Latin Tycoons’ KIPP Schools Feted Before World Cup: Scene

Eduardo Tricio, the businessman who brought the KIPP school model outside the U.S. for the first time and oversees Mexico’s biggest dairy producer and airline, was honored in New York last night by Worldfund, a nonprofit that trains teachers in Mexico and Brazil.

The event, which Worldfund’s executive director Angelica Ocampo described as “a gathering of the best minds and biggest hearts in Latin American education reform,” also honored its first woman, Ana Maria Diniz, 52, who worked alongside her father Abilio Diniz for 17 years at BRF, the world’s largest poultry exporter and the biggest food producer in Brazil. She leads education-focused nonprofits in her nation.

The Mexican honoree acknowledged the potential rivalry with his Brazilian counterpart as the World Cup kicks off in her country. “I hope that the battle” ends in a “peaceful draw,” he said of the nations’ soccer matchup on June 17 in Fortaleza.

Tricio, 50, took Grupo Lala SAB public in October, raising 14.1 billion pesos ($1.08 billion). The shares have gained about 20 percent since then. The food company grew out of a milk co-op his father helped found in 1949.

Tricio is also chairman of Grupo Aeromexico SAB after he led a group of investors that acquired a stake of more than 20 percent. The carrier operates more than 600 daily flights on planes including 787 Dreamliners.

KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program public charter school network, currently educates 50,000 students in 20 states and Washington, D.C., 85 percent of whom are from low-income families, said spokesman Steve Mancini. Its supporters in New York, where 94 percent of its alumni have graduated high school, include hedge-fund managers Whitney Tilson and Larry Robbins.

Torreon Visit

In New York’s Mandarin Oriental Ballroom, in front of more than 400 guests, Tricio said reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” got him “excited” about KIPP.

Soon after that, he booked a trip to Houston to visit classes and persuade KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Aaron Brenner to bring the educational model to Mexico. He was unsuccessful at first.

“Mike said there was too much work to do in the U.S.,” Tricio said in an interview. “Later on, we convinced him to fly to my hometown” of Torreon, Coahuila, where he saw the challenges in the classroom.

In August 2011, Mexico’s first KIPP-inspired school opened in the northern city, with 30 students. The launch was followed by the introduction of One World, with Brenner as chief executive officer, to found such schools in Mexico and beyond.

Persuading Pena Nieto

With principals receiving training from One World, schools will open in more cities, with funding from other entrepreneurs Tricio has helped recruit. Teachers, selected by the principals, will be trained at their schools, which, using the KIPP model, will have a longer school day and year and emphasize college preparation and character development.

Tricio said his goal is to open 15 schools in the next two years. He wants the privately-funded network to be a model that facilitates reform by President Enrique Pena Nieto, a leader he expressed confidence in. “They are listening to us,” Tricio said.

Worldfund is another organization that’s carved out a role improving education in Latin America. In Mexico, Worldfund is training teachers in English instruction using a method developed by Dartmouth professor John Rassias. Another program in Mexico provides management training to principals over three years. The newest effort, in Sao Paulo, offers teacher training in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math).

Goldman Alum

Worldfund was founded in 2002 by Luanne Zurlo, who while covering Latin America as a securities analyst for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said she constantly heard about the difficulties companies had hiring people with good enough English.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Zurlo decided to try to “make a dent,” leaving her job in finance to run the organization. She said she focuses on incorporating both the human and technical aspects of excellence in teaching. Zurlo is Worldfund’s co-chairman alongside Steven Shindler, chairman of NII Holdings Inc.

The organization has a strong base of support from people in finance, said Ocampo, the new executive director.

In the room last night, helping to raise almost $1.2 million: Tara Kenney, a managing director at Deutsche Bank AG; Martin Marron, the CEO of Latin America for JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Stefano Natella, a managing director at Credit Suisse Group AG; and Carlos Guimaraes, chairman of LAIG Investments.

A study by the Inter-American Development Bank found that students in classrooms led by teachers trained in Worldfund English-language instruction receive the equivalent of five additional weeks of instruction over a seven-and-a-half-month period, compared to the study’s control group, with advances in reading, speaking and listening.

Yogurt & Cheese

The study also identified positive changes in behavior and mindset: the Worldfund students spend 40 percent longer studying English in their free time, and 70 percent say they plan to go to college.

Tricio studied agronomy and animal science at the Instituto Technologico de Monterrey and said his favorite subject was history. At Lala, he has expanded the product lines in yogurt and cheese (brands include Flav-O-Rich and Frusion). In his remarks, he said the company’s motto is “to nourish for a lifetime,” a credo he extends to its foundation.

“We feed 20,000 orphan children a day,” Tricio said.

Catching Up

Tricio’s daughter Maria, a fashion writer, said her father taught her about giving back from an early age, with frequent visits to orphanages, sometimes with her own birthday presents to distribute (she was allowed to keep two for herself.)

With his other daughter Ana at his side, Tricio said his father taught him “very hard work, loyalty, and to keep the family together,” noting that his seven brothers and sisters were in attendance last night.

“He told me the only inheritance he was going to give me was my studies,” Tricio said. “That is why I am focusing on education.”

Claudio X. Gonzalez Guajardo, president of the education reform organization Mexicanos Primero, introduced Tricio during the event, calling him “un tipazo,” a great guy.

Both Diniz and Tricio acknowledged how far behind Brazil and Mexico are, citing the near-bottom placement of both Latin American giants in a ranking of 65 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The barriers to change this scenario are much more political than technical,” Diniz said.

She derives some of her optimism about turning things around by connecting her effort with what she sees as a much broader movement.

“The world has woken up,” she said. “The traditional class models don’t grab students. Schools are not like fine wines, they don’t get better because time goes by. Education has become a public concern, no matter if you are in a rich or a poor country.”

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