The Expat: Parker Stanberry

Parker Stanberry.
Parker Stanberry.
From: Houston, Texas
Lives in: Palermo Soho
Age: 36
Profession: Co-founder and CEO of Oasis Collections
Education: Economics degree at Duke University
Just read: Good to Great by Jim Collins
Last film seen: Blue Jasmine
Gadget: My Blackberry

A fleeting 48-hour visit back in 2004 was enough to tempt Parker Stanberry a couple of years later for a longer stay in Buenos Aires. That, inevitably, led to his being a more permanent fixture in the Argentine capital, and he has made Palermo his base for business and pleasure.

“It was my first time in South America, and I came for two days. I thought it was a very cool city and immediately like it, and went back to New York and carried on living there. Until 2006, when I had a natural stopping point with regard to my career and life in general and thought that I should live abroad and have that experience. It wasn’t particularly scientific but I just picked BA as I’d had a good feel for the city from that prior visit.

“I came down at the end of 2006, and it was open-ended, not thinking it would turn into a decade! I thought maybe I’d find something fun and stay for a few months, or maybe something more interesting and stay a couple of years. And that’s how it happened!

“On that first visit for two days I stayed in Recoleta, but I found Palermo early on and it was still very much the early days of that neighbourhood coming on. I liked the feel of a place that was in transition, in recovery mode, and even though it had its very own particular Argentine culture, other people and expats were starting to flow into the place. There was also nice weather and low costs that made it seem like a very viable option. There were a lot of factors that made me want to give it a try. The only real goal was to live abroad for a few months, learn a new culture and learn Spanish — as I didn’t know a word — and explore the city.”

Renting an apartment with the intention of staying a few months led Parker, who previously worked in finance as well as in the film business for Miramax, to consider that he too could be renting out property. And an initial apartment purchase later led to a much bigger project that is now Oasis Collections, a luxury property rental company that also manages private members clubs in Latin America.

Parker says: “I quickly saw the economics of what this guy had done, that he had bought an apartment quite cheaply and was then renting it in dollars to foreigners, for around US$1,500 a month. And I thought ‘this is something that would be a bite-size business to start off with,’ that some money could be raised by mates and that it could be utilized in this way. So it was very organic. I was living in Las Cañitas and spending time in Palermo so that was what I fell in love with. On a personal level I liked the vibe and liked the lifestyle, but a few months in I started to think on a business level. It seemed like it was moving in the right direction — although that didn’t last for too long! — where things were cheap and if you wanted to something entrepreneurial and creative on your own, vis–à–vis London or New York, it seemed like a great opportunity.”

Although Parker’s family and friends are in the US, he says the move, albeit a short one originally, was made easier as it happened in stages. “As it was more of a ‘let’s try this out’ situation, which helped me mentally as well as my family and friends, it didn’t have a finality to it. Was it a bit of a leap on day one, giving up my apartment and heading down here? Sure, but only a bit. And then it evolved, and maybe nine months in, everyone gets it, that you’re starting a life there, so it happens more organically and makes it less difficult.”

And quite soon in, he saw the potential in property investment. “I thought I should l take a closer look at the concept of buying and renovating apartments and after a few months I took it from a fun little one-off and raising some funds from friends to creating something larger, more of a fund and raised US$1 million. We ended up buying 10 units’ worth of houses, flat and units above a shop front so it crossed over at that point to become a business. And of course, that meant that I needed to be here as I was involved in hands-on renovation work every day, so that turned into my having a real life here that included having some friends, speaking the language and having a job.”

Setting up a business in a foreign country is never going to completely straight-forward, as Parker recounts. “I definitely made some mistakes in terms of finding the right people to work with, because that is key as a foreigner. The right lawyer, accountant, construction guy — one tends to cycle through a few people, make some mistakes and get taken advantage of. But I worked through it.

“And the surprising thing is I managed to carry it off. I’m not a designer, although I worked on a restaurant project in the US, so it was a good feeling to do it. In New York, for example, it’s a handshake and people do what they say, but it’s a different culture here. It was hard to acclimatize to the business culture, for sure, and it was a surprise to be taken advantage of at times as I’d only read about Argentina in a lifestyle context rather than ‘it’s a tough place to do business’. But I can now nail conversation in Spanish talking about shopping for faucets!”

His project was taking place just as hard economic times were hitting the rest of the world, and of course the thought struck him that he should simply complete that first project then go back to the US or move elsewhere. “I could have called it a day but I decided to keep going here. I looked at less capital-intensive but related ideas but also applicable in other cities, which is when we started to think of it as a platform.” And that is how Oasis Collections was born.

Although he has moved quite frequently over the years, Parker’s heart has always been in Palermo, having lived in Las Cañitas, Soho and Alto Palermo. “And now, as our offices and The Clubhouse are in Soho, I live there as I love the walkability of the neighbourhood. However, I try not to do the Palermo Bubble thing too much, and try to get out and about as much as I can. An ideal day out walking would be a combination of strolling through the centre of Soho past the key boutiques then I’d hit the Japanese Garden and the woods. I also love walking around San Telmo at the weekend.

“I’m also a big gastronomy person and like to eat out a lot, either with friends or my girlfriend, while another passion is live music. The last gig I saw was Bruce Springsteen — it was interesting to see as he’s such a rah-rah North American and there is that undercurrent of anti-US feeling here and you saw it from the crowd at the start. But they got into it at the end.”

Parker travels for work quite frequently and is familiar with many parts of Latin America. Within Argentina, he’s been to Calafate, Bariloche, Iguazú, Mendoza, Córdoba and Salta, the latter having the greatest impact on him. “I love Salta. As a region it’s one of the coolest places in the world and the culture makes you realize how different porteño culture is to the rest of Argentina, and how nice the people are in the north. It’s a world of difference up there, and not just because of the landscape. It takes things that you might see thousands of miles apart and puts them within a 200km radius.

“But I’m very American in the sense that I don’t mind doing a quick 36-hour trip somewhere and feeling like it was a getaway – I just came back from Iguazú and had some time by the pool then went to see the falls. That was great, and enough to feel like I disconnected a little.”

Buenos Aires Herald, November 22, 2013
Ph: Mariano Fuchila

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, check out the interview with José from the Honduran embassy.

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