Andrea Navarro, Bloomberg News
EnergiesNet.com 08 04 2023
Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who frequently rails against “cavemen governments” and communists on social media, has founded a libertarian university where executives from his group will teach courses focused on business skills and leadership.
Classes at Universidad de la Libertad, or Freedom University, start this week at a sleek new building near Mexico City’s Santa Fe neighborhood. The campus shares the space with part of another educational pet project, Humanitree, which offers K-12 education.
The traditional, “obsolete and deficient” education system doesn’t work for young people, Salinas wrote in a blog post in June, so he set out to build his own. One of his sons, who was previously among the first students at Humanitree, will now attend the new university, according to a person familiar with the family’s plans.
The self-funded university is the latest endeavor for a magnate whose investments run from media to retail to banking. His views on government overreach are reflected in his frequent clashes with authorities, sparring with regulators or battling in court with bondholders over hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
In the past few months Salinas has taken to his X account to argue against paying taxes — which he claims only serve to prop up the corrupt political class — and to continue to flaunt his lavish lifestyle which he unapologetically says serves as an inspiration for others to aspire for the very best. That has included touring the Mediterranean on a four-floor yacht, counting down the end to his three month-long summer vacation and landing his helicopter at the new campus.
Salinas has embraced the moniker “Tio Richi,” or “Uncle Rich,” from followers and has analyzed Scrooge McDuck for his blog.
“What do you think the biggest hurdle was to do this?” he asked a crowd in a video posted to social media. “The damn government. They spend the whole time trying to block everything. But you can never give up, you have to keep fighting for the right things, for the truth. Freedom is truth.”
Walking around the university’s main building can feel like being inside a Jenga tower. At the center lies an open-space auditorium, called “Freedom Nucleus.” From there, an audience of about 100 can admire the glass-windowed library, large wooden panels and a handful of small meeting spaces all located at different levels surrounding the auditorium.
The space was designed by Danish architect Rosan Bosch and the school has partnerships with Southwestern University in Texas, Minerva University in San Francisco and Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Madrid.
The college is “phygital,” integrating in-person and virtual learning in “immersive spaces,” according to its website. It’ll offer a degree in innovation and business and eight three-month long courses on varied topics such as economics, smart skills and “people and teams.” It’ll also offer “High Impact Knowledge Experiences” or HIKEs, which mostly encompass four courses taught over 30-hour periods.
“My university is AMAZING, it was designed by experts in creativity, influenced by libertarians and with first-world facilities,” Salinas posted on Aug. 25. “We built it in record time, with investment from my pocket, with zero public money or debt.”
Salinas declined to comment for this story. Dean Jorge Diez Cuervo, an economist who used to lead a youth leadership group inside Grupo Salinas, wasn’t available for an interview.
Salinas, who’s worth $14.4 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, inherited a retail business from his family and ventured into media through TV Azteca SAB. His X profile says he’s a “NepoBaby.”
He later built Banco Azteca SA, a lender that focuses on lower-income clients and handles tens of billions of dollars in remittances each year, mostly from the US. At his Elektra stores, he also offers loans and installment payment plans to clients who buy everything from household appliances to clothes, computers and furniture.
He’s also a fervent believer in Bitcoin and has shared posts from crypto advocates like El Salvador President Nayib Bukele and MicroStrategy Inc. co-founder Michael Saylor.
Unafraid of litigation, he’s battled with local tax authorities, business rivals, politicians and bondholders alike. And several of his companies are currently struggling including a debt default and delayed earnings reports.
In August, an online fight he had with a former senator escalated to the point where Mexico’s electoral regulator known as INE ordered him to delete 70 posts in which he attacked her for her looks. He replied defiantly, saying he wouldn’t “delete a single comma.”
His TV Azteca is currently locked in a dispute with creditors over $400 million of defaulted notes.
In June, Mexico’s regulator CNBV suspended the company from trading on the stock exchange after it failed to present its first quarter financial results in a timely manner.
At his cable provider Total Play Telecomunicaciones SA, analysts have questioned how the company intends to refinance $575 million worth of bonds due in 2025 which currently trade at about 60 cents on the dollar.
Still, the 67-year-old chairman of Grupo Elektra has amassed a fortune that makes him the third-wealthiest Mexican, trailing only magnate Carlos Slim, 83, and mining tycoon German Larrea, 69.
Any troubles at his companies don’t seem to be bothering him much.
“Regards from somewhere in the Mediterranean where I’m still vacationing because I deserve it,” he said in a recent video from his yacht. “There’s nothing good about poverty. I wish more Mexicans would realize that what’s good and nice is being rich.”
bloomberg.com 09 04 2023