Why Are We In Panama?
Fair question. As we’ve been reporting for years, Panama offers diverse advantages. This little country can be an ideal retirement, investment, doing-business, starting-over, tax, and offshore haven.
But of all the reasons why one might well choose Panama, which is our agenda?
Business. We’re enjoying the other benefits of being in Panama (including, especially, the tax advantages), but it was the country’s attitude toward entrepreneurs that made it the no-brainer choice for us.
We moved to Panama a little more than eight years ago. It was a turning point, and not only geographically.
Ten months before that move, I’d made another big decision—to leave the publishing group where I’d been working for more than 23 years. I’d started with Agora as an entry-level editor, just out of college, worked my way up through the ranks, and, by the time I took my leave, more than two decades later, I was a partner in one of their divisions, the International Living group, managing their offices in Ireland (which I’d opened for them years earlier), as well as satellite operations in a half-dozen other countries, and living in Paris.
After 23 years, it was time for a change. At first, I thought I might retire… and, for five months, I did. If I were going to do nothing, Paris seemed like a good place for it. And, indeed, if you ever decide you’d like to try doing nothing, I recommend Paris as the venue.
But I was still young (in my mid-40s), and five months of long walks along the Seine and long breaks at the sidewalk cafés of the Latin Quarter was enough.
So, one day, after one of those long walks, I returned home with a new agenda. I’d like to start a business, I told Lief.
I’d spent 23 years learning the publishing trade, so I didn’t have to think too long about what kind of business to start. Where to start it was a bigger question. I knew that France was not the answer. In my experience, the French attitude toward business-builders cannot be described in a family-friendly publication.
Lief and I considered the world map. Coincidentally, at this time, Lief was looking for a next project, as well. After years of experience working in different capacities with various real estate developments and investment projects around the world, Lief wanted to undertake one of his own. He’d been scouting potential sites for more than a year and had determined that Panama offered the biggest opportunity.
Lief chose Panama for its property potential. But, even if he hadn’t already made that decision, I would have lighted on Panama anyway. It was working hard, back then, to position itself as a #1 choice for foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
So, after four years in Paris, Lief and I packed up our little household for another trans-Atlantic move. He, Jackson, and I arrived in Panama City early July 2008.
We brought someone else with us, too—a bartender from Annapolis. A bartender is always good company, but this bartender, Harry Kalashian, was also our daughter’s boyfriend of several years. They’d met while Kaitlin was visiting family in Annapolis one summer.
A couple of days after Lief and I told Kaitlin about our plan to move from Paris to Panama to start a new publishing group, she came back to us with a question: Would we consider her boyfriend Harry for a job in our new company?
Why not? We liked Harry. He was a smart, hard-working kid indicating now that he was also ambitious, keen to be part of building something from the ground up.
Harry met us in Panama City, where, for the first few months, the three of us worked from the bedroom office of our loft apartment on Avenida Balboa.
We had one long wooden desk. Each morning around 8, we three would line up our laptops along the edge, pull up our three chairs, and set to work. I wrote letters that Harry (who, lucky for us, turned out to be very technically adept) would package into emails with ads and links that he then sent out to the fledgling list of readers we’d managed to cobble together. Lief focused on the back office, setting up order-taking and credit-card-processing systems.
Those first e-letters, sent out some eight years ago, were read by tens of readers. But the readership grew…
Today, eight years later, our e-letters go out to more than 400,000 readers around the world every day, and our readership continues to grow. Harry, I am very happy to say, is with us still. Today he’s my fully fledged Associate Publisher (who also makes a mean mojito).
I’m happy, as well, to be able to report that neither has Panama disappointed. This country is the land of entrepreneurial opportunity we hoped it would be.
Today we have a staff of 30+ working from our El Cangrejo offices, an eclectic mix of smart, hard-working, and ambitious 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings from around the world who all find themselves, for different reasons, here in Panama right now, as we do.
After more than 10 weeks on the road, hosting conferences in the Algarve and Las Vegas… scouting real estate opportunities in France, Portugal, Hungary, and Poland… and taking our kids on a do-it-ourselves Grand Tour of Central and Eastern Europe… Lief and I have returned this week to Panama City.
Thanks to Harry and his cracker-jack team, the building is still standing, the ideas are still flowing, and the mailings are still going out.
Lief and I, it would seem, have become redundant.
Time to start planning the next trip.