What’s the difference between entrepreneurs in the U.S. and those in Latin America? Lee Ullmann sees more similarities than differences.
But there are some key shifts in mindset that he always considers in his role as Director of the Latin America Office for the Sloan School of Management at MIT.
Based in Santiago, Chile, Lee works with innovators in the private sector, governments, and NGOs to help the region build a more knowledge-based economy. He’s found ready and qualified partners across the continent – and all the way in Antarctica.
Listen in for details on that, as well as…
- One of the hottest sectors in Latin America
- Why the Boston startup scene and MIT fosters innovation
- How to do business with limited resources and infrastructure
- The positive and negative aspects of consumerism
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: mitsloan.mit.edu
David Elmasian: Welcome to The Hub of Success, I’m your host David Elmasian. Today I’m excited to talk to Lee Ullmann, director of Latin America Office of the Sloan School of Management and MIT. As director of MIT Sloan’s Latin America Office, Lee implements the overall strategy planning and development of activities for the school. Based in Santiago, Chile, he collaborates with local governments, universities, non-government organizations, and the private sector to extend MIT’s role and impact in Latin America. Well, welcome to the podcast, Lee.
Lee Ullmann: Thanks David for inviting me. Great to be here.
David Elmasian: So, how was my pronunciation of everything? I know I messed it up a little bit, but it was okay on your name. I tried my best on Chile. I don’t have that accent down just right yet. I’m working on it.
Lee Ullmann: I was hoping for the Boston accent. That’s what I’m missing here.
David Elmasian: Okay. I could definitely turn that on if you like. We can talk about parking cars and all that kind of stuff.
Lee Ullmann: Excellent.
David Elmasian: Wicked, but we’ll roll back to that. So, Lee, I’d love you to give everybody a little bit more about you, your career, and kind of how you got to this point.
Lee Ullmann: Sure, David. I’ve got a pretty varied background where most people, at least in Latin America question how I’m able to make a living with what I’ve been able to do. I started out at Columbia University studying anthropology and ancient Semitic languages. So, if you think about Aramaic, the language of Jesus, especially now we’re in Christmas time and the languages before that. Then after that, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and I worked with low socio-economic communities trying to help them with their education system. Then I came back, I worked at the Museum of Natural History in the technology end, trying to combine anthropology, what I knew and working with their computer systems, building databases and just getting a sense of their collection and how technology can help. Then after that, I did a PhD studying the ancient world and bringing the art in archaeology of the ancient Middle East in with geographic information system. So, I was using mapping technology and old Corona spy imaging to get a sense of what our communication paths were. So, a little bit of everything.
David Elmasian: Yeah. So, give us a time reference for this. You’re not an old guy. You’re a young guy. Because when we talk about like, mapping and all that, most people don’t know that things existed before Google Maps, right?
Lee Ullmann: Yeah. So, this was at the beginning when ArcGIS was the big program where it came out of Harvard, a group of geographers were building it and it was a great program, you could do a lot with it, but not as easy and friendly as Google Maps. So, we’re talking about the 2000s where Google Maps, Google Maps, bought a program, a company that had all of the images, and they started expanding it. So, this was a “the infancy of Google getting involved.” And it was great because it made me a hot candidate to get funding and fund my PhD, but didn’t continue with that. Life took different turns, but we’re talking about, and I guess, sadly, almost 20 years ago.
David Elmasian: Time flies when you’re having a good time. So, you started with that background, a little bit of technology and so, fast forward to today. If you could summarize, what took you from there to work with MIT in Sloan and the office down there?
Lee Ullmann: So, the word is my wife.
David Elmasian: That’s a good one. Yeah.
Lee Ullmann: My wife was also an academic, and we had to decide between her career or my career, and we always wanted to live in Latin America together and raise our kids at least having some Spanish background and being able to speak Spanish. And she got a position at the United Nations, so we decided to pack up shop and move to Santiago, Chile.
David Elmasian: Nice. Okay. So, you’re down there, she’s got a job. Did you have a job?
Lee Ullmann: I didn’t have a job and I was with a one-year-old son who I love dearly, but after a month of being a dad full-time I thought I was going to shoot myself, and so I was looking for anything that could keep me employed. So, I reached out to the US Embassy in Chile, and I had worked in the past, as I said, as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was also a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, so I had worked with the US Embassy or the State Department before, and I said, “I’m down here. I got nothing to do and I got to get away from my kid before we strangle each other.”
David Elmasian: All right. No. Now let’s put some context to this because you and I, we have something in common in that regard. People ask me all the time, “Do you guys have an office?” And I always say, “No, we all work out of homework because of technology nowadays you don’t have to.” But I do say, “Well, there was a short time when I did have an office.” And people say, “Oh, well, why?” Depending how well I know them, I’ll either answer truthfully or not. If I answer truthfully I’ll say, “It’s because I have two young kids in the house and I just had to get the heck out of the house. Too many changing of diapers and all that, I convinced my wife somehow that I desperately needed an office for my business.” And miraculously when they outgrew that, guess what, close the office. So, you’re not alone in all that.
So, one of the things I’m curious about is, now that you’re in this position, and we’ll talk a little bit more detail about what you do every day, but what’s the typical day like for you doing what you’re doing?
Lee Ullmann: So, typical day is, I deal a lot with entrepreneurs, innovators, the energy sector, people who are just looking for MIT knowledge to improve what they’re doing. As many people know, Latin America, South America, in particular, is very much a natural resources based economy where they’re pulling things out of the ground and making money out of it, but it’s not really a knowledge based economy. And they realize that for sustainability for the future, they have to start to switch. I think that’s where this MIT Sloan Latin America Office came that a very forward thinking Chilean philanthropist spoke with the Dean of MIT Sloan and said, “We need your help. We need to have more MIT knowledge in the region because we need to get ahead of the game because one day the natural resources will run out and we’re going to be in a tough situation.”
So, the office opened, it will be in February of next year, 2019, it will be six years, and it really has been interacting with different groups, different people, and just seeing how it could be a win, win for MIT and for the region. So, I guess a lot of people and I would agree, my job is really cool and that I’m sought after in that I’m a face of the best number one university or really people who want to change the world, and I get presented all of these really unique opportunity. So, give you an example is, Chile has major basis in Antarctica, and they’re looking to be more energy sustainable.
So, they came to us to see how could MIT help make Antarctica more energy sustainable and then at the same time a project came out of, there’s no 3D printers in Antarctica. So, how can we bring 3D printing and fabrication to the end of the world so that they’re having to bring in less materials, less objects, and that they can solve their own problems? So, those are just some of the cool innovative things that are going on.
David Elmasian: That’s a piece of cake for guys in MIT. Right?
Lee Ullmann: We hope so. We hope.
David Elmasian: So, are entrepreneurs the same in Chile as they are here or are there differences?
Lee Ullmann: I think there’s an interesting aspect. I think entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs the world over. They’re all dealing with the same problems, but because you’re in Latin America, they feel, “Oh, if I was just in the United States there’d be more funding.” “Oh, if I was just there, it would be easier.” I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think you still got to earn your money and be a hustler and make it happen.
David Elmasian: I can attest to that, but go ahead, yeah.
Lee Ullmann: But the one thing that I have noticed is that I don’t think there are better or worse ideas up here or down there. What I think is, is that up here people are willing to dream more. They’re really willing to say, “I can change the way things,” they think bigger. I think that’s one of the things that when you come from smaller countries or smaller economies, there’s a lot of copying where it’s taking an idea that already exists in the developed world and seeing how it would fit in the developing world, and it’s not a bad thing, but I think when we talk about true innovation of creating something out of nothing, you get less of it and I don’t think it’s lack of ability or lack of intelligence, it’s just they don’t have that mindset of-
David Elmasian: A little bit of a cultural thing.
Lee Ullmann: Absolutely.
David Elmasian: Now, are there a lot of family type businesses in Chile?
Lee Ullmann: Absolutely. In Chile and in Latin America, there are a lot of family offices where families own many and again, they’re looking to make change also. So, I think at some rate it’s always entrepreneur saying, “Oh if I could only get to the family office that would make the difference.” But I’m not sure that’s the case.
The other thing that I think is interesting, like you’re saying cultural differences, from the US, when you look south, people think it’s all the same. Whereas in Latin America, everyone seems to be very different. I think what’s important and what I always try to tell them is, I don’t think an investor up here cares if you’re from a little village in Osorno or you’re from Santiago or Buenos Aires, if you have a great idea, you have a great idea. It’s all the same. I think that there’s this barrier that a lot of people have, “I’m not from the capital city so no one’s going to care about me.”
David Elmasian: Well, like you said there’s differences, for sure, but people are still people and I hear a lot of people around here say, “Oh, if I only had 20,000 followers on Facebook or something, or whatever.” There’s always those things that we all aspire to that we think that that’s the magic bullet. And if we got that, all our problems are solved. You know, life isn’t always that simple, especially business and commerce.
So, let’s talk about the government aspect of it. Do you get involved with governmental agencies, regulations?
Lee Ullmann: Absolutely. So, one of the things that we do as an office is we bring a lot of speakers from MIT down to different countries, whether it’s Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and one of the things I think is a little bit problematic is, a lot of universities like to come down and put their main big rock star on the stage, they give an hour talk and they leave. But we’re down there all the time. So, a lot of what we like to do is not only bring speakers who are these rock stars, but also bring people that will help foundationally, so working with tech licensing offices with governments to make sure that the entrepreneurs have the right support. Thinking about, well, if you’re going to have VCs, what’s going on in terms of mentoring and coaching and making the VCs interested?
We run pitch competitions or similar to the 100K, but in Latin America to really try to help young entrepreneurs make the step and make the jump because I still think that they are still raw. They’re definitely unicorns in different countries, but it’s not the same as here.
David Elmasian: So it’s kind of like creating the infrastructure?
Lee Ullmann: Absolutely.
David Elmasian: Yeah.
Lee Ullmann: I think if you don’t have the right backbone, as much as you can have a great idea, it’s not going to be able to take off.
David Elmasian: Well, being an IT guy, I can understand infrastructure. We talk about it all the time. Customers don’t want to talk about it, but we always talk about. So it’s the same thing.
So, you spend your time down in Chile, and you and I talked a little bit early, you come back and forth three or four times a year, come back to the mothership, so to speak, in Cambridge, right? What do you see in those travels back and forth in terms of information exchange? Is there any information exchange? Do you bring anything? I guess what I’m asking is, what do you bring to the table when you come back to the mothership?
Lee Ullmann: So, a lot of what I do when I come back is just meet with as many people as I can. I’m usually here three to five days and I probably have between 20 and 25 meetings. And more than anything, it’s just learning the new things that are going on, and seeing how that can match down in Latin America and South America, and try to entice people to want to go. Again, as you know, it’s a far trip. You don’t have the changing time, but still you’re getting on a plane for at least 10 plus hours, and so the idea is how to make it enticing for the faculty and researchers at MIT and trying to match it with what there’s going on in Latin America so it’s a win win situation.
But I have to say, every time I come up to campus, I’m always amazed by what’s going on in Kendall Square and in Boston. The innovation that goes on in just a small, let’s say, five square miles is more than entire continents. It’s incredible.
David Elmasian: This podcast, somehow we have an MIT slant, and we have a lot of Harvard University people that don’t like us, I guess for that reason, but we won’t…
Lee Ullmann: Sorry to hear that.
David Elmasian: That’s okay. I know you’re very upset about that. But one of our guests, one of our previous guests other than one of your co-workers, his name is Max and he works at a local business, and he’s done quite well. He’s from Costa Rica but he went to MIT Sloan and one of the points that he brought up, one of the things that he feels led to his success and his continued success is exactly what you just said, which is, it comes back to campus and even just in the small surrounding area, there’s such an information and knowledge exchange. Like he said, he can literally walk down the street and have conversation with other entrepreneurs and learn things and feed off of each other.
One of the things I think that a lot of people view MIT, and myself included not knowing the inner workings, as this big exclusive place with a lot of very smart people, which I know is the case, but one of the things that I’ve learned now is that it’s really kind of an incubator too of this knowledge that gets spread, not just locally, but throughout the world. And that’s such a cool thing.
Lee Ullmann: So, one of the things that I’ve seen, and again, I’m a New York native, is
David Elmasian: Alright, we’re going to end right there. No, I’m joking. Go ahead.
Lee Ullmann: Well, it’s tough year for the Knicks.
David Elmasian: So, you know, normal. We won’t even talk about the Jets either, but if you want to bring it up, we’ll talk about it, but no, go ahead.
Lee Ullmann: But it’s amazing to see how collaborative MIT is. It’s just really a special place where people really want to go out of their way to help each other. And it’s one of those things where you say to yourself, wow, you got all these bright people, they must not want to share what they’re doing, and it’s the exact opposite.
David Elmasian: Yeah, and I even look back on my career. For a while I worked in, this dating me, an internet startup back in the early 2000s, and one of our most senior engineers was an MIT grad and he was not only probably the smartest person in the room, but he was the most humblest and he was the person first and foremost willing to share whatever thoughts and ideas. It didn’t matter if you were high up on the food chain or the guy that was just starting that week.
When I got to know him he told me he was pretty typical of most MIT students which is, he came from a working class family background, his father happen to be a butcher at a local supermarket or whatever, could never afford to go to MIT in a million years if you have to pay full tuition, but he took on, he studied there, he got his degree there and he contributes both professionally and like I said with others. That’s really the coolest and neatest thing, and I think that’s really something really, really special.
Lee Ullmann: Yeah, I can tell you from my end. So, I’m constantly trying to get faculty and researchers down, and over the last four or five years we’ve had close to 200 different people come down and I’m always amazed, you send an email to an assistant professor, to a Nobel laureate and they respond. Again, it might take time, it’s not always 24 hours.
David Elmasian: Yeah, everyone’s busy.
Lee Ullmann: But they’re always responding and again, you’re dealing with so many bright people, and I hesitate to use the word genius, but it’s all around but at the end of the day they’re people and a lot of them like you said have come from working class families, and they’re just really looking forward to solving problems. It’s not an issue of, are you smarter or not smarter, it’s how can I make this work and what’s the neatest most efficient way to solve this problem.
David Elmasian: That’s, like I said, that’s a special thing. So, let’s go back to your work right now. Again, it’s like everything MIT Sloan. It has a very long name to everything. If there’s any criticism that’s it. Having it to get a number of people from MIT. But let’s read something off of the official website for your office, and I’m going to use the term your office. It states, “The mission of MIT Sloan Latin America Office is to develop and nurture meaningful activities throughout Latin America that benefit the region, the school and the institute and support the creation and transfer of knowledge and the advancement of management education and practice.”
Lee Ullmann: Sounds like a mouthful.
David Elmasian: Okay. That’s a really tall order. Now, you said you’ve been there how many years?
Lee Ullmann: I’m getting up to five.
David Elmasian: Okay. So, it’s been five years that you’re in it. Looking back from when you started to where you are today, do you feel happy or pleased with the progress that you’ve made in that time?
Lee Ullmann: I think that’s something interesting and going back to MIT culture, MIT culture is really great at doing things but not so good about congratulating or publicizing what they do. It just happens so, lots of Boston thing.
David Elmasian: If it was New York it’ll be the opposite. They’d be talking, shouting from the rooftops as they say, but we won’t get into that. I’m sorry.
Lee Ullmann: Yeah, we don’t see that the White House or anything.
David Elmasian: No, no. Oh, he brought politics into it. No. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Lee Ullmann: No. So one of the things is, instead of giving my feeling about it, so this year we actually started an endowment. My office was the first office that MIT ever made outside of Massachusetts, in the world, and now they have a second one in Hong Kong. And it’s the first in doubt international office, not only for MIT, but that I’m aware of in all of Latin America. And these are donations and funding that were given to the office to keep it to survive in perpetuity. I think the only reason people are willing to give more money is if you’re doing good things. I think you got to have a track record of impact for people to be willing to say, “Hey, we want more of this. We’re willing to fund it.” Not only for them but for MIT as an institute to say, we’re willing to create an endowment that we’re not going to kill. This will keep on going as long as you have funding, it generates its own money.
So, I think the proof is in the pudding and we have been able to show that with enough connection and making people work together, you can make an impact and you can bring change.
David Elmasian: Yeah, that’s great. So, we talked a little bit about the cultural differences and every region of the world has its own idiosyncrasies, but what do you feel like are some of the true roadblocks either that you have then that you really don’t face now or continue to face?
Lee Ullmann: I think one of the things that will always be a roadblock is that in the United States, to use the term time is money, people are much more willing to jump into things quickly. They’re willing to take that risk. Whereas I think Latin America is still much more risk averse on a whole but things take time. There’s a lot of face to face time. I always like to joke that most of the big wins that my office have had, were not in offices, but were in meals, at dinners or just outside and it’s just time and relationships. I think that’s one of the things that coming from Boston, the Northeast, more and more time is less, and so we don’t have-
David Elmasian: We have a mentality go, go, go, go, like, “Hey, let’s do it. What’s taking so long?”
Lee Ullmann: Exactly. So, a lot of my time is spent on trying to get Latin America to speed up and get Boston and MIT to slow down because there’s just not a jive. That’s just cultural difference but I don’t think one is better than the other, but you just need a buffer to make sure that they still understand that these are how things work. So, I think that’s something and I don’t necessarily think I wanted to change because I like both, but it is a reality. And I think no matter where you work, once you leave the United States things are different.
David Elmasian: Yeah. And sometimes good, sometimes not so good, like you said. So, what are some of the successes? Do you have any success stories that you like to share that come to mind?
Lee Ullmann: Two success stories that I like is one, is we partnered with a local school and a university in the south of Chile. It’s an indigenous or we’d call here a native or First Nation group called the Mapuche in the south of Chile, and this group are off the grid. So, they’re in an island within a lake and so the government of Chile had given them solar panels, but this is in northern Patagonia so it rains a lot. After a season, all the panels are gone, no one knows how to fix it until the government goes back. So you have all this great equipment, but no one knows how to use it.
So, we worked with a local university, Universidad Austral de Chile and the South, and then with two high schools and a group at MIT called the Community Innovators Lab, CoLab, to create a system to educate the high school students from this island to be able to install, repair and actually sell solar panels and sustainable energy. So, not only for their community, but so that they have jobs around, and we were able to change the curricula of the local school district to incorporate sustainable energy and electrical engineering. So, I think again, that’s a real win.
David Elmasian: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s the classic, don’t give a person a fish, teach them how to be a fisherman or whatever. That’s fantastic.
Lee Ullmann: Then the other thing is, and this is a big problem that we have is, how does one measure impact? Because with education, it’s long term. It’s not necessarily what we do today or tomorrow. So, we have a startup competition that was in Argentina, we did it with a university called Instituto Tecnologico Buenos Aires which is founded in the idea of MIT. So they’re called ITBA.
The winner was a girl from Peru. She won the competition, she won $55,000, which is a good amount of money and I asked her, “Had you ever been to Argentina before?” And she’s like, “No.” And I said, “Have you gone to the USA?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I’ve been to Silicon Valley, I’ve pitched my idea.” And I said, “Well, why did you come to Argentina? She’s like, “Well, if it wasn’t for your competition and for MIT being involved, I would have never applied.” So, why is that important for me or for the things we’re doing? It’s important not only the connection between Latin America and the US, but south connections.
So, the fact that we were able to take this person and it’s only one person, but show her what’s going on in other countries in a region, is important. Now, is that the impact we’re looking for long term? No, but a lot of these little stories start to build up and you get to really see that, slowly, you’re able to change the way the region is functioning.
David Elmasian: Exactly. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s not different than a teacher explaining something and when they see that look in the students eyes that they get the concept, they get it. Then now they spread that to other people. I think it’s like I said, it’s a larger extension of that but it really boils down to that if that one person is doing that, then like you said, you know others are doing, you just don’t hear about it just yet.
Lee Ullmann: Then on the flip side, we’ve also been able to raise millions of dollars in different areas for long term research. We’ve able to bring down government institutions, we’ve worked on policy issues for big data in Columbia. So, we have the big wins, and then the smaller wins, but I think if you take them all together, there are a lot of things that when you step away and you say, wow, in five years, six years, you were able to accomplish that, it’s quite remarkable.
David Elmasian: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. Like you said, given that what you started with, in the sense that there was nothing really there. So, started from scratch like that. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Lee Ullmann: Yeah. Just let me add because I keep on talking about the office. Well, to be true to MIT and the mothership, our office is actually located in a co work. So instead of being a beautiful space away from everybody, we are in the thick of it so that we are with the innovators, we’re with the entrepreneurs and that they know that our doors are open and we’re looking to be part of their ecosystem down there.
David Elmasian: Obvious that makes a huge difference. Yeah. You’re not coming down dictating policy, you’re part of the community and you’re contributing to it and giving them resources and maybe showing them some ways to improve but you’re not dictating to them, like I said, you’re part of it.
Lee Ullmann: No. It totally not colonialist, everything we do we have a local partner and the idea is to collaborate. Again, it’s got to be a win, win for our faculty, but it also has to be interesting for the local, both universities, innovation or just general private sector. If we feel that we’re not achieving that, then we’re going to close doors because that’s not the point.
David Elmasian: So let’s switch gears a little bit. You mentioned that the reason why you went down there was because your wife. So, what’s life like down living in Chile compared to living in the United States in Boston?
Lee Ullmann: It’s very, very different. In terms of things, they have everything you would want. So, it’s not an issue of not being able to, but again, Chile, there’s a joke that nine out of 10 earthquakes prefer Chile, and so I had to get used to things shaking a lot. The strangest thing is, you start to feel that it’s happening all the time and when you’re enclosed in small areas, so especially when you’re in the bathroom, you would feel it shaking either when it was shaking or when it wasn’t. We were there for, this was September two years ago. I think it was a 7.9 or an 8.1 earthquake and that’s a big deal.
David Elmasian: That’s a big deal. Yeah.
Lee Ullmann: And it was amazing. Nothing happened, nobody died, but things shook a lot and that’s where Chile is really incredible. They just build things to stand but it’s something one’s got to get used to.
David Elmasian: My wife and I lived in California for a while, so we experience it on much smaller degree. But you’re right. The first couple times it happens, I’m going to say freak out, you do, you freak out. You’re not used to. Let’s say if you grew up in areas of the world that don’t have those issues, and then after a while you become a seasoned veteran you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.”
Lee Ullmann: Exactly.
David Elmasian: “No big deal. We just had an earthquake.” Especially when relatives visit. “Yeah, we just had an earthquake yesterday. Yeah, 8.3, no big deal.”
Lee Ullmann: Absolutely, but again, so a lot of my time is spent traveling. I spend, I think I was in Brazil, five times this year, Argentina five or six times, Peru a couple of times, Columbia, obviously, based in Chile, Ecuador. Generally, it’s interesting that you can really see the differences in the different countries where as much as we think as US citizens, “Oh, they’re all Spanish speaking. They’re all the same.” They are very different show. There’s a lot of differences, all of the economies they share certain things, but they all have their own needs, and it’s interesting to see how, from an MIT standpoint, we hear the same problems over and over again and everyone feels that they’re unique in certain aspects, but a lot of it is the same in that there are certain issues that I think Latin America is facing much more than the United States. One of them is the gap in socio-economic scales.
So, the difference between the haves and the have nots is major. You’re talking about, Brazil has 20 million unemployed people. So, 10% of their population is unemployed. That’s a major, major. So, a lot of these changes that a lot of the startups entrepreneurs are looking at for future of jobs, future of work, AI machine. Some of the countries in Latin America will fare better, ones that don’t have manufacturing that aren’t as reliant, but others, you’re going to see a lot of issues and again, one of the things that we’re trying to do is see where we can help or where we can at least enter the conversation to try to make things better because the wave is here. The question is, is what’s going to happen? Nobody knows. But.
David Elmasian: Well, it’s happening in the United States, just as, again, to a lesser degree, but we’re seeing that and it shows up. Like I said, we won’t go into the whole politics and all that, but it just shows up in some of that dialogue and that adjustment. I think we all have seen. Any of us that are older than 20 years old, we’ve seen a significant change in how the economies have changed, and where people work and what they’re doing what’s valued and what’s not. So, I’d imagine like you said, in that area, it’s just as much if not more so.
When you see these startups coming up, give me some examples of what some of the, I don’t want to say common, that’s not maybe the right term, but what are some of the startups that you see popping? Like here, everything is disrupting. Everything we’re disrupting everything up here, which I think I’m making light of it, which is actually a good thing, but what are the type of things that you see down in Chile?
Lee Ullmann: I think or at least in Latin America, one of the big issues that’s coming up and there are a lot of companies dealing with it now is the transportation or the last mile issue. So you have a unicorn from Columbia, Rappi,, who is just really expanded throughout the region and their delivery business and I imagine when Amazon and Alibaba show up in force because they’re coming slowly, these companies or Loggi from Brazil are really the main players because there is no trusted postal system. There is no UPS. DHL, FedEx are extremely expensive, and you can’t leave a package on someone’s door because it’s not going to be there five minutes later.
So, there is this issue of how to improve logistics. That’s one area that I see a lot of. The other is FinTech. Latin America has a lot of under banked people. A lot of people who don’t have access to credit, who don’t have access to credit cards, who don’t have access to banks. So, FinTech is huge. Not just FinTech blockchain, Bitcoin, but we’re talking about access to banks, access to money.
David Elmasian: We consider basic stuff.
Lee Ullmann: That’s right. We’re here, you go show up to a mall and they’re happy to give you 10 credit cards, whereas there people can beg for credit cards and they’re not going to get it. So, we have a lot of MIT Sloan alumni and people throughout MIT working on FinTech and I think FinTech will be huge for areas in the developing world because it will provide funding and means to basic things that we see in the US that is just not there yet.
David Elmasian: Sure. Yeah. How about the consumerism, is it the same or is it different? One of the things that I think gives me perspective and talking to other people is, especially when you’re talking about outside of the US, everybody thinks what we do is normal and I don’t know if it’s normal or not, but it seems like our whole economy in life is based on the consumerism. Is it happening down in Chile or is it to a different degree?
Lee Ullmann: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You see a lot of it and both negative and positive. From one end people have access to cars. Be able to purchase cars, to be able to access to cell phones, computers, which is great. But from another end, at least from what I’m seeing is, because so much is being brought in, and I would say cheap products from China, you’re losing out on a lot of local cultural aspects that you would say, if you went 20 years ago and you say, “Oh, wow, this is something that I only got here and I couldn’t get it here less and less,” and you’re seeing more and more of a global consumer where they rather have global products, and I think consumerism is definitely at least in the southern cone, people are buying and buying and there’s a lot of people from Argentina and Brazil who go to Chile to buy because the products are less expensive, and then bring it back. And then Argentina load their taxes so less are coming. But there’s tons and tons of consumerism.
Now in the holiday season people are spending, it’s not the same amount of money, number, dollar for dollar, but again, per capita is less per person. But no, they’re definitely consumerism and they’re buying a lot.
David Elmasian: Well, I guess maybe, I don’t if that’s the flip side, the good side, the bad side of a global economy now. All right. We’re all kind of falling in line as far as all that stuff goes. Like I said, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
Well, just one last thing. What’s the average wage in Chile? Is it different than the US? Is it a lot different? Just out of curiosity. I’m just curious, honestly.
Lee Ullmann: Chile was the first country to enter the OECD, which is a group of countries that have certain development measures, and it has one of the highest per capita outside of the Caribbean, which depending on the dollar and the exchange rate, you’re talking in the area of 20 to $24,000 a year, and a local day worker would make about $30 a day. Now, the country has about 17 million people. So if you play with the numbers, you’re saying, “Well, how is that possible? If you’re telling me it’s about $30 a day, but it’s 22,000.” The reason is, is the high end salaries are very high. That’s mining, technology, pharma, all of the finance and so there is a huge disparity where again, middle class, upper middle class lives extremely well, but when you drop off.
David Elmasian: Yeah, it’s a big drop.
Lee Ullmann: It’s a big drop.
David Elmasian: Yeah. Well, I get to get your work cut out for you.
Lee Ullmann: Listen, that’s why we’re there.
David Elmasian: That’s job security for you in a sense, right?
Lee Ullmann: Yeah.
David Elmasian: No, I’m joking. But yeah. No. So, there’s a lot of work to be done and continue to be done. It’s enlightening and it makes me feel better that our little corner of the world, and we’ll get very specific and say the Boston area through MIT, is helping other parts of the world to improve the economy, the livelihood, the outlook in people’s lives. It’s good to hear positive stuff rather than all the negativity that we hear all the time.
Lee Ullmann: No, I agree. One of the things that I’m again, very proud of, not as someone coming from the Boston area, but more looking at MIT and looking at the universities here and saying, we’re not only in China, we’re not only in Europe, which is common. Yeah, but we’re in Latin America. We want to make a change and we’re willing to make the investment and to be committed. I think that says a lot, not only for the Dean, Dave Schmittlein of the Sloan School, but also President Rafael Reif with MIT to put down their feet and say, “Hey, we’re here for the long haul and we do want to make a change.” I think that’s a really powerful statement and they’re doing it.
So, I agree with you entirely and it’s definitely Boston strong and-
David Elmasian: Yeah, there we go. All right. We were turning them a little bit. Well, you and I could talk for a very much long time. Let’s wrap things up. It’s a little fun. We’ll make a little more fun. It’s a little segment we call check your tech because, you know, I’m a technology guy, we didn’t go into your technology background. So, I’ll just say that you’re a little bit of a geek. We’ll attribute that to that, and it’s a very easy question. Especially for the stuff that you deal with on a regular basis. So are you a Mac or PC guy?
Lee Ullmann: Mac.
David Elmasian: iPhone or Android?
Lee Ullmann: iPhone.
David Elmasian: Oh, I can see a trend developing here. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or something else?
Lee Ullmann: Something else. That’s where the nerd decides that my personal space is my personal space. But I am on LinkedIn.
David Elmasian: All right. Doesn’t sound like willingly but that’s okay. This might be a little bit outside the bounds, but Alexa or Google Home? Any of that kind of stuff?
Lee Ullmann: So, I don’t have it and I have several of them sitting in a closet, but because of the language issue and there’s not enough products that won, so, I’d love to say, Alexa order me this.
David Elmasian: People are listening to that, they’re going to have stuff ordered.
Lee Ullmann: But the problem is this,
David Elmasian: Is something they can deliver, right?
Lee Ullmann: Exactly. Where are they going to ship it to.
David Elmasian: I wish my wife had that problem. Maybe we need to move down to Chile with you.
Lee Ullmann: Exactly.
David Elmasian: How about streaming devices, Netflix, Hulu or anything like that?
Lee Ullmann: Yeah, so Netflix is there and it’s actually funny. Chile taxes Netflix as if it’s a commodity. As if it’s something that you must have. So, you could get Netflix, but they actually tax it.
David Elmasian: You can get away with it, why not? Along those same lines, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, any that kind of stuff?
Lee Ullmann: I don’t have it, but I know a lot of my friends who watch NFL and Major League Baseball, they’re all streaming it with their US accounts to get it.
David Elmasian: All right. This one’s a little bit easy. How about Gmail or Outlook? Either one?
Lee Ullmann: I have both. So, proudly Gmail and Outlook for work.
David Elmasian: Okay. Now, this one is a very difficult one for you. You’re going to have to listen carefully because I’m not sure if I can trick you here. But if you had to pick a name, would it be Tim or John?
Lee Ullmann: I’m going to go with Tim.
David Elmasian: Really? Now, why is that?
Lee Ullmann: I believe it’s Tim the Beaver.
David Elmasian: You can’t trick these MIT guys. So, for those people that aren’t aware of this. The official mascot of MIT is…
Lee Ullmann: Tim.
David Elmasian: Tim the Beaver.
Lee Ullmann: And Tim is MIT backwards.
David Elmasian: These guys are smart, huh? We won’t want to talk about who John is. We won’t go in there. We don’t want to talk about that.
Lee Ullmann: No, not today. It’s the holiday season.
David Elmasian: Yeah, my time is crimsoned a little bit. But, well, Lee, you had a great story. I really appreciate the time. I know we could talk for very much longer, but everybody has a short attention span nowadays, but more importantly, tell people that are listening how they can learn more about you and what you guys are doing, and maybe engage and learn a little bit more about it.
Lee Ullmann: Excellent. Yeah. So, if you’re interested in what we’re doing, please go to the MIT Sloan website, we’re part of global programs at MIT Sloan, and if you’re ever in Latin America or interested in learning more about Latin America, please feel free to email me. It’s my last name, ullmann, U-L-L-M-A-N-N, @mit.edu and I’m happy to connect you or to tell you more about what we’re doing. But more than anything, just let me know.
David Elmasian: Fantastic. I really appreciate you taking the time. You’ve been listening to the Hub of Success with Dave Elmasian. Lee.
Lee Ullmann: Thank you, David. Pleasure to be up here.