International honoree Steven Bandel reflects on Stevens

 

“Coming back and touring the campus with my family brought back amazing memories. It made me wish I could return to Stevens again."

From Castle Point to Caracas, Buenos Aires and beyond, Steven Bandel ’74 used his creativity, strategic thinking, and skills he honed at Stevens to influence lifestyles for hundreds of millions across the Hispanic world.

A few days before receiving the 2017 International Achievement Award during the fourth Stevens Awards Gala, Bandel visited campus to reflect on his career and meet with students from STEP, the Stevens Technical Enrichment Program for diverse students. 

Bandel, a native of Venezuela, is the retired co-chairman and CEO of the Cisneros Group, one of the most ubiquitous and successful conglomerates in South America, with holdings in media, entertainment, telecom, tourism, real estate, consumer products and more. 

He guided Cisneros during a time when the middle class in Latin America reached a historic high, as tens of millions of newly enriched consumers sought the same goods and services their more affluent neighbors in North America have enjoyed. Bandel pursued opportunities in supermarkets, soft drinks, beer and fast food that appealed to emerging tastes throughout the region. “We created businesses that catered to consumers in every country,” he said. “We created jobs by hiring local people and relying on local expertise. Cisneros is very much involved with media, and watching our programming, especially what showed life in the United States, became inspirational for people.”

Among his many groundbreaking decisions, during the early telecom boom Bandel introduced DIRECTV Latin America and AOL Latin America in 27 countries, a challenge given national nuances and deficiencies in infrastructure. “Every country has a different way of doing business. We had to deal with governments to get permits for the landing rights for satellite signals, we had to get local programming, and we needed to solve technical problems to get the programs up.”

In addition to its Latin American businesses, Bandel also led to Cisneros to acquire and revamp American companies like Evenflo, which makes baby products, and Spalding, the classic sporting goods brand. “One of our biggest contributions to all of those businesses was internationalization. When we bought Spalding, 90% of the sales were in the United States. When we sold it, 50% of the sales were international.” 

Bandel also helped Cisneros penetrate the United States by working with partners investing $50 million each to launch what became Univision. The Spanish language channel has grown from niche programming to a major provider of news, sports and entertainment. “After almost 20 years we sold the network for $15 billion, so that was good value creation.”

Bandel was born in the United States to Holocaust refugees who three weeks later resettled in Venezuela. His parents hoped he would attend college in America, and he was a good enough student to earn a scholarship from Exxon, which operated then in oil-rich Venezuela. However, the company had a stipulation. “When I got the scholarship, Exxon told me it was conditional on going to Stevens. I didn’t even know where Stevens was. I thought maybe it was a joke because my name is Steven.”

He enrolled planning to transfer after a year, but he soon found a reason to stay – he was getting the education he wanted, one he still trusts. “All the classes were engineering, problem solving and creative thinking. Every time I have a problem, I try to think outside the box and anticipate alternative solutions. That was very important for my career. In every decision, I always challenged my team to think about the impossible – and then let’s see if it’s really impossible."

Outside of class, Bandel worked in the restaurant in the first floor of the Howe Center. He was also a member of the Latin American Association and enjoyed visiting New York City with his friends, a group that eventually included his brother Roberto ’76, who is now the CEO of plastics company Royce.

These days, Bandel lives in Florida and serves on a number of advisory boards. During his visit, he toured campus with his wife Minnie and their three children and son-in-law, and Roberto with his wife Frida.

"Coming back and touring the campus with my family brought back amazing memories. It was especially significant for me to be able to show them where I used to spend time, live, study and work. It also gave us the opportunity to visit the impressive new facilities, like the Babbio Center. It made me wish I could return to Stevens again." 

He also enjoyed getting to meet a new generation of Hispanic students at Stevens.

"I was very impressed by the quality, motivation and curiosity of the students in the STEP program. I am sure they will make a difference in this world in whatever field they decide to dedicate their professional lives."

 

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