Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Cover With Two Capitalists

Goodbye Mr. Santo Domingo...or Mr. Jobs? 
Today's El Tiempo featured this headline about the death of Colombian business magnate Julio Mario Santo Domingo, age 87, alongside a huge photo of....Steve Jobs, the recently-deceased Apple Computer founder.

El Espectador gets it right. 
Both men were capitalist geniuses who built business empires and earned billions. But that's where their similarity ends. Jobs was a self-made man, whereas Santo Domingo was given a big head start by his father, who founded Avianca Airline.

They differed, too, in their style of business. Jobs was a brilliant designer and marketer of consumer products, while Santo Domingo bought and grew old-line companies, acquiring all or part of the Bavaria beer co.,  El Espectador newspaper and Caracol TV, among others. Santo Domingo was gregarious and partied with the jet set, whereas Jobs appears to have been something of a loner. Finally, Santo Domingo lived a long life, whereas Jobs died tragically young, at 56.

The subtly-named Julio Mario Santo Domingo library, in
north Bogotá. (Photo: El Espectador)
But perhaps a bigger difference between the two men's style and legacies is that during his final years Santo Domingo focused on philanthropy, building a public library, a university building and providing scholarships for poor students. He also financed microcredit and established an arts school for underprivileged youth.

Sure, Santo Domingo's efforts represented only a tiny proportionn of his fortune and served to immortalize his name. Still, he made some efforts and his heart was in it. Jobs, who seems to have been sainted because his creations were cool, contributed very little to charity, despite appeals by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

But the coincidence of the deaths of Jobs and Santo Domingo also points to a less encouraging contrast between the Colombian and United States styles of capitalism. Santo Domingo achieved wealth and success thru hard work, perseverence and creative business thinking. But Colombia has yet to produce a Steve Jobs, who built his fortune out of creativity and ingenuity.

Why is it that Colombia - and the developing world in general - produces so much great art and music, but hasn't generated the same innovation in business and economics? 

Creating the environments that give birth to and nurture such innovation can help transform Latin America from what it is - a supplier of cheap labor and raw materials to the world - into a dynamic economic force more equal to the developed nations.

In the meantime, why not tip back a cool, frothy Bavaria brewery product in Santo Domingo's honor?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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