Ramiro Cormenzana got out of the car as the sun was setting, still tired from his flight from his hometown in northern Argentina to Buenos Aires, and followed his new boss into a small building. Marcelo Galperin opened the door to a garage. There were a few computers and just one person inside.
“Here’s your new office,” Galperin said, handing Cormenzana his suitcase and patting him on the back.
On that day in 1999, Cormenzana knew very little about the company with which he’d just signed on, but he believed Galperin’s promise that the startup would one day be the most important company in Latin America. Cormenzana sat down to work. When Galperin returned to pick him up, it was 4 the next morning.
“That was my first day at MercadoLibre,” Cormenzana recalls. “The company literally started in a garage. I joined the technology team, employee No. 2.”
Fast-forward 18 years, and Cormenzana is now the vice president of database and infrastructure at MercadoLibre, Latin America’s e-commerce giant, whose name means “free market.” Earlier this summer, Cormenzana traveled from Buenos Aires to spend six weeks at the Stanford Executive Program. He was sent by MercadoLibre’s chief technology officer, Daniel Rabinovich, who graduated from the same program in 2012. The Stanford Graduate School of Business has become an inspiration to many executives, Cormenzana says, because it is the place where MercadoLibre was born.
Marcos Galperin, MBA ’99 (and Marcelo’s cousin), wrote the business plan for his company at Stanford GSB in the late 1990s. His big break came when Jack McDonald, the Stanford Investors Professor of Finance, arranged for his student Galperin to give guest speaker John Muse a ride to the airport. Muse, co-founder of private equity firm Hicks Muse, immediately signed on to support MercadoLibre.
“To me, being here is incredible,” Cormenzana says. “I’m in the place where Marcos started to think about the ideas and ultimately create MercadoLibre.”
MercadoLibre has sent many of its executives to SEP, and Cormenzana came ready to learn from what he calls “the best professors in the world.” MercadoLibre colleagues advised him that the first two weeks would be very challenging, but he would increase his network invaluably. What Cormenzana didn’t expect was that the program would transform how he defined strong leadership.
“For me, the most important thing has been learning to be a leader by design,” Cormenzana says. The idea comes from Stanford GSB Professor William Barnett, director of the Stanford Executive Program, who teaches that leading by example shows the way, but leading by design creates a system to discover the way.
“I’ve learned that leaders must recognize that they are not the most important people in the company,” Cormenzana continues. “A good leader must create the environment where others can flourish.”
Cormenzana plans to take his lessons from the Stanford Executive Program back to MercadoLibre and implement his new strategy: seeking out the strongest ideas and people on his team, and giving them the opportunity to progress.