The Expat: Guillermo Casarotti

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Born: Montevideo, Uruguay
Lives: Pilar
Education: Systems engineering in Uruguay, MBA at Cornell
Profession: Founder and CEO of Inti Zen, Chamana and Koo
Book: La mente natural
Film: Relatos Salvajes
Gadget: My Mac

With an urge to demonstrate his independence and explore the world from a young age, Uruguayan Guillermo Casarotti finished high school in the US and went backpacking around the world, much to his family’s horror. After meeting his French wife in Greece, he then lived in Paris and the US for several years before taking on an important role at PepsiCo Argentina. Guillermo lives in Pilar with his family and founded three companies that he currently runs, including Inti Zen tea.

Guillermo says: “I was born in Montevideo although my father was from the countryside, Paysandú, and my mum was from closer to the city – they had very different backgrounds. I was born into a family where one side was quite middle class and wealthy, and the other was self-made: my dad put a lot of effort into his studies to become a successful engineer.

“We lived in Punta Carretas and we boys were sent to state primary school so as to integrate with all of society, while my sisters went to private school. I’m the fourth of six siblings – the first are the parents’ adventure while the youngest manage to get on with things. The sandwich ones like me simply survive! I have a lot of happy childhood memories.

“I first came to Argentina as a child by plane, and I’ve got some photos of us all dressed up in ties and jackets to come to Buenos Aires – that’s how it was done back then as it was a big deal. I was always very adventurous – when I was little I’d take cardboard boxes and invent stories with them. But then I went through the Uruguayan teenage rebellion, which meant wearing two shirts, three T-shirts and different colour shoes. My sisters thought I was such an embarrassment, wearing trousers five sizes too big for me.”

Standing on two feet
With a close-knit family and just as close-knit a society, Guillermo always felt the need to spread his wings and show off his independence. “I always wanted to stand out as I didn’t want to be considered the brother of, the son of or the friend of. I needed to get away from that labelling. When I was 17, I applied for a scholarship in the US for six months with the idea of finishing high school there. No one in my family had even gone to Buenos Aires on their own so of course they said it was impossible. Even I didn’t believe I’d be awarded it but I was – and of course my parents were furious!

“My father put up a barrier, that I had to pass all my final exams in one time frame. Impossible. But after putting that obstacle up in the clouds for me, he calmed down. And then I passed them all with eights, nine and 10s and so my dad had to stick to his word. I went to the US to study and that’s when I started cutting the umbilical cord. And it also made me realize that as a person, I could get by and make do really easily but could also get past any obstacles put in front of me.”

La vie belle
After finishing his degree aged 24, Guillermo packed his rucksack to travel the world with one condition issued by his mother: that he returned for her birthday. Visiting lots of places and meeting lots of people was “mind-blowing” and it was on the Greek leg of this journey that he met Anne-Sophie, his wife for more than 25 years.

He says: “We got together in 1988 and after spending two weeks together, we decided to get married. I lived a fairy-tale in France but as Anne-Sophie’s family is very traditional, her father couldn’t stand the sight of me in the beginning. Even the day before the wedding, he asked her if she was still getting married…

“Adapting to France was an issue for me. I left behind my Montevideo with its rambla and swapped it for a city where you open the window and can see what your neighbour is doing in the next building and there’s no horizon. You don’t miss something until you no longer have it. And that was hard.”

After four years, the young couple turned their attentions to the US where Guillermo went to study an MBA. And that’s when the possibility of moving to Argentina arose, quite by accident he says. “In 1994 I was offered a job at an ice-cream company and ended up working at sister companies Lay’s, PepsiCo Snacks and Burger King over the years – they changed me up every two years so I didn’t get bored and retained passion, which is very important for me.

South and north
“In the early days we lived in Banfield as the only family we had was there. It was nice but weekends were hard as they were very family oriented – they’d always go to the same pizzeria every weekend and it was hard for us to integrate. My wife started to mix with more people in Buenos Aires, who’d then ask us if we had passports to live in Banfield, that typical kind of joke. The children were small then and we lived there for two years before moving to Pilar. That’s when the second stage of Buenos Aires began. The kids could play tennis or go out on their bikes, and there was more community in that area.

“Of course we made lots of friends but they were all foreigners and so every year there’d be tears and sadness each time a group left to return to their home country. That was a difficult time for us and so we tried to form roots in a different way.”

After branching out on his own, setting up Inti Zen and Chamana tea purveyors and Koo biscuit company, Guillermo now shares his professional wisdom by giving talks to university students. But running a business can prove challenging in Argentina, he says. “If we run out of ingredients, it can be very difficult to obtain them and then of course production is put on standby – it’s chaotic but there’s a harmonious chaos in our small company of eight.”

In his spare time, Guillermo admits to enjoying rather selfish activities these days. “I spend hours reading, looking after my plants, meditating and practising tai-chi. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but I’m so busy during the week that when it comes to the weekend I just want to hang out at home with my family.”

Buenos Aires Herald, November 1, 2014

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