A conversation with Roberto Rigobon, PhD ’97, and Juan Pablo Armas, SM ’92, on the 10th anniversary of the MIT Sloan Latin American Office. Professor Rigobon and Juan Pablo share the experiences of creating and building the Latin American office, the first of its kind, and the challenges of creating a unified and impactful venue for sharing ideas on such a large continent, with disparate economies, education systems, and politics. They share how Andrónico Luksic pitched the idea to the Dean, and how local families and entrepreneurs kept it alive and vital. They also talk about recent challenges presented by COVID and the successes the office has achieved in the first decade.
Professor Rigobon talks about the unique South American connection, where despite great economic and political upheavals, involving things like 30% of the population of Venezuela scattered across the continent, there have never been refugee camps. They share that despite vigorous competition in things like soccer when they meet as a council, they don't discuss the regular politics that concentrate on what you want to destroy, but rather they concentrate on what they want to build. They acknowledge the same basic issues that are common across the continent, like poverty, access to technology, growth, development, and education.
They discuss the impact of giants like Arnoldo Hax and Rudi Dornbusch on recruiting students to MIT and how these students are now in positions of influence in major companies and positions of power in government. They talk about how the education those leaders received at MIT, the sparks that ignited while at MIT, and now continue to access through the MIT Sloan Latin America Office has and will continue to resonate in South America.
Finally, looking ahead, Professor Rigobon and Juan Pablo Armas explore South America's ongoing challenges in economies, industries, the environment, and education and how the MIT Sloan Latin America Office is positioned to contribute to the conversation at the highest levels of government and industry.
Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today.
So what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at Sloan.
Hi, I'm your host, Christopher Reichert, and welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. My guests today are Professor Roberto Rigobon, PhD ’97, and Juan Pablo Armas, SM ’92, welcome to both of you.
Roberto Rigobon: Thank you.
Juan Pablo Armas: Thank you.
Christopher Reichert: Before we begin our conversation, let me give some background on both of you. Professor Rigobon is an economist and professor at MIT. He was born in Venezuela and received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and his MBA in Caracas. He went on to earn a PhD in economics from MIT and hasn't left yet, since 1997. Professor Rigobon is known for his research in international economics, monetary policy, and exchange rates. He's published numerous articles and academic journals and co-authored several books on the subject.
In addition to his academic work, Professor Rigobon is also a co-founder of The Billion Prices Project which gathers online data to track inflation in real time. And he has received numerous awards for his research and teaching, numerous awards over multiple years, including his MIT Sloan Excellence and Teaching Award, and the National Science Foundation Career Award. He's also a fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And finally, he is the faculty chair of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office, and just a bit of trivia, apparently Professor Rigobon drinks a lot of coffee. Am I right?
Roberto Rigobon: I think that they put me in a coffee pot when I was born. It has no impact on me.
Christopher Reichert: And Juan Pablo Armas is a business strategy consultant and serves on the boards of many, many companies in Chile, including the board of EuroAmerica Compañia de Seguros S.A., Banmédica, which I believe is part of UnitedHealthcare Global, Veterquímica S.A., and Governors of the Federation of Chilean Industry. He earned a civil engineering degree from the University of Chile and was a Fulbright Scholar, like my father, and earned a Master of Science in Management from MIT Sloan in 1992.
And we were talking about the difference, but back then it was always a master of science. But even in my day, which was not too much after that, the difference between MBA and Master of Sciences was the thesis.
Juan Pablo Armas: That's right.
Roberto Rigobon: It still, it is. We have the master in science, but, you know, there are less, less of them doing thesis, but yes.
Christopher Reichert: So Juan Pablo is the chair of the MIT Sloan Latin America office as well. Also, we were talking earlier with Juan Pablo....he lived in Eastgate, which I was mentioning has completely been torn down as an open plot at the moment.
Each of you could be the subject of an entire podcast alone. But, I guess, let's begin. I think let's start with the 10th anniversary of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office. For those not familiar, the MIT Sloan Latin America Office is a department within then [MIT] Sloan School of Management, and it's part of the MIT Sloan Global Programs. Its mission is to promote collaboration and knowledge exchange between the MIT community and the Latin American business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policymakers. Tell us about its creation and a little bit of what's happened over the last 10 years.
Roberto Rigobon: So, let me tell first a little bit of the context of how we started. I don't know if the audience will remember, but United States has always been very concerned with Latin America. And Latin America has always been looking north all our life. And if you remember the government of Bill Clinton, he was like super pro Latino, as I love that. But, you know, with the September 11th terrorist attack, and then Obama shifting attention to China, I think that one thing that happened in Latin America is that we felt a little bit disconnected from our big brother. And I think this actually had repercussions on the politics of the region, by the way. So, I think that this was a mistake, but also had a repercussion on the fact that Latin America, with the exception of a couple of countries, was feeling also.
And I think that the MIT community was feeling a little bit isolated. So, there are exceptions, like Colombia, Mexico, and Chile will be the exceptions of that. But in some sense, there were very few faculty flying to the region, very few initiatives in Latin America from MIT. So even though MIT had a fantastic reputation in the region, there was very little connections between the two.
So the office is born, you know, 10 years ago. And I think that part of that initiative was, well, can we increase exchange? Can we increase connection? Can we increase awareness? And I think that we are still not there, but we are literally tenfold. Okay? So we are literally tenfold in terms of research, in terms of visits, in terms of interactions. So, I think that that's that was the initial point. And we are on the 10 years. So we are trying to redefine how the next 10 years will be.
Juan Pablo Armas: Yeah. And let me add that a key role in this was a businessman, a Chilean businessman indeed called Andrónico Luksic who had a large group of companies in Chile. And he proposed the idea to the Dean of Sloan. They knew each other and he proposed it. And this is the interesting thing of this office is, was the first one outside of Boston. It was a very challenging project, and he has proved to be very successful. We can tell you a little bit more of that. But the first five years were completely financed by Andrónico. He kept us running, and Roberto was able to put together a group of faculty and people from MIT together from people from businesses in Latin America. So it was a fantastic combination. And then after the first five years, other entrepreneurs put their own contribution, and now we have the Solari family with enormous contribution and Gustavo Pierini, SM ’87, a Brazilian entrepreneur as well. So, I think that it has had an enormous momentum from its start.
Christopher Reichert: So, obviously both of you have a deep affinity for wanting to promote the South American continents business and cultural and economic fortunes. How do you kind of wrap your head around such, first of all, such a large land mass, but also various, each country's kind of in a different economic place and political place. How do you manage that?
Roberto Rigobon: So let me answer that question as a Venezuelan, because I think that I can explain in one second that we are different, but identical. Okay? So it's just there's something about Latin America that makes us very, very different from other regions in the world. And so, I mean, I don't know if the audience how much they know, but Venezuela has been going through massive human rights violations with the government that is incredibly abusive. And just to have an idea almost 30% of the population of the country has left. So you understand that in Syria, not 30% of the people have left. And in Venezuela, 30% of the people have left. Where have they gone? Well, you know, about 4 million to Colombia about a million to Chile that I have here Juan Pablo, about a million, a little bit less than a million to Brazil, about a million to Argentina, a little bit less than a million to Panama, Mexico, another, you know, quarter of a million, a quarter a million in Miami. And so, one amazing thing, not a single one, is in a refugee camp.
Christopher Reichert: Wow, that is quite a diaspora.
Roberto Rigobon: And by the way, this is not the first time it happens in Latin America when the abuses were taking place in Argentina. So everybody received the Argentinians when it was happening in Chile, everybody was receiving the Argentinians, the only place on Earth that in the last 500 years, we have had massive external migration, and not a single person ever has put in a single refugee camp is called Latin America, because we have a sense of community that is particularly unique, and we don't like each other in normal times, especially when we're playing soccer. Like, you know, like, oh, you are an Argentinian and the Brazilians! We don't like each other. But the beauty of Latin America is when we understand what we need to build, the amount of solidarity is absolutely unique. And I feel the Latin American office is trying to appeal to that. And, in fact, I can tell you, I mean, Juan Pablo might want to confirm that in our meetings when we don't discuss like the regular politics that concentrate on what you want to destroy, we concentrate on what we want to build. This is almost like always unanimity. Is that correct, Juan Pablo?
Juan Pablo Armas: That's absolutely right.
Roberto Rigobon: So truly, you know, it's inspirational when you change the narrative and then everybody just, you know, we all have different problems. We are all different. And, and again, do we had no meetings during World Cup? That's an important thing.
Juan Pablo Armas: I can't agree more. Let me add a couple of things. This we have a very different cultures there. That's true. And the situation of each country is very difficult, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, each one has its own dynamic and their own problems. But one of the things that we all have pretty much the same basic issues, which is poverty, which is access to technology, which is growth and development, education. So the big things are pretty much the same concerns around all of Latin America and the office has been, I think, very smart in the way we have dealt with this, because we have been expanding gradually. Because at the beginning, since this was a Chilean entrepreneur, it was pretty much focused in Chile at the beginning. And that gave a very strong momentum, and together with that, we focused in Colombia, which Chile and Colombia, very similar to be very honest.
But then we brought in Argentina, Brazil, and we've been discussing our expanding strategy, and we plan to expand through the entire continent in a very strong way. Brazilians are, of course, part of the council. They are an enormous contribution, but we don't have an office in Brazil that's probably one of the steps that we're going to consider in the near future. And so it's been a gradual development, a gradual expansion, but the scope has been all around Latin America. We have done seminars and meetings around the entire continent. So it's been I think, a big impact of the amount of professors we have brought, amount of people we have gathered.
Christopher Reichert: So tell me the difference between an MIT office versus other, less of a footprint, in a location. Why that distinction and how did that come to be?
Roberto Rigobon: So, I mean, what a great question. And so in principle in a world where we do all remotely, like this podcast, you tend to assume that that it would be okay to just do things remotely, and then everybody could be in Cambridge. It just happens to be that we notice a change the day there was a person in the place. I think that you learn a little bit about how things occur what are the, you know, everyday tiny problems. I think that there's no substitute to personal relationships and Latin Americans, we are very personal in general. So, I think that having the presence was important, but I mean, I think that here, Juan Pablo can tell you better, but my feeling from MIT I see that, you know, how it changed the day we were present.
Juan Pablo Armas: Absolutely. At the beginning, I would say that the momentum was not right there at the very beginning. And at some time, we got together, a few of us, I say, what's going on here? Why aren't we getting the traction that we want? And then we decided to meet once a year in Boston, and we meet in a different place in Latin America. So we would get really connected to the region and the presence of having a director in the region at that time. And which changed with the COVID, of course, but, and meeting in here altogether was of enormous impact. That gave the momentum. And this is one of the most dynamic organizations I've known.
Roberto Rigobon: I mean, this was interrupted by COVID, and we were very lucky, I have to say this because if the office would've been created later, or COVID would've happened before, I think the office would've been dead. And also COVID has allowed us to think, okay, what else we can do? So, you know, it's kind of, it was a time for, I mean, we couldn't meet physically, so we use the time to, to rethink.
Christopher Reichert: I mean, looking at your, at your calendar for 2020, which was the heart of COVID to 2021, I mean, there are just scores of, of events going on all throughout, so, I mean, I wonder if having been, you know, covering such a large geographic territory, you were almost set up well for a covid remote existence.
Juan Pablo Armas: No, I think that COVID had this positive side on us, which is they gave us this impulse with this online meeting. And, you know, we did an enormous amount of seminars through the web. Indeed, there was one with Valor Economico in his financial media in Sao Paolo, that where we gathered 150,000 views. So it's the coverage with COVID. And it was interesting because when the COVID started, and Lee [Ullman] the director moving up into states we got together and we said, what do we do? And then, well, let's keep the engines running. And we started with this seminar idea, and it was extremely successful. And right now we can do a combination of this online meetings and at the same time getting together. So I think it has a positive side.
Roberto Rigobon: Yeah, a funny story about that first I started calling all the Latino professors at in the United States, is that so, and again, in the very Latino reaction, everyone said yes. So we had one seminar every week or so. No, I mean, at the beginning there were more at the end, yes. And they were actually in the radio. Okay, imagine this is a webinar, actually, he was on the radio. I said, this is bizarre. Like, who will be listening to a podcast , but not meant to be a podcast? It was a webinar, people talking about a graph. And then,
Juan Pablo Armas: But, I must say that Roberto did, and I mean, I haven't seen you work that hard like in COVID, that was, that was crazy. Roberto was one seminar after the other one. So this I must say his contribution, your contribution to keep this running was incredible.
Roberto Rigobon: No, I was also learning a lot. But we did when we count everything from the teaching and everything, we did 120 webinars. I know I was doing nothing. I was just providing the entertainment and then allowing the speakers to ....
Christopher Reichert: One of the things you mentioned in your class was the evolution of, I think it was the U.S. economy over 150 years. It went from agriculture to services, but it took 150 years to do that. When you look at Latin America, how do you see the MIT Sloan Latin Office, Latin America office and MIT's influence in the evolution of South American economies?
Roberto Rigobon: Well, so I think that the important component of the U.S. evolution is realizing that the really important natural resource that the United State has is not underground. It's about a meter and a half above the ground, okay? So it's just that important realization in the United States is very important. Second United State has a humongous in that history, a humongous degree of pragmatism. And again, you are seeing that with the Silicon Valley right now, where on Friday goes bankrupt, and by Tuesday you have the Central Bank saying that we're going to change regulation. That is a tremendous amount of reinvention that happens every single day. And then the third component is to understand that, you know, the private sector is not the enemy, or that the government is not the enemy. So the United States, in fact, if you feel that the United States is not evolving, it's because we have lost the pragmatism, and we have lost a little bit of this narrative about the private sector.
We are not investing in education and technology. I think that actually, that's exactly what MIT is. We are an institution that by construction, we provide humbleness. And humbleness means that don't think too high of yourself, or don't think that your ideas are too good, be ready to be proven wrong. And I think that that's kind of in the DNA of MIT, and the Sloan School, and the office as well. So we have a great degree of pragmatism. We value knowledge, technology, and reeducating ourselves all the time.
And then finally, I think it's kind of in this view that the society needs to be built together, that that is severe. By the way, that last part is severely missing in many countries. I mean, you go to Argentina and for a significant proportion of the citizens, the private sector is the enemy.
And by the way, for the other one is the government. And you go to Venezuela is the same. And you can see that these fluctuates through time. So you go from one side to the other, but the fluctuations that we have in Latin America are very big. So these values that are kind of part of what achieved the growth in United States and a massive transformation, I think they have been missing since the 1970s in many countries in Latin America. So, I mean, different times and different, but I think that those are the aspects that, that the office and MIT can do for the region.
Juan Pablo Armas: Let me add to that that this is where the differences between the countries appear and, the realities are different, what happening in Peru or Chile or Argentina, they're all the completely different reality. We have been in rollercoaster type of development. We go up and then we go down, we go up. I would like to say that the rollercoaster is still on a upwards slope in general not in a downward, which is good. But it's been like that. The countries go up and they look very fantastic, and they will go down and the realities are very difficult. But in the case of MIT and I can speak for Chile, it has such tremendous influence. It's amazing. This is a country that, well, Chile has done a tremendous development in the economic terms in the past three decades.
And MIT has very, been very present. The Central Bank of Chile has been almost managed by MIT graduates. I mean, the development of the monetary policy in the country, I would say has to do with MIT policy. And that's something to be very proud. And I remember talking to Rod Garcia from admissions two decades ago, and he was accepting, I don't know what, like five or six Chileans a year. And we said, you know, if we keep at this rate of graduates from MIT, there will be in most of the important companies in Chile. And you look at today, we have, I don't know, 160 MIT young graduates, and they're placed in most of the most relevant businesses in the country.
And so there is an influence, in our country, it's been a tremendous influence. And I would say that the office has this characteristic that they can reach out into government officials with the different topics, whatever it's health or the economic development, they can reach out to the highest levels, in the countries, and they can give a hand, they can help. So I think that the office might have a very positive impact in the development of the country despite the politics. Because right now we have moved from the very right administration in Chile into a left one, but still the government officials are all very open to speak to us and, and receive us, and listen to us and do things with us. So so we have an opportunity as an office, I think.
Christopher Reichert: I was thinking about that anecdote from Tom Friedman who said that America has never gone to war with a country with a McDonald's in it, which sort of implies, you know, not that people love McDonald's per se, but there's a certain economic basis that there's free cash to go spend on fast food, right? Do you see that aspect of kind of the tide lifting all boats as a key component of what this initiative is about?
Roberto Rigobon: Well, absolutely. I mean, so the world, there are some transactions and there's some activities that are zero-sum games. But to be honest the definition of productivity is a not zero-sum game. So, that truly, both sides can benefit. So I don't see any inconsistency by saying, well, by making Latin America better and more prosperous that also will help United States. I mean, just think about immigration and all the people that we have in the border in Texas. I mean, if Central America will be booming there will be less people there. And the immigration issues in the United States will be, this will not be a discussion. That is a very good example of which actually by working together, you will be able to solve the problem easily.
In economics, we have many, many instances where the pro that that welfare goes up. The question here will be, how can you make the wealth that you create become welfare? That's the challenge. So we can create wealth. Then how do you transfer that to welfare? If we think about that step, I think there's no reason, there's no inconsistency.
Christopher Reichert: So they say that the value of the Harvard degree increases with every mile that you leave Harvard Square. Do you find that's true? The same for the MIT degree? Every mile you leave Kendall Square?
Juan Pablo Armas: You know that when I was traveling to Sloan 30, I mean, 20 years ago, and I remember passing the official that was in Customs in Immigration, and he would look at my passport and say, what are you doing here? And say, I'm studying in Boston, and where are you studying? I'm studying at MIT. And so he said, welcome to the United States. So, it was a kind of a very important thing to be accepted at MIT. The curious thing is that in Chile, the perception of the MIT graduates is, because I guess this official thought that it was like a Sheldon Cooper type of guy from the “Big Bang Theory,” but the image of the MIT in Chile is very strong and has to do with this high level of professionalism. There's a perception, and I must say, and this is probably, Roberto might agree with me, this has been influenced by the role of the economists in the Central Bank. I mean, Vittorio Corbo, Jose De Gregorio, they have done a huge contribution to the development of the country. And they always been this image of the MIT professional, very wise, very smart, and extremely professional. And there's a tremendous positive perception of MIT in Chile.
Roberto Rigobon: But let me build on that. I think that two individuals had a tremendous influence on that reputation. So one was Rudi Dornbusch, and the other one was Arnoldo Hax. So Arnoldo Hax is on corporate strategy. He brought many Latin Americans and many business people to MIT and vice versa. So on the corporate strategy, he was there. And again, it's a very serious, very evidence-based strategy.
And then Rudi Dornbusch on the economics department, just to give you an idea, we have Mexico's Ministers of Finance and central bankers in Colombia, in Venezuela, in Brazil, in Chile, in Argentina. Like every single country was Latin American, was influenced by Rudi, also Europe, and also Australia. But so, there are places elsewhere, but Latin America, look, almost every big country had a direct contact with Rudi. I mean, Rudi passed away 20 years ago, but it was a direct contact. I mean, the president of the IDB was one of his students.
Juan Pablo Armas: And with a strong influence, I must say, because Rudi, when he came here, he would meet with the president immediately. That was his, the number one meeting was with the president, and he would give him advice. And Rudi, by that time, I mean, remember, he had not, no he would not withhold anything. He would just go, frankly and straight that's it.
Roberto Rigobon: Yeah. In fact, he was a 50 year old with a filter of 150 year old person. I remember in Argentina once the, he was telling the Minister of Finance in a public event that their policy was inconsistent, that they were actually going to have a crisis. And the Minister of Finance just denies everything. And then he says, I have an advice to the audience, please reserve this number 1-800-BAILOUT. And truth be told, six months later, they're actually calling the IMF.
Juan Pablo Armas: He came into Chile in the middle of the Asian crisis, and he named our crisis into the name of the Central Bank president. And I remember when he did that, and Chile was kept on talking about the Massad crisis, because the name of the president of the Central Bank was Massad. And he blamed on him, on the decision he made. He was so rude, so strong, and that was the way he was called for many, many years. He was, but he was a very smart, he knew a lot about Latin America, and he would came here almost every year.
Christopher Reichert: So you're at the 10 year mark for the Latin American office, MIT Sloan Latin America office. If you look back on sort of lessons learned as you look forward for the, let's say the next 10 years, what are you doing the same? What are you changing? How are you kind of evolving?
Roberto Rigobon: I mean, there are many challenges in Latin America. The things that I feel that we are not paying attention to in Latin America enough one is environment. We are a mining powerhouse. And the decarbonization of the world is mining intensive. So we better figure this out. I mean, like, we are not going to electrify the world by not mining everything, all the resources that we have. And if we are mining responsibly, then the impact might actually be counterproductive. So what one is that? The role of women is something that is very important. Healthcare and education, I think still are extremely important for the council. But part of what we're going to do is to go through what we think are the challenges that Latin America has. What are the things that we can solve in America? Because this approach is, I mean, we also have political issues, but we might think that we don't play a very important role in solving the political issues.
We can make advices, but we are mute on that. But the things that where we can make a big difference, I think that the council will decide on what the challenges are going to be. But this is a collective choice decision. But it's a very good moment. I mean, we have been, we have met only once or twice physically since COVID. So this is kind of restarting again our meetings and I think that everybody has the energy and the willingness to say, okay, let's redesign what we have ahead. But, we still have far too many challenges. I mean, it's easy to pick something that we are not doing correctly.
Juan Pablo Armas: You know, I can't agree with Roberto more. I think that you hit exactly the subject that we should be looking at. So it's a big consensus. I think that the COVID has a big impact on us because as Roberto mentioned, we started operating through the web, through the internet. And that makes things a little bit different. Anyway, we, you know, the way we organize, we have four different groups that they analyze each of these topics. And one of the things we are now planning to do is how are we going to bring more focus into those groups and more actions. So, and the other thing we need to do is to, to again, bring back those professors that were been coming into the region. You know, we have had here, I don't know, 130 professors visiting the region.
That's a big number for a few years. And we have to bring that up again, those visits have an enormous impact because people listen to them. And there's projects behind of that. So, I agree with you, Roberto, exactly. On the same topics. And those are more important. The other thing is that they evolve a lot because the region evolves. And I, if I may add one topic to what you're saying is education. I would say that the biggest problem in Latin America is education. The education level is very low still. There's some countries have moved faster than others, but there's probably where we have also a big contribution to do. But I agree with you exactly.
Roberto Rigobon: Yeah. We had one event that unfortunately we couldn't expand, but I thought it was fantastic. We brought very good professor from MIT that was teaching programming for high schoolers, underprivileged high schoolers, and we did that in the Santiago Comuna. So this is something that, you know, every, these were public schools. Okay, so I think this is something that we should just escalate up to infinity, you know, so MIT students will love to be able to come to the region and teach programming to kids. And,
Juan Pablo Armas: But you know, the impact, what is interesting is that the impact is not on what they teach. The impact is in the motivation they leave on those young students. They may not even learn what the professor said, but they ended up so motivated that that makes a switch in their lives. So that's probably where we have we're doing a lot of projects also in seed projects, and entrepreneurship have a lot of things to do with the region.
Christopher Reichert: So I'm conscious of time, but I have and there's so many things I wanted to cover, but let me ask Juan Pablo, if you look back on your time at Sloan, is there a memory that sort of sticks out for you that that kept you involved or changed you?
Juan Pablo Armas: Oh, man. MIT has had a tremendous influence in my life. You know, I'm a weird combination because I'm a hydraulic engineer who never practiced hydraulics, and I decided to go into business. So MIT was the perfect complement for me. And so when I got into MIT, I was enchanted by all this world of business. And especially with strategy, my area of concentration, one of my areas of concentration was strategy. When I came back, I was appointed as a CEO, very young. I was not even 30 years old. And I was appointed CEO of a very large corporation. I don't think I would've done any of that without the motivation and training and strategy. You know, I studied it with Arnoldo Hax, as I told you before.
I did my thesis with Arnoldo. I kept very much in close with him. And strategy has been a very important part of my life. I've of course, practices as I was a CEO, but then went on my own and started doing consulting in business strategy. And I would say that would've been the core of my activities since today, despite right now I'm sitting in boards of large corporations in Chile. But still business strategy consulting is at the heart of what I do. And so MIT has had an enormous influence in me. And also I have kept very close contact with the school since my graduating. I graduated in19 92. And as I told you before, I think I have gone to Boston almost every year since my graduating. I think there's only three years I have not been there. And so I have kept a very close contact and I have helped the activity from MIT in the region. So yeah, MIT has been at the heart of what I've done in the past 20 years, it's been a big influence.
Christopher Reichert: I had Arnoldo Hax as a professor as well, and I remember he had this wonderful theatrical way, particularly when he was revealing the third leg of the triangle, he would bring it around and he would look up and say, it's “un-boo-boo-bable”!
Juan Pablo Armas: Arnoldo Hax, unbelievable!
Roberto Rigobon: He puts the hands on top the belly. And he said like “he-he-he”, like an evil laugh!
Juan Pablo Armas: You know, when I was there, my father-in-law visited me from Chile, and he said, can I go to a class? I said, well, why didn't you come to Arnoldo's class? And Arnoldo, that day, he said, is there a lawyer in the room? And my father-in-law was a lawyer. And then he, and nobody said yes. And so then he tells this really strong joke against lawyers. And I said, well, that was the only time! So my father-in-law came out and did a fantastic class, but I didn't like the joke!
Christopher Reichert: And so how about from your side at MIT and, and how about from the incoming classes? What's the kind of the energy you see and the magic, I suppose, of MIT from a professor's perspective?
Roberto Rigobon: So, actually, let me answer that with a story that Arnoldo told me that an old timer told him. So, I mean, so this is a hundred years ago. And truly actually, I think that this defines what I feel every day. So this is the President of MIT at that time, MIT was small enough that, you know, all the students and all the faculty that were joining MIT, they were all meeting together in one single room. And then the president comes and ask they class, and he says, “what makes MIT great?” And he says, “well, certainly not the quality of the students.” And then all the faculty just claps, you know. Then he says, certainly not the quality of the faculty, then all the students clap right! Now, then not the quality of the staff, not the quality of the building, not the quality of infrastructure, not the quality of their research program.
And he just goes after one after the other, and this guy just kills everybody. And then people are looking at each other saying, crap, we made a mistake. Why are we here? Like, and then the president says, what makes MIT great is the pursuit of excellence at everything that we do. And it's in that pursuit that the students become the best, that the faculty becomes the best, that the staff becomes the best, and that the infrastructure still sucks, but it would become the best as truly what is truly incredible about the building. And I feel that every day when I go to MIT central and I feel, and I meet some, you know, 15-year-old new super mathematician that is joining, or I meet some Sloan Fellows or EMBAs that are, you know, 50-year-old or from 15 to 50 or 55, what happens is that when you enter to the building, kind of, we are trying to become a better person.
Everybody where the pursuit of excellence is individually specific, there's an, there's not a unique bar of excellence. So we, I don't feel this constant competition. You see, when you put a bar of excellence that is, is, you know, unconditionally the same for every individual, then you create this unnecessary competition. That's not what we do. That the bar of excellence is at, at the level of every individual. And I see that transformation happening every single day in the classrooms, in the corridors, in the staff, in the faculty. So it's really difficult not to feel inspired by that. So, truly, you know, it's just… this is the first time in 30 years that I took a sabbatical outside of MIT. So my sabbaticals, I always spend them in MIT. And let me tell you the places that I did go on my sabbatical, I went to Chile.
To the Chile, and I stay, you know, there sponsored by (Pepe) Jose De Gregorio who is an MIT student. Okay. And then from Chile, I went to Australia and I stayed in the Central Bank of Australia where the deputy of Australia was the TA that studied with me at MIT. And one of my students is the fourth one in that, in the Central Bank. So the interesting thing is that I got out of MIT to be at MIT with my friends. And so truly that aspect makes MIT uniquely unique. And it's just hard the day you feel that energy that spark, because it's not one lightning bolt that hits. It's like millions of sparks. I tell the students that, you know, it's hard not to be blinded by the extraordinary things that they are creating. So that happens every day. So, and I have the privilege to see that.
Christopher Reichert: Is there anything you want to cover that we didn't cover or anything you want to add?
Roberto Rigobon: No, I mean, I was very disappointed that you called me professor Robert Rigobon, and you did not call Juan Pablo a student Juan Pablo! But anyway, and then when you said that, you know, that, that Juan Pablo is like your father said, I was planning to say yeah, the same age. But anyways....
Christopher Reichert: Well, that's fantastic. I think. On that note I want to thank Professor Roberto Rigobon and Student Juan Pablo Armas for joining me today on Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. And congratulations on 10 years of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office and to the future.
Juan Pablo Armas: Thank you.
Roberto Rigobon: Thank you for having us. Thank you for the invitation.
Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the Office of External Relations at MIT Sloan School of Management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website, mitsloan.mit.edu/alumni, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides essential flexible funding to ensure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting giving.mit.edu/sloan.