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Speaking Of Rambo


March 11, 2022

In the mid 90s, I served as chairman of the board of an electric generating company in Bolivia. The company owned three generating units near Cochabamba (our home office) and constructed two more in the Carrasco region (half way between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz). That region was known for its production of cocaine; it was the first time I had ever seen cocoa leaves laid out to dry (done before the leaves are processed).

The commissioning of the Carrasco units was a big deal in the country. The board and the management team traveled by bus to the plant site from Cochabamba. Only the best for us! The driver had rigged up a CRT TV in a makeshift wooden rack behind his seat. On the ride down, we watched Rambo in Spanish. On the way back we watched … Right, Rambo in Spanish.

The president of Bolivia flew to the site in a gunship. I had to give a speech (in English thank goodness) and ate lunch with the President to my right and the US ambassador to my left. I got my photo in all the newspapers.

One more thing stands out about that trip. We were stopped several times along the way by ropes across the road, with men with AK-47s standing nearby. “Bolivian tolls.” Pay or you die.

Each time I flew out of Santa Cruz to Miami to return home, I thanked God that I had survived my time in Bolivia.

A last story. When I took over management of my company’s investment, I studied the pro forma upon which we had made our investment. Way down at the bottom of one of the sheets was a number labeled “Plug.” You never want to see such a label on an investment spreadsheet. Turns out that in order to exceed our hurdle rate, the development team had plugged a number into the results. A big number. A number that meant this investment was never going to go well.

And it didn’t. We sold our stake at a deep discount to a Bolivian firm after three or four years.

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