It could be said that four words changed Alejandro Ramirez's life.
"Alex, we need you." With that short sentence and a handful of newspaper clippings outlining business woes, Enrique Ramirez Miguel, the patriarch of a Mexican family of cinema entrepreneurs, convinced his grandson to leave his job at the United Nations in the mid-1990s to return to his country and put his shoulder to the wheel of the family business.
The note, written by hand, appealed to the heart; the newspaper articles to the head.
"We were the leading company in Mexico," says Alejandro Ramirez, referring to Organizacion Ramirez, the company's name during his childhood, a chain of movie theaters that started up in the 1970s. "But one year the government suddenly deregulated the industry and competition increased."
While Ramirez was studying economics at Harvard and Oxford and working for the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, the two cinema chains of the Ramirez Organization, Gemelos and Multicinemas, had been waging a fierce battle against the world's cinema giants, which had arrived in Mexico to take over the industry.
"I was at the point of accepting a new assignment at the United Nations when they called me," says Ramirez. 1 felt that it was my duty to return. The family had supported me in all of my projects, and I felt that I owed them some generational relief."
And so it was that the man who literally grew up at the movie theater--his father's, which was right next door to the family home--converted his grandfather's business into Cinepolis, the largest cinema chain in Latin America and the fourth largest in the world. As soon as he joined the company in 1996, Ramirez began to professionalize its structure, adopting new technologies and improving the seating and movie theatre design to increase the slope.
He also introduced complexes of up to 10 theatres per venue under the Cinepolis brand.
Now the company has more than 21,500 employees in 27 countries and almost 540,000 seats that have entertained 135 million viewers so far this year. Among its innovations, the company has introduced VIP salons with leather seats, stewards and sushi, all the time maintaining its leadership position in Mexico, where it has staked out more than 60 percent of the market. But as happens in all success stories, Ramirez's winning streak includes at least one extraordinary stroke of luck.
In 2006, while the chief operating officer of Cinepolis...