I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with my father, Gustavo Cisneros at Babson’s Centennial Celebration. It was a special occasion for my father since he graduated from this University in 1968. We spent a few weeks preparing and narrowing down our story. We had a lot of material to cover – our business group has been around for about 100 years and we always play the long game adding at least another 20 years ahead to our timeline. We were blessed to have Lauri Union, Executive Director of Babson’s Institute for Family Entrepreneurship as our moderator – she too leads a family business, which made the dialogue fluid, fun and informed.
We decided to focus our talk on the issue of succession. As a backdrop, my father took over the family business unexpectedly at 25 and I was tapped for the role of CEO at 27. Unlike my father who was thrown into the role, In my case, my father was the key proponent of me becoming CEO at a young age. He believed, and I think now he was right, that you need a lot of energy to transform and run a business.
No one would argue that our path was not logical, yet we are still to find another business family who has done it our way. In most cases, the patriarch does not want to let go with the intention of being the boss until the very end. In our case, we decided that beyond energy, I brought with me a new vision for the group that would redefine who we are as a business group and the sooner I started, the more time I would have to execute.
What follows is the video of our conversation in four chapters. I hope you enjoy them!
Part one: My father Gustavo talks about the early days of our business group and taking over from his father, Diego, at the age of 25. He describes how we started the Pepsi and soft drink business in the 30s. He also talks about how my grandfather started Venevison, our TV network in Venezuela. He talks about the importance of mentors and the relationship he developed with David Rockefeller and establishing an office in NYC in the 1980s. We also talk about management styles and our focus on having a “generalist” team of executives.
Part two: My father discusses the moment that he made the decision to become a global business group and making his first deals through private equity such Spalding Evenflo, All American Bottling (AAB), DirecTV and Univision. I talk about the relationship I have with my father, the connection that we feel and the moment I was tapped to take over.
In part three, we discuss moving our headquarters to the US in 1999 and my early involvement with the company. We discuss at length the plan we designed to get me ready for the job and how the right time came to take over. We also reflect on our working relationship and the dynamic we have developed over the years.
In part four, I talk about my vision and what we are working on now, where the ideas came from and what the future looks like. I describe how the evolution of our business model led me to launch our digital ad network called Cisneros Interactive and also invest in AST & Science, our latest space venture. We also describe our approach to Corporate Social Responsibility and how to engage the next generation, staying healthy and “unplugging” the youth.