Whether it’s looking forward in the business sector or giving back in a impactful way, Sandro Salsano, President of the Salsano Group and Chairman of the Salsano Family Office, is always setting the bar high – and surpassing it! Salsano, a self-made businessman, investor and philanthropist, might be successful in his many endeavors, but it is his family and family foundation which he sees as his biggest successes – after all, according to Salsano, love is the most meaningful investment of all!
As a teenager Sandro dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player in the NBA – he was Captain of the national team in Italy – but he is now one of the biggest players in the business world running the Salsano Group, a private conglomerate which invests in real estate, private equity and technology, and is also leading the way when it comes to helping others realize their potential. Salsano’s mother was a teacher, so he and his wife, Johanna Shahani, who he lives with in Panama City, set up the Salsano Shahani Foundation in order to help improve the quality of education for kids in Central America. Salsano, whose own success has allowed him to help others find their path to success, explained that his nonprofit organization doesn’t take outside funds because he prefers to remain independent.
“I’m most proud when the kids call me tio, or uncle, and say, I want to be an engineer or I want to work in Europe or the US, and they really start to envision a future for themselves. A lot of people have talent and work very hard but they don’t have any opportunities. I left Italy to find my path and am a big believer that each of us has a talent. My sister who lives in Milan is a hero, she works with kids who have autism and she does it because she really wants to help other people. At first I set out wanting to change my parents life, but today I want to be able to give even more, help people and leave the world a better place – I think that’s my legacy. More than anything I hope people say hey, he was a good guy. I’ve had many failures, but I’ve also been very blessed in my life. My goal is really to try to share my blessings and do something for other people, especially in our region. Central America has lots of issues, so initiatives in the area are going to have a huge impact, changing many lives for the better.”
Sandro, who has been a savior for many, has adapted successful foundations and projects in his area and supports many organizations including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Milken Institute, & Global Teacher Prize. He and his wife are close friends with Crown Prince Haakon who is heir to the Norwegian throne with Sandro serving as the Chairman of Panama for the Royal’s Global Dignity organization. His vision is a world where compassion, understanding and love triumph whereby everyone deserves to live in societies that provide humane access to education, health, income, security & dignity. Sandro is also active as part of the Academy for the Global Teacher Prize started by the Varkey Foundation whose mission is to highlight the importance of educators by awarding the best teacher in the world a $1 million prize every year. “The goal is to create celebrities out of teachers – we had an event in New York and Leonardo Dicaprio wanted to take a picture with one of the professors! We are applying successful models in our region and are also narrowing our focus before doing everything. One project we did recently was with a local artist, and we took a group to Italy to see the Vatican and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was the first time many of them had ever been on a plane, it was a big process and it really changed their lives.”
While he has struggled with his own setbacks, Salsano has always found a silver lining and come out stronger. After injuring his knee, this energetic entrepreneur enrolled in Bocconi University Milan and decided to study business. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to have a career in basketball after my surgery, so figuring out a new path was really the turning point for me and things really just came naturally,” explained Sandro. “I was in London where everyone was speaking multiple languages like me, and so I realized I really needed to find an edge. You just have to try things and fail. I always felt I was going to a place no one else would go as an investor and applied common sense. I never thought I was smarter than anybody else, I cannot predict the future, I just always felt I had nothing to lose. I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? If I fail, I’ll do something else.”
Born in Lecco, Italy, this business leader and venture capitalist also studied at Harvard Business School, Princeton and Oxford University, and was recently named the Warren Buffett of Central America in Forbes due to his ability to consistently purchase assets at reasonable multiples with the IRR on his portfolio averaging over 35%. He also has a long term focus like Buffet and is willing to hold assets for 10 years before exiting. Salsano believes there are no short cuts to success and you cannot try to get rich quick, but instead need to be diligent, disciplined, work hard and have patience and the results will come much like being a successful athlete whereby you work at perfecting your craft for years before hitting the big time. In addition to having been honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2014 where the selection committee is headed by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Sandro sits on the board of various companies as both a shareholder and advisor, and is on the Steering Committee of the 1640 Society, one of the leading family office organizations with an annual Forum congregating global leaders in the Hamptons this year on August 12th.
When it comes to pushing boundaries in business, this pioneering investor has always invested in people. From selling expensive wine to investing in venture capture and becoming wildly successful along the way, sometimes making fifty times his money, Sandro said that “in the end it’s all about the people you have around you, and I have great people, including my Board and my Chairwoman , Candice Beaumont. I try to apply common sense which is not so common. You can have a great deal but you need to be in with good people. We invest in people and we try not to harm anybody in business. You always find aggressive, malicious and arrogant people, and so my biggest luxury is having the opportunity to decide whom I do business with. It is a personal relationship though, and so there are still challenges. For instance, you deal with the grandfather and then the son is not like his father, but I prefer it to working with bank or institutions. There is a level of trust with personal relationships, your interests are aligned. You can’t always get it right, but I try to stay away from toxic situations and dealing with certain people.”
If you ask him which project he is most passionate about at the moment, Sandro has one word for you – Panama! Salsano currently has invested in industrial zoned land near the airport to capitalize on Panama’s strategic position as the gateway to Latin America, as well as growth in warehouses. This ingenious investor who believes in global trade and logistics explained that “e-commerce changed the world a few years ago. Panama is a very unique country, politically stable, with a $US economy, 6% annual average GDP growth, and is a key logistical hub with the Panama Canal linking the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans. Global sovereign wealth funds have been attracted to Panama, & China views it as a strategic asset too. The Chinese, who refer to Panama as the Singapore of the Caribbean, just opened a consulate and are looking to invest $30 billion in logistics. I invest a lot of money there, and it’s not because I live there, it’s because it’s a very unique country and because I believe in it.” Given Panama’s strategic location, Sandro believes that within the next ten years, Panama will benefit from many growth drivers becoming a more relevant & leading global economy.
This angel investor who is indeed a guardian angel to those he helps through his family foundation, knows that family is more important than any fortune, and also realizes that his failures are what have inspired him to fight harder. “I had several successes that have been amazing, but many failures, so it’s never a straight line. The reality is you have to be right only once. If you go through many challenges, then the beauty of it is you always want to learn about something and there is a good chance you are going to be successful, persistence is the key. You need to work hard and be able to overcome certain situations and go through some bumps. To me success means having your family and your friends, and to be loved and respected. Especially in the city, everybody is insecure or has a big ego. For me, if you don’t treat people right, I cannot be your friend. I used to work in a restaurant and had many jobs, and I think you just have to be kind to people. I don’t believe in extremes, you should enjoy life, but it’s not good to spend more than what you have, it’s important to have balance.” The smartest and most successful people are the most simple and humble people, and that’s something I admire. For example Michael Milken is someone I have always admired who I also feel fortunate to have as a friend. He is constantly trying to help other people and does much good for society with medical research, public health, education, capital markets & philanthropic initiatives such as the Prostate Cancer Foundation which Sandro recently began supporting too. Mike Milken is one of the rare people in the world that has made more than 100 other people into billionaires, and being in his inner circle or supporting his causes ends up enriching your life too. “My goal in the next 30 years of my life is to follow his footsteps, and not only enrich myself but everyone around me too, both personally with philanthropy as well as in business.”
When it comes to new products such as CBD, Sandro explained that “with any market there is competition. There are players, there are followers and there are latecomers. Uber, which I have invested in, is doing fine, but you don’t want to be at the end of the cycle. When I see hype, I don’t like to be involved. I always tell my team that until we sell it, whatever it is, everything is on paper, it doesn’t mean much. When it comes to building a fortune, I believe in concentration, my father-in-law built everything inside Panama.”
Sandro is always looking to expand his already extensive empire, and just invested with someone from Marvel who sold his company to Disney. The company, which is based in New York, has been developing content for the Disney channel and several media channels as well as video games which are educational and intended to help kids fight bullies. “I was bullied myself when I was a kid, it wasn’t easy playing a sport and also studying,” explained Sandro, who overcame his bullying days to become known as someone who knows when to be bullish!
While he invests in many companies as well as in social media, Sandro, who likes to decompress by spending time with his family, shuts off all social media at dinner and on the weekends, as long as it doesn’t pertain to business. “I deleted my Facebook account, a lot of it is fake. Phones are toys, we are not a toy. I like to spend time with those who are nicer than me, smarter than me, and people who give off good energy and who I can respect. You need to value your inner circle, and the key is to have good people around. You don’t want to have fake friends around you telling you just what you want to hear, it’s important to have honesty. I feel very blessed because even though I’ve had bad experiences, failures are a part of life and you need to go through disappointments.”
Sandro is indeed a people person, both in his personal and professional life. Whether it’s partnering with Richard Branson or star athletes on social initiatives or closing a business deal, Sandro is always looking towards building a sustainable and successful future for both himself and others.
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