How to Serve Up Success, Family Style
Venezuelan businessman Gustavo Cisneros ’68, H’19 and his family recently received the Babson-Camus Global Family Entrepreneurship Award. Gustavo Cisneros, who led the family company for 45 years, managed to globalize CISNEROS, strengthen its media and telecommunications reach and branch out into real estate while creating the philanthropic Fundación Cisneros, which aims to improve education in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
In an interview with Babson Thought & Action, Cisneros shared some of the secrets to his family’s entrepreneurial successes.
What has been key to the Cisneros company’s success, especially over the years as both your business and family have grown?
“My father taught me to surround myself with interesting and very experienced people. I believe one of the keys to our company’s growth lies in a simple phrase he would tell me: ‘No matter how great we are, the quality of the people we surround ourselves with is what will ensure our success.’ Although we are a family business, we know our success ultimately depends on our employees and partners. I also credit Babson with having provided us with key management and business skills, and perhaps even more importantly, providing us with a deep connection with the United States. Today, we are an American company, operating all over Latin America, and that intercultural perspective, which my father had instinctively, was reinforced at Babson.”
Why was it important for you and your wife to create Fundación Cisneros?
“My father had created a foundation to support democracy in Venezuela, and invited speakers like Felipe Gonzalez of Spain to Caracas early in his career to discuss ways to promote democracy and the rule of law. My wife, Patty, and I are convinced that education is the only way forward for our societies, and so we created the Fundación Cisneros as a way to channel various initiatives in literacy, culture, and digital learning over the years. Our daughter, Adriana, today runs the Fundación and has done incredible work with at-risk women and girls in the Dominican Republic, while continuing our various cultural initiatives, too. We feel that Latin America’s great legacy is its culture, and we want to share that with the world.”
How did you retain your entrepreneurial spirit and drive when your business became more established?
“The phrase ‘rotation prevents stagnation’ summarizes our desire to keep moving forward. We’ve always tried to avoid getting too comfortable where we are, because that keeps us from settling and losing that entrepreneurial spirit. I think embracing that philosophy as a way of life is part of maintaining that enthusiasm to move forward.
“Even outside my family, it’s something we strive to instill in our employees. We never know where the next great idea will come from, so we always seek to give them the tools they need to develop their own skills and think outside the box. With that, we ensure our horizontal conversations can turn into real growth toward the future.
“Just a couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to witness the successful launch of AST SpaceMobile’s satellite Blue Walker 3. Back in 2018, my daughter, Adriana, who is CEO of Cisneros, had the vision to invest at an early stage in AST, a company founded by Abel Avellán (P’25), that will revolutionize the world of telecommunications by providing cellular connectivity all over the globe. Decades earlier, I had launched a satellite when we were involved with DirecTV Latin America, but, of course, today the world is even more digital and connected, so opportunities come from all over. This kind of startup project makes sure we stay agile and entrepreneurial.”
What are some important or surprising facts about the CISNEROS company?
“Family businesses rarely last more than one or two generations, so I am extremely proud of our transition into the third generation with my daughter, Adriana. During this time, the world has changed drastically, but we have managed to stay in front of these changes. The Babson-Camus Award is a recognition of the 100 years of work my family has done, a recognition of three generations who have shared a clear vision of how to do business in radically different circumstances, but with the same underlying values. No less than 16 members of the Cisneros family are Babson graduates, so you could argue that Babson is also an integral part of our family.
“Of course, I am also very proud that Cisneros is a Latin American company fully established in the United States, and that Latin American culture is such a dynamic part of American life today.”
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