The head of a Latin American start-up finds that it’s a real jungle out there [classic article]

24- year old Sam Logan was groomed all of his life to be a leader — of Corporate America, that is. Instead, he’s trying to go after Corporate Latin America with full force. I called him on his cell phone as he was sitting in a plaza in Santiago, Chile.

His preppy background includes graduating from Christ School in North Carolina, where he was elected “Prefect” (just as Britain’s Prince William was), overseeing his 32 peers. Having traveled all over Europe, he lived in Spain for 6 months.

His fellow prepsters at the all-male Hampden-Sydney College began to see a change in Logan in his very first year. He excelled at kayaking, psychology and Spanish. “I took a psychology class, got an A. Then, I majored in Psychology, with a concentration in Personality Development. I got along with the Spanish teacher. So, I double-majored in Spanish, with a concentration in Latin American Development. The teacher also got me involved in playing the guitar. It just came to me. I didn’t have to work at it at all.”

When he was still in college, he looked up Outward Bound’s Costa Rican site. “I wasn’t ready to get a real job. I did my interview over the phone, in Spanish, and was hired over the phone. So,” he laughs bemusedly, “I guess I must have done okay.” Logan made the decision to go there with a friend from school. “I did that to have some support, have a shared experience. He has a different outlook . . . he works within the typical office structure. So, we were able to compare different experiences. He’s still there.” But Logan didn’t need to bring a friend for company; he was quickly able to find get a Costa Rican girlfriend. “It was a more intimate relationship; they have more intimate relationships there,” he claims.

As a river guide and Coordinator for Costa Rica’s Outward Bound program, it was a mostly volunteer opportunity. “They provide room and board. They gave us $60 a month for entertainment.” Logan’s idea of fun was to rent mules and machetes and go into the Costa Rican interior to see what there was to see. Occasionally, family and friends would send packages, not in the mail, but through other visitors. “Mail is too expensive!” he sighs. They would always be sure to send his favorites, Starbucks coffee and Tabasco. Didn’t they have hot sauce in Costa Rica? “They have hot sauce, even Tabasco, but it has a 30% mark-up. I’m willing to wait.”

After his stint with Outward Bound, Logan became a little more profit-oriented in his career. He went to Chile, after traveling around most of Central America. “I haven’t been to El Salvador or Belize. I’ve covered the rest. El Salvador is kind of shaky politically, now, and Belize is too expensive!” (Author’s note: From my own travels to Central America, unlike most of Central America, Belize is still a British colony, and you pay dearly for amenities like libraries and clean running water.) He worked for a while for ionamerica.com, an e-business information site for Latin America. He had to work completely in Spanish and abide by their laws.

In December, 1999, he and his friend Josh Beard founded http://www.contactouno.com, an online resource for Latin American companies about the Internet. “It’s a free web site that gets Latin American companies involved with the new economy. We get a commission for all transactions. We went to the states with a dog-and-pony show. But, we knew the NASDAQ had lost 20%. It was bad timing.” Logan invested $3,000 to start contactouno.com, mostly to pay for legal fees and registering the brand name in Chile and the U.S.

A typical working day is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., in 45 minute spurts. “I spend 15 minutes in the sun. Then, 45 minutes on the phone in English, Spanish, Portuguese. I also spend the last hour and a half writing freelance. It helps me to unwind.”

Logan states that his monthly living expenses are low, only about $500. Still, he supplements his income by writing articles for travel magazines, including the time he spent 10 days in Cuba, for which he was paid $800. “It’s really beautiful there, such a tragic situation,” he laments.

Logan’s investments, other than his business include holdings in “older Dow Jones, like Anheuser-Busch, HP. I had Pell, but I got hurt.”

Now his free time is spent with a new Chilean girlfriend, playing soccer with Europeans twice a week and kayaking once a week with Chileans. He occasionally splurges on trips to unmapped destinations in Chile.

He becomes thoughtful for a moment when asked the secret to his success, then names several. I take things for their intrinsic value. I take what comes to me and make the best of it. It works well for business! My psychology background helps with sales, forming alliances. It gives me confidence, helps me create win-win situations, understanding on a macro-level. It gives me an edge.

Logan knows that he has had opportunities that are unique. “Number one — I have able to get into the mind of the Latin American. I can be 24, without business experience, and I don’t need an MBA title here. People can make something of themselves.”

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