Real Estate

Leadership Dish: Gonzalo Ulivi, Silverspot Cinema

So why are you in the theater business?

Gonzalo Ulivi  0:07 

Well, I’m in the theater business because it’s been the family business for more than 70 years now, and it’s super exciting. I love creating products, brands and experiences. And in movie theaters, there have been many innovations in the past decade, so it’s been a great ride.

Mathew Focht  0:30 

And when did you get introduced to the theater business?

Gonzalo Ulivi  0:33

Well, I got introduced to it early on, by visiting theatres constantly during my childhood. Then I took over the company in Venezuela at the age of 30 years old. We turned that company completely around. After five years, we didn’t have one single old theater left in the company, everything was brand new. We built 200 screens and 24 locations pretty much in five years. So, it was a lot of work and a lot of exciting and satisfaction. We were completely transforming the theatre landscape in our home country in Venezuela.

Mathew Focht  1:36

Were you able to work side by side with your dad at that time was he in the business?

Gonzalo Ulivi  1:39 

He was in the business, of course, but he stepped back a bit. He stayed on the film distribution side of the business, where he was an authority and expert. He was a very well regarded and respected member of the film distribution community worldwide. And that was such a specific part of the business that kept fully engaged buying films and releasing them in our country. I worked more on the side of movie theaters rather than on the content side of business. So yes, he was there but he stepped back a little bit. Also, at that time, we received a private equity investment from The Chase Manhattan Bank prior to Chase becoming JP Morgan. This gave us a strong foundation on structure and organization. There was a new formal board, with outside board members and formal meetings were held regularly. My uncles and father were part of the board as well, but my report was formal to the full board in a traditional sense and less of a report to my family.  

Mathew Focht  3:03 

In the very beginning, how did you get excited about this business? Was it your dad that helped you develop this passion?

Gonzalo Ulivi  3:29 

Well, it was easy, because going to the movies was always a great entertainment, right. And just being part of it and, and belonging to it, it was easy. And then, the opportunity was humongous to turn this around, and just by the mere idea of everything that was there to be done and the strong foundation and platform that we had already built by my grandfather and then continued by my uncles and father, it was so exciting. I just love to build, create and do amazing things. That was my main drive, my own self drive, to do things the right way and to surprise. It is so much fun to create from an idea and make it happen, right? All the ideation process of what you have in your mind, what you want to do, and then you see it actually, there. It’s very satisfying. Then the process starts all over. It never ends.

Mathew Focht  4:37 

What is advice that stuck with you? Is there anything or person who sticks out in your mind more than others? Anything that has governed your ideology?

Gonzalo Ulivi  5:00 

Well, you know, what is most important is the team. I have to say is the talent that you can get around you and that it’s compatible with your style and your manner and the way you are. So, if you are hands on, you need to have a team that it understands you. In the end, it’s people, talent, passion and alignment. And there’s nothing more really, have the right people, and you know where you’re going. With alignment, the execution becomes fun, and it’s enjoyable, and that’s pretty much it, I would say. The other thing that I’ve learned is simple. You make the money on the buy on every single business, every single investment. So, you have to be very wise because if things turn around, you’re not going to be in a happy place.

Mathew Focht  6:08 

What about like, challenges? I can’t imagine what you’re facing personally with a family in Venezuela, and then to come here, and start a new business. I mean, how did you manage that challenge in these times, I mean, just Gosh, what a crazy time for you to be building a new business and dealing with an old, a more mature business, in a country that is maybe going the wrong direction?

Gonzalo Ulivi  6:42 

Well, the work ethics in our family is very strong. So we’re hard working, and we put in a lot of hours. And then the other thing is we need to be flexible. And we do have a special training in South America, where you kind of have to wear 10 hats at the same time. Because the support level that you have in those countries, it’s limited, because there’s not that many people that are specialized areas that are a support for the operations. You have to become super strong at many things and end up doing many more things in house because you don’t have reliable companies that can provide a service that are competitively priced. It’is in our nature to be super flexible, and to change. Then, in Latin America, governments go up and down, inflation pops up, then it stops, then you have the devaluations that you have all these things. Business owner, are super flexible and adapt to the new conditions that come from nowhere. So, when managers from third world countries come into the first world countries, they are very agile, and very strong. Particularly in Venezuela, our team deals with things that nobody could even imagine that we have price controls, then exchange control shows up, then you have this, then you have that, then you don’t have electricity one day, then you do, then you have special restricted hours, then you don’t then, and with all this going on it’s incredible how much you can maneuver and do. If you have a challenge, and you go for it, there’s always options or ways around and things that can be done. And I would say, this pandemic has taught us that you have to figure out a way, the challenges is here and then find a way somehow, and we’re all doing things that we thought were not possible. Or that we’d even had the need to think about that something like this could be done. So this pandemic it’s a pretty good example of how everyone has kind of adapted to survive. And the ones that have not, will adapt to some other circumstance but there’s no option but to adapt. Right?

Mathew Focht  9:56 

I can’t imagine dealing with all these issues. Do you have a counterbalance? I mean, do you seek another balance besides work?

Gonzalo Ulivi  10:17

So for us family, it’s everything. So that’s my, my out. And I run every day. That helps getting of some stress of my back.

Mathew Focht  10:31 

That’s great. As a family, you guys spend a lot of time together; you take annual trips, right?

Gonzalo Ulivi  10:45 

Yes, well, yes. So I’m third generation. We are a total of 64 family members and the family keeps growing. We dedicate time at it to keep the family together. We’re quite organized, we have a Family Council, we have a Family Constitution that kind of sets the guidelines of who we are, how we are, what things are important for us in terms of values and what things should stay away from. Then we do annual family meetings, which are like a four day reunion. Everyone goes, and we have the best of times. I’m a third generation, and one of 12 cousin. At our level, we’re super consolidated. The challenge was to bring the fourth generation togheter to enjoy this family feeling of belonging to this legacy of other four generations. These meetings were critical, we started working this maybe 15 years ago, and these days, the family reunion, it’s like the coolest event of the year or if not, one of the highlights of the of the year, because we’re a bunch and we have a great time.  We always choose a special destination that changes every year. It’s full of activities and we’re kind of a competitive family, and love extreme activities. So we’ll do all these things. And it’s a lot of fun.

Mathew Focht  12:43 

That’s awesome. I love it. The movie industry right now, it’s been hit hard. And I imagine in the middle of the pandemic you’ve got to be scratching your head wondering what’s the direction this industry is going? As a leader in this field, and having consistently set such a high bar of execution in this industry, what does your gut tell you?

Gonzalo Ulivi  13:33 

Yeah. Well, there’s no doubt that there will be disruption effects after the pandemic, and it will affect us of course. We are very clear in who we are and what we are here to do. So we are here to offer an out of home entertainment experience. And going to the movies, it’s a fantastic experience, it’s a great option. And now, that it has been combined with a food and drink experience, the value proposition is very high. You go out, you’re entertained, you’re out for three to four hours. It’s a very efficient time. The price points are competitive, and we just need to do a great job. Now having said this, I do think that the size of the business as we know it might be reduced in some level that nobody knows yet. Because the option of streaming films at home it’s also very convenient. And it’s a strong competition. Now what it’s clear is that the film business is a global business and films are produced and directed to be launched globally. So we should not see the business as if it were only in the US. We have to think about the entire world. And there’s so many different dynamics in the rest of the world. So, films will continue to be very strategic and valuable on a global basis. The fact that the films are being released and streamed simultaneously in the US does not apply to the rest of the world. I believe that the windows, the exclusivity period, from when the film is released in theaters, until they go into streaming, will be around 45 days after the pandemic passes. And there are several studios that have already confirmed that that’s going to be the case. Time will tell, but there is a lot of value on releasing the films in theaters and then moving on to the rest of the distribution platforms. Not only that, films, the blockbuster films, need to become global events and the best way to achieve this is by releasing in theaters on the big screen. Then one single film can become a family of franchise prequels and sequels and much more. Take Disney for example, every time they create a new story, and they launch it as a global event, it has the potential to become one more property that then they feed off, to exploit consumer products and parks and their cruise ships and the hotels and the characters and Disney+ and more. I don’t envision a landscape where everything is kind of Netflix oriented, top 10 of the week. And again, we can say, you can do everything at home. And you can. You’re gonna do at home many and many outside, we’re humans and social beings. We just need to stay relevant. And we have stayed relevant, delivering a great experience at a competitive price.

Mathew Focht  17:49 

Makes sense. Let me ask the last question, if you can answer in 30 seconds. What is this fourth generation going to say to describe you, Gonzalo, as a leader?

Gonzalo Ulivi  18:07 

I don’t know. That’s a good question. I can tell you that some of my family members call me Shrek. Meaning that I’m an ogre. But I’m a lovable, ogre. Hahahaha. That’s like a five second answer. So, I am tough and I demand. I also take the time to accompany and support and explain to help everyone do a good job. But I can be tough sometimes.

Mathew Focht  18:46 

That’s great. Thanks, Gonzalo. I appreciate the time here. It’s wonderful to be here, this relationship with you. And obviously, it’s been a fun ride we’ve had. I look so looking forward to working with you for many years ahead of us. So thanks for your time here.

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