Meet the Mattes

The Family -- And Paper Company -- That Helped Build Chile's Economy

Viewed from the outside, Chile seems to deserve its reputation as the Switzerland of the South. From the inside, though, the picture is less cheery. Growing economic pressure and widespread mistrust in politics has darkened the moods of many Chileans in the run-up to this year’s election. The tale of one powerful Chilean family, the Mattes, which owns one of the largest paper companies in Latin America, embodies that tension -- and the ambiguity between the country’s bright economic growth and its lackluster social and political development.

As a young Chilean entrepreneur in the 1970s, Eliodoro Matte studied for his M.B.A. at the University of Chicago. In recognition of his success thereafter -- he went on to helm one of the biggest companies in Chile -- the school invited him to speak at its graduation ceremony in 2008. His talk centered on the influence of the school (the birthplace and stronghold of global neoliberalism) on his own career, and on Chile. He emphasized that free-market ideology allowed his family business, CMPC (the paper empire also known as La Papelera), to grow from being a local company operating in a protected national market into an international business with a competitive global presence. Take CMPC and multiply it by hundreds of businesses and you have, as Matte put it, “the most progressive, most successful, and fairest economic environment in Latin America.”

Matte and his siblings, Bernardo and Patricia, are natural poster children for the kind of free-enterprise entrepreneurship that the Chicago school prizes and that Chile has tried to foster. CMPC, which specializes in the production and commercialization of cellulose (raw paper material), pulp, paper, and other paper products, was founded in 1920. In its early days, the company produced about 2,200 tons of paper a year. Since then, it has become the fourth-largest cellulose provider in the world, producing 2.8 million tons a year, about 85 percent of which it exports to Asia, Europe, and the United States. It has 8,500 employees in Chile Forbes, as of 2013, each Matte sibling has a net worth of $3.7 billion, making the family among the wealthiest in Chile.

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