The USA is a great nation for entrepreneurship and innovation, it has the best science in the world, the most creativity in the arts, it is the number one economy in the world, it has an energy unrivaled by other nations and we have chosen to move to this great nation with our family.  So everything that follows must be seen as friendly criticism from a person who loves this country.

Now most of my friends in the USA agree on what is great about this nation. But when I speak to some American friends they seem to be unaware of the shortcomings of the USA compared to others, and this is what I would like to focus on. Here are some quick examples.

The USA ranks 38th in life expectancy which is shocking considering that it has the best medical science in the world.  And this generation is the first one that will live less than the previous generation. The average American is expected to live two years less than, say, the average Spaniard. This is partly because the USA has a medical system that leaves 50 million people uninsured and many others under-insured or worried about losing their insurance (my wife Nina, for example, can’t get medical insurance to have our next baby because pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition and we moved to USA when she was already pregnant).  It is also partly because the USA is the nation with the highest percentage of its population obese, over 30%.  The WHO studied overall level of health and concluded that Americans rank 72 in the world. Family structure is also weak as the USA has the highest divorce rates in the world. Moreover inequality is on the rise: as this Wikipedia article argues, the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 275% over a period between 1979 and 2007, compared to a gain of just under 40% for the 60 percent in the middle of America’s income distribution.

The USA has a legal system that is extremely expensive and unreliable and tends to favor those with resources to pay for it. The USA spends almost half of what the whole world spends in the military and since WWII (in which the USA did an amazing job), other military interventions have been of dubious value for such a huge investment, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA leads all developed countries in executions by death penalty, it has a love for guns that makes its murder rate unusually high for a developed nation, it has the highest incarceration rates of the developed world mostly focused on one ethnic group, African Americans. The USA has more people in jail or parole than Madrid has people.   And while the USA has most of the best ranked universities in the world, according to PISA scores the USA ranks very poorly compared to other developed nations. The USA is also the largest polluter in the world together with China but a leader on a per capita basis. The American lifestyle is great but not scalable to the world as a whole.  Replicating this lifestyle on a global basis will lead to extreme competition over resources and high environmental damage.

Yes, the USA is great nation. I am happy to be here teaching at Columbia– this country probably has the most educated elite in the entire world. It has incredible business creativity and it is home to the Apples and Googles of this world and in this sense, they are an example for the whole world to follow. It also has individuals who are among the most driven in the world and who want to succeed and do as much as they can.  But it has a number of very important issues to address, many of which were not part of the 2012 presidential debates (climate change for example) and which seem to rarely be part of the conversation with many of my American friends.

This article was also published in LinkedIn. You can follow Martin by clicking below:


One of the reasons Latin America is doing better this decade is because a lot of its elite has been educated at the best universities in the world, mostly in the US. One example is Marcos Galperin who built Mercado Libre into a multibillion dollar market cap Nasdaq giant, something that I think would have been hard for him to do without a US education. And there are many, many others. For decades now the Latin American elites were educated in the US and now they are finally in charge of the most productive sectors of the local economies.

Maybe Spain should do the same. The Spanish education system kills the imagination of the best and brightest students. I know this because we have had to re educate many of these students at the companies I started in this country including Jazztel, Ya.com and Fon. We have companies that are also universities in a sense, whose graduates go and build other companies that are more in tune with the digital era.  There are some exceptions, especially in business studies with IE and IESE ranking very well globally but the average education available to Spaniards is very mediocre with no Spanish Universities in global rankings.

Now it so happens that it is not that expensive to send Spanish students to study abroad. Some Spanish corporations already give grants for this. Indeed just today I signed a recommendation letter for a Fon employee to study at Stanford partly financed by Caja Madrid and I hope they take him. But this could happen at a much more massive scale if the focus was Northern Europe. Studying in the UK with a pound at 1.19 is not as expensive as it used to be. Tuition is low for the quality of education they give. Indeed you can get a whole education in the UK for the cost of a year of studying in the US. Sending thousands of Spanish students to study in the UK, in the Netherlands, Germany and other Northern European countries who are doing better than Spain, could be a way to leapfrog many of the antiquated and dated Spanish professor body who with some notable exception is destroying a generation of Spaniards.  It is also a good investment since education runs a big deficit and an 18 year old who studies abroad gains this education.  Yes, there is a risk that they may stay but if they do it is not brain drain which is what happens when a country invests in a university education, as India many times does, for the graduates to end up in the US or other nations.

We live in an era in which industrialization is being superseded by digitalization, and Spain is not ready to educate its population for this change. The result is the highest unemployment rate in the OECD: 22%. A structural unemployment that is based on a misfit between the skills of the population and the jobs available in the marketplace. There is no unemployment in the tech sector in Spain, but there are not enough highly educated candidates for those jobs. We have to fix that and fix it before this country falls apart. Sending our best and brightest abroad could be part of the solution. We can’t wait for the education system to be fixed. Not with the lifetime jobs that we have provided to the mostly incompetent and untrained professors who populate it. And this is not true of Spain alone but of a lot of Southern Europe.

The kind of intelligence that you need to succeed in business goes mostly undetected at school. Its a sense of leadership and strategy that is not what teachers reward. Entrepreneurs tend to antagonize teachers, they are in class wishing they were in charge and teachers hate that. That’s why so many drop out or do poorly at university only to thrive in real life.

When Nina and I got married in 2009, the most thoughtful present we received was that of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (I wrote about it in my Spanish blog). After I told Jimmy about the difficulties my foundation educ.ar (whose mission is to improve education through the use of technology) was encountering in securing internet access for the many computers we had distributed to schools, Jimmy had a very special surprise for us at our wedding: an offline version of the Spanish Wikipedia.

Rather than being a present for Nina and me, it’s really a gift to all those kids in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries who have no means of connecting to the internet, or only have very limited access. And now, more than one year later, educ.ar is finally ready to deliver those DVDs to schools in Argentina.

At first glance this might not seem like a big achievement, but it is. As Jimmy explains in his blog, the difficulty is not getting the content on a DVD (it fits easily), but rather developing a simple offline reader that provides basic search and display functionality, using only free/open source software. Just think of the millions of cross-links that make discovering new information so easy and enjoyable on Wikipedia.

The DVD educ.ar will begin distributing this year consists of three parts. First, the offline Wikipedia itself, called “CDpedia”. Creating the CDpedia itself was only possible thanks to the efforts of the Python Argentina team. In addition, there’s a theoretical framework where experts comment on the value of using Wikipedia in the classroom and explain Wikipedia’s value in an educational and social context that is increasingly being influenced by information technology and is undergoing a permanent transformation. Lastly, the DVD contains general tutorials and a guideline showing how to effectively use Wikipedia in a classroom setting. Here is the online version of this project.

And so, what started out as a wedding gift from a single (and very special) person will now bring a world of knowledge to thousands of school kids all over Argentina, and later to even more people in every Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t think of a better present.

Buy a new Apple device, cloning an old one is easy. Buy a new RIM or Microsoft, cloning an old one is hard. Hence Apple’s growth. RIM, Microsoft have to learn that the key is to get you to buy new products as frequently as possible. Many people don’t buy a new windows laptop because it takes a day of hard work to move your info and programs. Apple makes it so easy.

Flash may be buggy, but the non flash iPad surfing experience is like watching B&W TV. I really can’t use my iPad regularly. All sorts of unexpected websites don’t work. Today it was one for adopted pets. Could not see pictures in it.

Downturns are great moments to gain market share. Think of Google when it got started. If you are a survivor in a downturn you are the predominant colony, as with bacteria exposed to antibiotics.

In January mobile users consumed 139MB of data. A year earlier each used only 38MB. Mobile data usage is exploding. 3G networks can’t cope. Hence Fon’s growth.

I find the iPad most useful in situations in which laptops are frowned upon. I had a board meeting at www.ie.edu and nobody used laptops. The iPad was discreet and did not offend anyone.

MBA programs are countercyclical as opportunity costs fall in recessions. Last year was IE’s best.

The Bologna Agreement is like the euro of University education. It unifies the European educational market for the institutions well position to take advantage of it.

Most in power in Europe would rather see Greece sink, than the Euro rise again. But not totally because most of the Greek debt is in the hands of German banks.

I just watched TV. Hadn’t done that in ages. Was surprised to see commercials not made for me.Products I could not possibly buy.

The paradox of the music industry is that it’s being destroyed out of love for music. If people didn’t care about music they would not make such efforts to get it without paying rights.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

This December I finished my entrepreneurship class, which I have been teaching for 11 years at the IE Business School, and it was without a doubt the toughest one I’ve ever had to give. How am I supposed to inspire students to go out and get funding in this market if businesses like Apple and Dell, which generate cash – which have a lot of cash and profit – are seeing their shares hit rock bottom?

Dell’s situation is incredible. A business with more than 20 years of experience that has just earned $700 million this past quarter, with an invoice of $55 billion throughout the world, with no debt and, on the contrary, $10 billion in the bank, is somehow worth only $20 billion: $10 billion more than the cash it has on hand. Right now, the market is only betting against Michael Dell, whom I consider to be one of the best entrepreneurs in the world. Practically the same thing is happening to Apple: it has only $24 billion dollars in cash. If the markets don’t have faith in Steve Jobs or Michael Dell, how in the world are they going to have faith in a recent IE graduate? Right now it’s almost impossible to get anything financed, so teaching entrepreneurship is like giving ocean navigation classes… in Kansas.

Although it’s something that can be learned, that knowledge simply can’t be put to use in these conditions. But I did what I could: I tried to give them the best ideas, to tell them the anecdotes that could best inspire these future entrepreneurs. I tried to be positive, but without straying too far from reality. But it is hard, very hard, to teach entrepreneurship in the current conditions. Especially to students that dipped into their savings or went into debt in order to be able to pay for the Masters offered by IE and get started on something that is almost impossible to finance. Okay. Digg, Facebookand the Huffington Post have managed to obtain funds. Maybe it’s not impossible, but it’s much more difficult. At any rate, whoever manages to grow when there is such little water available…will become king of the desert.

Jorge Gant shared with us a particularly good idea. Apparently, most schools in Spain are connected to the internet but very few use WiFi. Jorge’s idea is that parents, professors and students who are FON members should install FON access point in schools. By placing access points near windows, professors and students can use their laptops in and around their school. This way, not only can schools save a lot money on cabling and internet access, but the Internet, as a learning tool, becomes accessible in every classroom.

I think it´s time the United Nations, that so frequently criticized yet so very needed institution, did something concrete for education around the world. I propose this simple idea.

Children (those fortunate to go to school of course) spend around 10,000 hours at school from from ages 6 to 17. Now, if they do spend 10,000 hours at school studying different subjects around the globe, learning sometimes inflamatory educational content that makes them prejudiced later on in life, isn´t it time that at least 100 out of those 10,000 be the same for all children in this planet? No matter how local we think we are we all share planet earth. So what about 100 hours out of 10,000 in which students follow a United Nations curriculum that is the SAME for all kids in the planet. My proposal is that during this 100 hours students learn the basic principles of human rights, understanding and respecting others, and as importantly learning about our fragile environment and how to protect it. That´s it, 100 hours. If we implement this, any person in the planet who meets anyone else will in the future have at least 100 hours of a common background.

I’ve got 3 children in an English school in Madrid. I see what they’re studying, and while it’s a little better than what I studied at Nicolás Avellaneda in Buenos Aires, it’s not good enough. Sometimes when I help them with their homework, I think that education, just like food or medicine, should come with an expiration date.
Read More

The Instituto de Empresa is one of Europe’s leading business schools. This international business school is oriented to providing top-level training for executives and entrepreneurs. The school offers an extensive portfolio of master’s degree programmes (full-time), executive master’s degrees (part-time) and executive education programmes, designed to equip participants with the management tools and competences that make a successful business organisation. The markedly entrepreneurial and global slant of Instituto de Empresa programmes, together with a firm commitment to new technologies and applied research projects, provide a valid response that meets the needs of today’s business community.

Español / English


Recent Tweets