Position:Brief Article

Executives rush to join Internet companies for wealth, independence and a chance to change the world.

"THERE ARE VERY FEW CHANCES IN A UFETIME TO WORK ON a project that will affect people's lives directly and have the same impact as the Industrial Revolution," explains Mariano Dima about why he made the jump from PepsiCo to Internet company StarMedia a year ago.

While it may sound like Dima is dreaming, his words echo throughout corporate Latin America today where more and more people are dropping out of the rat race to join the dot-com crowd. As the following LATIN TRADE survey of "netpreneurs" shows, young and old, male and female, these early adapters love the freedom while seeking the gold nuggets strewn on the information superhighway and a chance to change the world.

Don't bother pointing out that the number of Internet users in Latin America is small, total online purchases are smaller and profits are nonexistent. All of the converts firmly believe that the digital mass of popular support for the Internet in Latin America, including average consumers purchasing online, is imminent. I believe, I believe. Eduardo Adame Goddard, a 53-year-old Mexican entrepreneur who runs Mexico's largest software company for online stores, says, "It's like a new religion--at first people are doubters but once you convince them they become fervent believers."

Do it now before it's too late is the credo for this movement.

Look at Fernando Espuelas, Latin America's Internet icon. The former mid-Level grunt at AT&T is 33 years old and head of StarMedia--an online venture that lost US$46 million on sales of $5 million in 1998, but paid him more than $350,000 plus stock options worth almost $25 million at the time.

No surprise then, when the web came calling in June 1999, that Mariano Varela bolted a 12-year career at ad agency Leo Burnett in Buenos Aires to become marketing director for portal El Sitio International. "Leo Burnett had been in the market for 65 years and believed it had my future all mapped out," says the 32-year-old executive. "El Sitio gives me the chance to create history, to be part of the birth of the Internet in Latin America."

Since the move, Varela has little regrets, and, instead, is thriving on the "adrenaline" rush that he says comes with working for a fast-growing web company. In fact, he says the speed of change has been dizzying since he joined El Sitio. During his first five months on the job, the workforce jumped from 120...

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