy to this conundrum is that of a labyrinth: as we overcome life’s travails, we must find an exit while under resource and time constraints without knowing if an exit actually exists!

As we approach the entrances to our own labyrinth we must ask ourselves whether we are personally prepared for failure. Too often we trumpet our successes, but by highlighting failures and the lessons learned we may better arm ourselves for the unknown labyrinths that lie ahead.  Indeed, in doing so, one will find that often taking that first step, such as starting a new venture, is often less risky and challenging that typically imagined.

Closing Comments

Personal and professional lives pose many labyrinths.  The growing complexities of modern life make certain that such challenges will increasingly present themselves.  Your communities will help you traverse and learn from similar experiences, and provide you with trustworthy partners that want to join in and support your personal and professional ventures. Along that journey, humility is central as is the ability to ask questions and to reach out for a helping hand.  Ultimately, our ability to embrace the discomfort zone and proactively seek reinvention and renewal are central to our success in both our personal and professional journeys.

Beating the odds of success is greater than you think!

Until my next blog-post – Carlos B.

[1] This paragraph was adapted from the paper by Nicolás, Adolfo, “Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today.” Remarks for “Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe.” Mexico City. 23 April 2010. Available online:
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