Ricardo Salinas is a Mexican visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist working to advance economic and educational opportunities and champion freedom and sound money in Latin America and worldwide. As founder and chairman of Grupo Salinas, his business empire extends across multiple industries, including media, telecommunications, retail, and financial services.
As The Atlas Society’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, he sat down for an interview with our CEO, Jennifer Grossman, during our 7th Annual Gala to talk about Ayn Rand, his vision for Bitcoin, and advice for defending freedom and rejecting the self-sacrificing premise of altruism. We invite you to listen HERE or read the transcript below.
JAG: Jennifer Anju Grossman
RS: Ricardo Salinas
JAG: So one of the most exciting developments at The Atlas Society over the past few years has been the tremendous growth and engagement of our international audience, particularly in Latin America. In just the past two weeks, I was in Guatemala to give two speeches, or three if you count when I went through customs—they asked if I had anything to declare. And then, I interviewed the president of the newly founded Universidad de la Libertad of Mexico, and that activity pales in comparison to the frenetic international speaking schedule of our Senior Fellow, Antonella Marty. So it is only fitting that The Atlas Society has begun to look beyond the borders of the United States to find the most deserving recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, we looked to the north and honored Canada's Chip Wilson, founder of lululemon. And this year, we looked to the south to honor a true Atlas of Mexico, Ricardo Salinas, among whose many entrepreneurial achievements are the founding of that aforementioned university. He has graciously agreed to grant us a rare interview. And, as we turn to that, I ask you to direct your attention to the screen for a brief introductory video.
RS: What I do is create things that benefit millions of people. That’s my goal.
The act of creation, designing a new system, conceiving a new product, creating a company to benefit millions, that provides great satisfaction. That’s what I do.
We are making life easier for more than 10 million people who can now use financial services from their phones. That wasn’t possible before. It’s highly satisfying to see these innovations which make our clients’ lives easier.
This thin strand of fiber, as fine as a human hair, is made of sand. It’s inside a thin, very light tube yet the connectivity it provides is almost incredible. That offers me great satisfaction: helping connect people.
Perhaps as a father, some of my kids may complain that I wasn’t a great dad. Maybe. But I did my best. I think I can also say that I set an example, and a series of values which I gave them. And over time, everything falls into place.
If there’s one thing I could say to young people: Self-confidence. You can do it if you set your mind to it. Never, ever give up and you’ll succeed.
But now you realize that the date is getting closer. You see it approaching. You understand it’s inevitable. But it’s like a tragic comedy. Just when you’ve acquired the most wisdom, knowledge, and preparation… Goodbye!
Don’t be afraid of the impossible. Don’t give in. Never settle. Never surrender your freedom. Whatever you can imagine is what you can achieve.
JAG: So inspiring!
So, last year's honoree, Michael Saylor, in his acceptance speech, likened Satoshi to John Galt, likened Bitcoin to Galt’s Gulch as a way to withdraw your productive energies from a corrupt economy. You hold up to 60% of your liquid assets in Bitcoin. How did you discover its potential, and how important is it in particular for Latin America?
RS: Okay, before I get into that, I just want to say thank you all for showing up. I didn't expect so many people here to be interested in Ayn Rand and the Objectivist philosophy. It's always been sort of an enigma for me how many people really understand the Atlas concept.
And so, thank you all. And, thank you, Jennifer. And, of course, thank you, Michael, for that undeserved promotional introduction. I hope to live up to half of that.
But it's been a long ride, so it's been many, many years. And it's very satisfying to be here now in this Atlas Society to talk about John Galt, because I think that she [Rand] was onto something very interesting.
The metaphor is: how do we get away from the looters? Right?
Well, we should all think more about that.
And it's not that these looters are really thieves that are appropriating the wealth that has been created by some other people for their own purposes. They can say whatever they want: they're going to give it to the poor and they give it to the blind and to the short and to the tall, the black and to the white. But the thing is, they get a big benefit out of all this repartition, right? So, let's just take them for what they are: thieves. So, I think what Satoshi Nakamoto did was invent this Galt sphere, what was it, the Gulch? It was where you can take your wealth and they cannot take it away from you, which is a pretty cool thing.
It used to be like that with Swiss bank accounts in the numbered thing, but then the Swiss caved in, and the US government gave them a pretty good talking to.
But who are they going to talk to in Bitcoin?
So, I think it's a really powerful thing, this concept of the Gulch, and where you can take away your wealth and it can not be taken from you by looters.
So, in that respect, it ties in perfectly with the whole philosophy. But I have to say, it took me a long while to figure it out. For me, it was just a nice investment that was a stock that you could buy. I was lucky to buy it at 200, and then I felt like a genius when I sold it at 800. Pretty good.
But then I came back in and then I felt like a triple genius. I sold it at 17,000, but then I figured out why you should never sell it.
And that's where I am now.
Never sell it.
JAG: Hold on for dear life.
All right. Well, as we heard from Michael Saylor about some of the many ups and downs that you've had in your trajectory, Peter Drucker has observed whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision. What were some of the decisions, in retrospect, that really frightened you, but that you did the right thing despite the risk?
RS: That's what we call the survivor bias, right?
If I made courageous decisions that were wrong, you wouldn't invite me to the show.
Well, I made plenty of those.
Just last year, we made a huge mistake. What was it, in 2020 when COVID hit? Was it ’20? Yes, ’20.
So, we were up doing this satellite system to be the worldwide Internet service provider. The company was called One Web and we partnered with Masayosi Son out of Japan when we were putting up $5 billion, and I was having a 10% stake in that $500. But, you know, then COVID came just when we were doing the refinance and we had to write off the whole company. So, bye. That was a pretty courageous decision, but you don't get written up about that one, right?
Other than that, I've been really lucky because when I was able to buy the television stations from the government and become the first private company competing with another private monopoly, I think that that changed a lot of things. But it's been 30 years now.
And then, when we went into banking in 2002—we had always been in the credit business because we do installment loans for refrigerators and TV sets and motorcycles and so forth.
So, banking is really a simple business. It's taking money from some guys, paying them some interest, and turning around, loaning it to somebody else and making a big margin and then having a payment system. So, I know a lot about banking, and it helped me a lot to figure out why Bitcoin was so good. I think that's been one of the star attractions, though I have to say, as a banker, I am a sinner and I confess and I regret, but I have to sin again, and there's no way not to be a banker and not be a sinner. So, I try to attenuate my sins by promoting Bitcoin.
JAG: Well, and of course, promoting educational opportunity in Mexico. The founding of the Universidad de la Libertad is one of the most exciting developments in Latin America. I was at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, and I know they are collaborating with you, and you have a very, very different model that you are bringing to this endeavor. So tell us a little bit more about your activities to promote education in Mexico.
RS: Yes. For all of us who are what we call liberals in the right sense, in the original sense of respecting and loving liberty, what has happened in education is a tragedy, okay? There's no mistake about it.
The young people are being poisoned by these collectivist ideas that are sprung on them by academics and the teachers and so forth. And, all these universities, the problem with universities, they have accountability to nobody—zero.
So, I decided that if we're going to do something meaningful in terms of change in my country, you have to start with the right ideas. And, I think that this communist called Gramsky was really on the right issue, which is that the collectivists co-opt the writers, the intellectuals, the thought leaders, and then they infect the whole of society. So what are we doing about that? Very little. So, that's why I started the university and the school.
And, we have a program also for another low income school. But, I think ideas are really important. They have consequences. If you have the right idea, you'll have the right consequences. You have the wrong idea, you will definitely have the wrong consequence.
JAG: And I'm hopeful that La Rebellion de Atlas will be a part of the curriculum.
RS: Hope so. Yes. We have there in our library some very interesting books that you would be hard pressed to find in American universities.
JAG: Well, so speaking of La Rebellion de Atlas, tell us a little bit about what you take away from Ayn Rand. Maybe when you first discovered her works and whether or not you would be the Midas Mulligan or which characters you identified with in the novel.
RS: Yes, well, I discovered Ayn Rand in the early 70s. I was born in 1955, so in 1972 I was 17. I read a lot of stuff and I just devoured all of the Ayn Rand material. And I was really struck by her book We The Living, which describes communist hell in Russia.
So that got me sort of hooked to find out what's going on with Russia and Stalin and all those purges.
And it was interesting because at that time, the early 70s was still very much a hippie time.
JAG: Hippies of the right. All you libertarians.
RS: And there was this discourse about peace and love, but how could you do that with the Soviets and with Vietnam? Where's the peace and the love?
So, there was a lot of questioning, and I thought that she really pointed out the way in her objectivist philosophy. So, that's how I got started on that.
JAG: So, one of the things that makes Ayn Rand so different is that she portrays entrepreneurs in heroic fashion in her novels when they are more often demonized in popular culture. What about in Mexico? Are entrepreneurs admired or are they also the target of envy?
RS: No, it's a standard Hollywood issue. If he's rich, he's bad.
If he's more rich, he's more bad.
He's a billionaire. So, you're a super son-of-a-bitch.
JAG: You're the Bond villain in this formulation.
RS: But, as you know, I'm kind of famous on Twitter and social media, so now I'm the only billionaire who shows off.
RS: So, why would I show off?
It's not showing off. This is just how I live. However, I think that people need to have a model and an aspiration, and I think it's absolutely valid for them to know what it's like to be successful in terms of money. You can be unsuccessful in personal terms. Fortunately, that's not my case.
My dear wife is there and we have three lovely kids and now nine grandchildren.
But I think that people really need to see a role model and there's no reason to be ashamed of what you have achieved. Yes.
JAG: You know, we're coming up on an election year next year. And my biggest pet peeve when it comes to politics is to hear these candidates all striving to show who it was that grew up more humble. Whether it’s the door as our dining room table or I could see the road through the holes in the bottom of our car. And, despite his many, many flaws, the one thing that I think we can all agree on, that Donald Trump was refreshing about, was he said, “I'm rich and it's great.” So, I think it's really important to not apologize and to celebrate what you have achieved. In Latin America, is there a sense that it is the fault of the rich that are making the poor poor? Or is there a sense that people are beginning to perhaps reject this populist notion?
RS: Yes, Latin America.
Well, Latin America is a very big place, okay? And, I hesitate to use the term because we got all kinds of different things going on. It's a huge territory.
But, in general terms, the culture is heavily influenced by the Catholic faith.
And, unfortunately, some people have turned around the Catholic faith and forgotten about two very important commandments. Which one is Thou shalt not steal.
And, they do that with singular delight.
The other commandment is Thou shalt not covet the goods of your neighbor.
And, they do that, too. And, unfortunately, we have this pope, Papa Paco, who is a Jesuit, ex-Communist Jesuit, and he is really into this income redistribution. His knowledge of economics is very poor. But it's not just the pope, it's a whole culture. There's a phrase in Spanish called pobrismo christiano. So, it's good to be poor.
So, maybe 2000 years ago in Galilee, you're tending goats. It's okay to be poor. But we're in the year 2023. It's not okay to tend goats and be poor.
And, we have to really fight against that because there's so many more poor people. Of course, right now, if I'm sick and you're healthy, is that your fault?
The same thing with poverty.
Why would it be my fault that such and such person is poor? It's also a very, let's say, 18th century, 19th century mentality that wealth comes from the land and the land is limited. And so, the land limits how many cows you can have and how much grain you can collect. So the wealth is limited and there's an issue of redistribution of land.
But, these days, who makes money on cows and grain? Nobody. Right. It's a pretty bad business, the agriculture business.
So, now wealth is being created through knowledge. And, knowledge is definitely not limited.
So, people need to understand that in a different way.
JAG: And you are helping us to understand it and Latin America to understand it. Thank you.