The 7th South American Business Forum, in Buenos Aires

Forum participant Milan Popovic (Serbia) in the Forum's Teamwork Exercise; you can learn a lot playing with plastic blocks!

On Thursday , August 4,  I abandoned the Texas heat (after only two days, home from Europe) and headed to winter in Argentina, down for my sixth annual appearance at the South American Business Forum (, organized by a committed and wonderful group of students at ITBA, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology.  It’s an easy ride, across only two time zones.  Landed at 8:15 a.m. and in no time was zooming into the city and yakking about Argentine politics, the airline industry, and more with a volunteer, Josué Gil Deza, a great young guy.  We arrived at the forum venue only a few minutes late, and was immediately swept into the proceedings.  Some truly great presenters, best of which was an Argentine fellow who had spent his entire career as a prominent executive recruiter.  The session lasted until 7:30, and we then paraded to a restaurant for dinner.  I was asleep before 9:30.

Opening session of the forum

SABF trustees and visitor Claudio Aráoz during a lunchtime discussion

Longtime SABF organizer, friend, and dedicated carnivore Martín Siniawski mopping up leftover steak; as I have often observed, Argentina is a challenging place for vegans

Up early Saturday morning, work my e-mail, suit up, and head to ITBA.  First task was to moderate a student workshop.  I did not interact much with the students on day one, and more than caught up on day two – the informal one-on-ones or small-group chatter are as much fun as the formal sessions.  After a late lunch, I skipped out for a couple hours.  Wandered the shopping street, Calle Florida, bought Dylan and Carson a postcard (sending them a postcard from each city visited has now become rooted, and is well into its second year).

The Transport Geek needed a ride, so hopped on Line B of the subway, joyriding ten stops west and reversed course, then back to ITBA in time for the late-afternoon coffee break, when I met Matt, a seriously accomplished young Brazilian (second of the day actually), a MIT chemical-engineering major just back from a year working for a hedge fund in Shanghai.  Whoa!  One more workshop to attend, strictly as an observer, then a dinner of homemade pizza at the school, and more yakking with students.  Walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed literally next door to the Buller Brewing Company, a brewpub, for a pint of their porter and some quiet time, mostly spent bringing this journal up to date.

Fellow passengers on the Buenos Aires subway

I went for a walk before the Sunday sessions began; here are a couple of snaps:

The train to nowhere, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires; this new, little-used light rail line -- in a city hungry for public-transport modernization -- is an example of the patronage that has hampered Argentine public policy for decades.

Santiago Calatrava's brilliant Ponte Mujer, spanning a canal in the former port; in the background, the flashy part of the capital.

First thing Sunday morning was a fun teamwork exercise, playing with plastic Rasti building blocks (from Argentina) that were a lot like, but in many ways better than, Legos.  After lunch, we heard from a futurist, then it was my turn to stand and deliver – the team had asked me to deliver the concluding remarks.  After thanking the organizers and ITBA, and saluting the participants, I began:

As a student of economics, I often think about situations where supply and demand are not in balance, and the SABF is exactly such a situation, with respect to student comments and questions: after every speaker, the number of raised hands has exceeded available time.  Thus my objective for this closing is that you do most of the talking.

And after a short summary of the three days, lifting up some of the more memorable thoughts and ideas of a great lineup of speakers, we began a dialogue.  Some of the remarks were touching, all were thoughtful, and a few were genuinely funny – Henry, an energetic fellow from Hunan, China, said “Someone asked me if I missed spicy food, and I said no, because here you’ve got spicy food walking down the street!”  I was surprised and delighted at the number of students who judged the SABF to be transformative in some respect.  It really made me feel happy to be a helper.

After the closing, I was able to meet the parents of Matías Spanier, one of the forum co-directors, and it was a special moment, to be able to see them beaming with pride.  I chatted with two young South Africans I really enjoyed meeting, Sibusiso and Nangamso (earlier in the meeting, they made us laugh by teaching us the front-mouth click that is distinct to Xhosa, now one of South Africa’s official languages).  People wanted me to pose with them for pictures.  It was a sweet moment, one of those that validated my decision five years earlier to spend more time with students.

I was really glad that I stayed for all three days; in the past, I did not participate in the Sunday sessions, and the additional time enabled me to meet and spend time with more students.  I’m just Rob, but so many of them are really interested in asking about career and life, about engaging an open guy.  And I’m happy to oblige!

Although the forum was officially over, no one was leaving the ITBA building.  People just kept yakking and hugging and promising to stay in touch.  I finally peeled away, walked to the hotel, changed clothes, and at 8:30 met Martín, his girlfriend Valeria, and longtime SABF friend Juan Trouilh (the fellow who, back in 2005, first invited me to participate in the forum).  We took a cab to the Bar Británico, described in these pages last year, for a beer, a Milanesa (veal cutlet), and a debrief on the forum.  We declared victory, and it truly was a great conference.

Your scribe with SABF stalwarts Valeria Luna, Martín Siniawski, and Juan Trouilh


The SABF organizers, past and present, a truly talented lot; from many possible examples, I lift up Agustín Di Luciano, a budding young business professional who draws on his iPhone (using an app called Brushes):

One of Agustín's many iPhone works

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