We are excited to introduce our next “rocket of the week”, Mario Berlanga, a Mexican entrepreneur and recent graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He came to business school in the U.S. to make new and inspiring friendships, develop his leadership skills and plan the next stage of his professional career. While at Stanford, he gave a thought-provoking talk on the connection between the consumption of illegal drugs in the U.S. and the violence going on in Mexico that created a conversation that went far beyond campus. Mario’s long-term vision is to build one of the leading and most respectable investment firms in Latin America.
We interviewed Mario about the lessons he has learned as an entrepreneur and what drove him to stand up to talk about drug-related violence in Mexico.
What did you do before business school?
The most important thing I will do in my life… I found and married the woman of my dreams.
And before that?
I have been starting companies since I was 16 years old. I have failed in a good number of my ventures financially, but never in learning. I’ve been involved in traditional industries like construction, logistics, food & beverage distribution, and manufacturing, media, and restaurants. And I have been lucky to do well in my main business activity since age 21 – real estate investment and development.
I really enjoy and continue to learn a lot from the process of building something from scratch, whether it is companies or buildings. That passion has caused me to fall many times, but my drive has helped me get back on my feet again and again.
What do you define as the biggest success and biggest setback in your life?
I supported my family through very tough times, and now I see all of them doing great. By teaming up with my mom, and later with my younger siblings as well, I helped provide for our family financially and morally. I essentially worked full-time while I was in high school and college, and it was important for me to set the right example for my siblings. I provided support and motivation, grappled with the disease and death of my stepfather, lost close family members to drug violence, and relocated with my family to a new city to start from scratch.
Right before getting married and starting the 2-year MBA at Stanford, I lost a lot of my savings in a new business venture. I was unfocused and didn’t approach the analysis of the business and my decision in the correct way. It was even more frustrating because I have learned lessons in the past that would have prevented me from failing the way I did. I had too much going on, and I bet the farm on the wrong business at the worst possible moment. I re-learned those lessons the hard way. I guess I needed it. I am stronger for it.
You inspired a discussion at Stanford and beyond with your talk and Op-Ed in the New York Times on how the consumption of illegal drugs in the U.S. is connected to the violence going on in Mexico. What drove you to speak up about this?
Early on at Stanford, I observed that there are plenty of very smart and well-intentioned individuals, who care about the world, that do drugs occasionally for fun. For example, music and art festivals for millennials seem to revolve all around getting high. I came to realize that most people in the U.S. are not aware of the supply chain of illegal drugs. Users are unaware of the link between their consumption and the horrific violence happening in Mexico. I knew that if these people had seen the violence firsthand, as I have, they wouldn’t buy those drugs, so I felt the urgent need to raise awareness.
I also felt the responsibility to do it because I knew my being at Stanford would open doors and get me access to coaching as well as important platforms to broadcast the message. Most Mexicans don’t have such a privilege, so it was up to me to speak up.
How do you plan to continue engaging with this issue in the years ahead? What would you like our readers to do?
I haven’t decided how to continue engaging in spreading this message. It will be even more difficult to do so once I move back to Mexico, which will happen in the near future. However, I remain hopeful that in due time, the right path will show itself.
What drives you to take risks to change the world in a better way? How do you overcome the fear of failure when you take a leap to try something new?
I became an entrepreneur mainly due to financial need. I faced failure multiple times, but need and big dreams kept me going. At some point, I realized that falling is not constant and it is just a required stop in the journey towards success. I guess I got over my fear of failure because I made peace with the idea that I will continue to fail and succeed in life.
I also enjoy reading about the most successful people in history and comparing myself to them. I remind myself that all of them were regular people, like me, at some point.
I believe that we owe it to the world to become the best version of ourselves. We all should strive to contribute more value to the world than we take from it.
There are three maxims that have been engrained in my mind for years:
1. Absolutely everything happens for a reason and to my benefit.
2. The first thing you need to be successful is to dominate your fears of rejection and of what others think of you.
3. Sooner or later the person who wins is the person who thinks he or she can.
What are you doing now that you have finished business school?
I am still partly involved in the real estate development company I co-founded ten years ago in northern Mexico. We are working hard on some new projects and improving our team and processes.
Most importantly, I am working on launching a new company off the ground. It will be a Private Equity type of firm with a focus on real assets in emerging markets (primarily Mexico at the beginning). The firm’s objective will be to attract capital and best practices from the U.S. and direct them to markets that have opportunities to create more value, economic growth and higher returns.
Know an inspiring doer, thinker or leader, who should be the next rocket of the week? Let us know!