Paving the way for Panama’s economy to take off

President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama welcomes closer ties with Johnson in a meeting with Johnson’s dean, faculty, and students

Dean Soumitra Dutta and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama

During his visit to Cornell University on April 11 to deliver a keynote address on development and Panamanian culture for the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) 2013 Spring Colloquium Series, President Ricardo Martinelli of the Republic of Panama also took time to meet with Dean Soumitra Dutta, faculty, and students of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Dean Soumitra Dutta moderated exchanges between Martinelli and Professors Murillo Campello, Lourdes Casanova, Mark Milstein, and Wesley Sine, as well as Emerging Markets Institute Executive Director Richard Coyle, Johnson CMO Carolyn O’Keefe, and several Johnson MBA students. Throughout the discussion, Martinelli warmly welcomed Johnson students and faculty to engage with Panama, emphasizing that Panama “needs good managers and good leaders.” He strongly encouraged students to get involved in government in order to effect change. “There is always room in government for bright young people,” he said.

“Panama is a country under construction,” Martinelli said. He spoke of the huge project underway to dredge the canal to make it accessible to larger vessels, which he says will “revolutionize the world’s maritime industries.” He spoke of the friendly immigration policies and removal of visa barriers he has enacted, designed to attract people to Panama. Martinelli also spoke of the investments in technology, including building the infrastructure to provide free Wi-Fi for the entire country. When mentioned that Panama has risen in rank from 57 in 2012 to 46 in 2013 in the Networked Readiness Index, published in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2013 (GITR), several people at the table smiled and pointed out that Dutta is one of the editors of that report, and had spoken at the release of the new report the day before.

During the exchanges, Casanova presented Martinelli with her book, Global Latinas: Latin America’s Emerging Multinationals as well as a book she co-authored, InnovaLatino: Fostering Innovation in Latin America.

When Dutta asked Martinelli if he had a lesson in leadership he could share, the president responded with an anecdote about a boxing fight he had as a young man with a football player who was much bigger than him: “I was foolish, I put the gloves on, and he whipped me so bad,” he said. “After two minutes, he had me … I was ready to go. But then a professor came over and said to me, ‘Always fight one more round.’ So I did. And he still beat me but from that day on, I always fight one more round. .. The first time I ran for president of Panama, I got 5.3 percent of the vote. … I didn’t give up. You always have to continue fighting.”

Martinelli was elected president of Panama in 2009 in a landslide victory. Described as a kind-hearted humanist and visionary leader, Martinelli is also a successful businessman who owns Super 99, one of the largest supermarket chains in his country. He has served as director of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce and as president of the Association of Food Merchants of Panama and the Italo-Panamanian Chamber, and he is a member of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives.

While on campus, Martinelli participated in a roundtable discussion of public policy and development challenges in Panama with CIPA faculty members and signed a memorandum of understanding between Panama and CIPA for sponsorship of Master of Public Administration students at Cornell. In addition to visiting with MBA students and faculty, he visited with faculty members from the Cornell Latin American Studies Program and with Cornell University Provost Kent Fuchs.

Martinelli’s visit was sponsored by CIPA and the Office of the Vice Provost for International Relations, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Latin American Studies Program, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.