The Art of Taking Initiative Without Daring To Be Irresponsible by Ariel Pfeffer

Hand drawn idea concept with hand holding light bulb sketch - Ariel Pfeffer Interview The Art of Taking Initiative Without Daring To Be Irresponsible by Ariel Pfeffer

Ariel Pfeffer, an economist by profession, is an entrepreneur in practice and soul. This passion divides him into two facets, his role as President or Manager in his own companies and investments, but on the other hand, he carries out a part of what he considers to be his social responsibility in this same field. 

That is why for 14 years he has participated in the board of directors of the Uruguayan branch of Endeavor, an organization that operates in 25 countries, dedicated to promoting the creation of new companies and jobs as “a different way to grow cake.” 

He is also active in YPO, Young Presidents’ Organization, and supports other organizations in Uruguay of an entrepreneurial nature, such as SocialLabs or Empresas B. Also, on the 40th Floor of the World Trade Center they formed a club of “angel investors” to receive proposals from entrepreneurs. He also dedicates hours to “coaching” and advising young entrepreneurs who are trying to make their way.

This is a summary of the dialogue held

Q: Ariel, I’m looking for a title that summarises your career and I think the entrepreneur presentation is the most appropriate. What do you think?

A: I identify a lot with the word entrepreneur, and that I think is not a title but an attitude, the desire to do, to innovate. It is something that is carried in the DNA of each one, it is the desire to do things, to try, to take risks, the desire not to stay with the desire. Sometimes you do well, sometimes you don’t. 

I was very impressed I had the opportunity to have a meeting with Olavo Setubal, the founder of Itau bank, in São Paulo. At the end of his life, he was a very successful person from every point of view and said that the only merit of his life was to have been correct 51% of the time and that his 49% of errors were not minor, but relevant and important.

Q: Is it essential to know how to fall and know how to get back up?

A: Nobody likes to fall or fail. Nobody has a good time when something does not go well for you. What happens when you have an entrepreneurial attitude is that many times you risk without considering all the elements or all the variables that can influence your decision. 

So, sometimes many of those variables appear to influence and then end up creating failure. Nobody likes when these situations happen, but I think it is part of, precisely, the DNA of being an entrepreneur because if one considered all the possible variables that any project can face -not only business but also on a personal or family level- you probably wouldn’t end up doing anything.

Statement: I imagine that even the idiosyncrasy of each country, of the society in which one lives, may affect that.

A: Definitely. Uruguay, for example, is not an entrepreneur populated country. It is not very ambitious and is extremely conservative. Let’s say I sit down in a coffee chat to talk about a project that I want to do in a certain thing if I raise an idea within my social sphere – friends, acquaintances, references – most likely everyone will end up pulling me down and telling me that this is not possible. 

It is true that some things in this sense have been changing because Uruguay has been globalizing. Anyway, if I have the same conversation in Israel or Silicon Valley, the type of feedback I’d probably receive would be very different, probably much more stimulating than the one I receive here.

Statement: I imagine that a no less challenge is to find the balance between undertaking despite the risks and being irresponsible, there is no simple formula.

A: No, of course not, it is an art that goes a lot in the feeling or in the stomach. There is a point that is to be an entrepreneur and another that is to be irresponsible. But if it is a case by case, there is no formula.

“It is the desire to do things, to try, to take risks, the desire not to stay with the desire.”

Constant Complaining Does Not Lead To Anything

Q: Your first big business was in Brazil with the appropriate attitude that marked you forever. This was a lesson, right?

A: Definitely, it did mark me, it was fundamental for my path. If you receive an email from me, you will see that below is my signature, which I have configured in my email, and below my signature is the phrase “Life rewards action”. I don’t have that phrase there by chance or to transmit it to the recipients of the mail, but to read it myself every time I write an email, to always be clear about the direction and attitude. 

Like every human being, I also have my good days and my days that are not so. But what I am always clear about is that if I remain complaining, it remains as a problem or as regret, I will not do anything. 

All the great achievements that I have had in life have been the product and result of taking the bull by the horns and saying: 

“Well, I have this situation, I focus on this problem and take the necessary actions to move forward.” 

Some things have turned out very well for me and others have not, but at least I tried. In my office in São Paulo, I had a sentence painted in Portuguese with the same objective as the one that accompanies my signature in the emails: 

“Many men have big dreams, but very few stay awake and execute them.”

Q: Let’s go into detail about your first experience, was this your first big success?

A: I had gone to live in Brazil in the late 1980s after a dream of creating the first direct television sales company in Latin America. My idea was to continue living in Uruguay and being on the airlift, but later the company took on a dimension that made it impossible to control it in that way. 

There was none of that in all of Latin America, so I had the luxury of choosing the largest market available [the Brazilian], with its challenges of the good and bad things. And here we return to the entrepreneurial attitude. 

If at the time I decided to open this company I had thought, or someone had warned or discouraged me about all the problems I was going to encounter, in order to create this company in Brazil I probably wouldn’t have moved from Montevideo. 

I wouldn’t even have moved from Carrasco Airport. However, I was convinced that there was a large market, a very interesting business to be developed and I felt with the desire and the ability to do so. That is how I went there and decided to do it. Over time I began to face a lot of difficulties, of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

Q: At no point did you think “I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult”?

A: No, at some point I said: “I didn’t think at all I would be facing these sort of problems”, but the will and the attitude were much greater than the barrier that those problems posed. That is why I would say that your attitude is much more compared to the circumstances that may arise.

Q: How long did it take you to build that company?

A: About a year. Just as an example, one in a million problems: to make direct sales on television, the famous “Call now” as many people know it – where you put a stimulus in a commercial, present a product, a purchase opportunity and a phone that one can call to buy it which then that product is dispatched to one’s house as if by magic a couple of days later – it is required that when one places a commercial and a telephone on television that telephone line is not single, because if a person calls and is busy, you will never be able to make that commercial profitable in an economically viable way. 

You need to place a telephone that has a huge number of operators behind it and can receive calls simultaneously. In the case of Brazil, according to the economic equation of the costs of television commercials and all the associated costs, we needed to have at least 100 operators available to receive these calls. 

The issue is that at that time in Brazil, at the end of the 1980s, the companies were state-owned, nothing was privatized and the economy was completely closed, it just began to open when Fernando Collor de Mello took office in 1990. 

There were no telephone exchanges receptive to these characteristics. What there was were some call centers that instead of receiving calls, made calls. There, they could have 100 lines with different numbers. There were really no call centers on the market like there are today where you could ask for 100 lines with the same number. 

One of the few that was available was the Varig reservation center and I got a meeting with the general manager through contacts, I asked them to rent that center at certain times to answer those calls. Varig’s person, in good Portuguese translated into Spanish, told me: “Look, kid, here…” [Laughter]

Q: How old were you?

A: I was 28 or 29 years old. Well, I’ll tell you that I had to go a long way to get a telemarketing center in Brazil. I ended up getting it in the most unexpected place in the world: the Brazilian Post Office.

I found out that one of the services provided by the Post was sending telegrams, one called a national phone number, 135, and on the other side, there was a center that had about 120 operators. That telemarketing center operated from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then at 7 p.m. those people would literally leave, turn off the light and that switchboard would turn on the next day. 

Through advisors and consultants, I got a meeting with the director of the Post Office and I proposed that I wanted to rent this center to him to start the business. I wanted to rent it on weekends, that is, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, from 12 at night onwards. The negotiation took six months. Finally, I managed to get the Brazilian Post to rent the station to me three days a week. There were the operators, union issues, public officials, and unfortunately with that came a lot of issues. Luckily, everything went very well.

Q: They really started calling a lot right away?

A: Yes. The day I finally managed to convince the television channels to sell me advertising space at the rates I required, I managed to import products to Brazil in a completely closed economy. Not only to have a telephone exchange that could receive the orders, but also a package distribution center to be able to send said orders. 

It was complete coordination, which took about a year. All that was played on January 10, 1991, at 12:30 am or 1 am in the morning. I remember that I was at the headquarters seeing where all the operators were and all the general management of the Post Office was there because they too were curious to know what had happened and what was going to happen. 

There was also the main directors of the television channel, who had risked it for this project, which was the SBT. The SBT is the second television network in Brazil, and with it was the people from the distribution center who too were going to have to process the packages the next day. 

There were also the directors of the company that gave us the merchant account of credit cards, which was the first time that in Brazil there would be television commercials in which one was going to be able to place an order, pay with a credit card (without the need for the card to be physically present) and the user also signs the voucher, as is normal in any transaction. That too was quite an experience.

Q: A crowd was waiting to see if your business worked, I imagine there was an atmosphere?

A: There were more than 20 people gathered there waiting with a small television waiting for the first commercial to air, in addition, of course, the 100 operators. And there was an analog panel in which there was a little light for each operator, and there were all the little green lights, meaning that the operators were available. I remember that at that moment my knees were shaking because my life was at stake. Not only did he stake my savings on me, but he also staked my prestige, all my dreams, all my passions, but it was also all at stake.

Q: What product(s) did you sell?

A: It was a multi-purpose stain remover, the kind that removes stains from anything. It was called Didi Seven, the product was good. The commercial goes on air, 30 seconds pass, the panel was still there all green, 60 seconds pass and everything is green, 90 seconds pass and there were three or four little red lights that started to light up. The commercial ends, of 120 seconds, and there were eight or nine little red lights on, four or five seconds pass after the commercial ends and all at once everything turned red, that is, all the lights indicated that calls had come in. 

Imagine the celebration. From a deathly silence that existed in that environment, it passed to the bustle of the more than 120 people who were there talking, the operators taking the orders. That was the beginning, a gigantic joy. It was the beginning of a company for which I ended up living in Brazil for almost 20 years.

Q: Do we return to the entrepreneurial attitude?

A: Of course. If I had known all these problems that I was going to face, I would not have done it.

Q: Is the vision key?

A: Yes. The vision and the attitude you have.

Organization Of Priorities

Q: Can you think of any good tips to share with readers?

A: I would make one last note on the subject of goals that one sets. You have to assume that you cannot do everything, no matter how much you would like, and that it is relevant to define what is relevant to you and what is not, what can be placed on a list of the things that are done to you. 

The difference and I’m not talking about the economic difference, but in terms of happiness and satisfaction for doing what you like, and another list that has everything else, where you can do it if you can, and if not, nothing happens. 

It took me a long time to have clarity for this kind of thing and to know where I have to put focus and priority and where I have to put my most important time of the day, compared to the previous situation, in which I had, like most people, my to-do list, where each line was as important as another.

I was reactive for a long time, they call me from the office that there is a problem, solve it, my children call me who need such a thing, I take care of it, my wife calls me for such a situation, I take care of it, the same if they ask me for a coaching or mentoring meeting. 

Everything was equally important and I tried to do everything with the best will to cross things off on the list, but in turn, more were added.

Statement: Sounds frustrating

A: Of course. It happened to me a lot that at the end of the day I said: I did nothing and it took me all day, when the “I did nothing” referred to the things that are relevant to me, I am not saying that the rest were not. 

After a long time, I managed to structure my schedule with that vision and I take care first of the things that are important and relevant to me and after all the rest, that if I can do it, great, if not, well, it passes for the day next or next week, nothing happens. Closely linked to this is the issue of being able to define very concrete and specific goals. 

I think the key to that is really… There is an exercise that I am doing, with very good results, which is to write down the goals, because when you think about them or promise to do something you lose them, but if you set specific goals and He manages to write them… It’s what I do, I write the goal, I propose an action plan for that goal and I try to monitor the status of that goal weekly. I think that in this way, very relevant, concrete and satisfactory things are achieved.

Q: A life lesson.

A: In addition, I always set my goals at a personal, business, and family level. I am trying to go specifically behind each one because if that period ends and I achieved this or that, I will feel very happy. Be the captain of your own ship instead of going with the flow.

Family Pride

This is an image of Ariel Pfeffer's family

Q: Do you feel that your family is part of your success?

A: Without a doubt, the family is part of that. I have just completed 26 years of marriage to Rosario. And I feel that I am blessed to have married a wonderful woman. 

Beyond love, which is obviously relevant and important – and I got married thinking that this is for life – the issue is that my wife understands me and is part of all my processes. It is that another of the things that I thank in life is that it has always allowed me to do the things that I liked. 

In other words, all my jobs, everything I have done has been things in which I have put great passion and I have enjoyed it and I continue to enjoy it very much. So when I’m sometimes working at 3 or 4 in the morning, my family doesn’t even pass a bill to me for that, nor do I pass it on to myself because I’m doing it with pleasure and pleasure. Nobody forces me to be working at 3 or 4 in the morning.

Statement: This is not a matter of being a workaholic, but you love what you do.

A: Sure, it’s enjoying what you do. If that means that I have to stay until 3 or 4 in the morning working, I do it with pleasure and pleasure. Many times I stay up hours later at a party, and well, for me it is a party to be enjoying. It is enjoying it at the same level. 

Just as I can sometimes spend the entire weekend working, or working unusual hours for those who are used to going to the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or that lifestyle, I can also afford the opposite. , to say on a Tuesday or Wednesday: “Today I am not working because I am not calm to do it, because I want to do something else that at the time has a little more priority than working.” No?

Q: Does this also have to be an education project in the family, for the children? In other words, it is important for you, I imagine, to transmit that attitude towards life to your children. In that, you must commune with your wife.

A: Yes, but with some limits. And the limit is to respect the idiosyncrasies of the children. In other words, because I have a passion for entrepreneurship, it does not mean that they have to have it. Which does not mean that somehow they end up contagious by coexistence or by the dialogues in common? 

There are the emotional situations themselves linked to the experience of the children. A child, obviously, when he is going through adolescence, is in rebellion and everything his parents do is wrong and wrong by definition.

I respect very much the personal idiosyncrasy of each one of my children, in doing with their life what they think best, by the same criteria, because they have to risk, execute, get their will. It is not that they have to follow what their parents are doing, that they find their own way. 

If in any way I can help, guide, or support you later, I will do it with the greatest pleasure. I do it with the greatest pleasure.

Q: Tell me a little about your children.

A: We have three children: Daniela, 24, Gabriel, 22, and Micaela, 21. 

Daniela has already received a degree in Business Administration and is very happy working in the consulting area. 

Gabriel graduated a few months ago in the United States in the area of ​​finance and is now in Spain pursuing his great personal dream of finding an opportunity in professional soccer, a sport in which he always excelled from a very young age. 

Micaela is in her last semester from university in Canada and, if all goes well, next May he will be graduating in the area of ​​international trade, and in turn giving us the great joy of seeing all our children with academic degrees. 

That also makes us feel that we are fulfilling that great Jewish cultural legacy which thoughts us to always promote education as a fundamental tool to grow and make our way in the world.

This is the end of the interview but to see it from the original source you view it on the Semanario Hebreo Jai website.