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German Omnipreneur Who Conquered South America

Carsten Pfau Interviewed By Ninder Johal

by Keerat

Carsten Pfau, Founder & CEO – Agri Terra



I checked my watch – it was 8 o’clock Saturday morning and with a pen and paper at my side (yes pen and paper !!) I dialled the number to South America.
‘Good morning’ was the answer from Carsten Pfau in perfect English belying his German upbringing and almost 30 years in Paraguay.

‘Guter Tag’ was my reply and attempt at speaking German. ‘Are we conducting the interview in German?’ Asked Carsten. I explained that unfortunately that was the only German word I knew and that I was no where near his perfect English.

Carsten sounded incredibly fresh despite it being 03:25 in the morning in Paraguay. He is famous for his incredible work ethic and is known for working very late – through the night.

With over $1 billion assets under his wing how did Carsten who is the founder of Agri Terra – a German national become not only one of the biggest producers of oranges in the country but also one with a substantial real estate portfolio and ownership of a mineral water company?


How did a German entrepreneur (recently listed as one of of Paraguay’s top 30 entrepreneurs) succeed in a conservative country where trust is hard to gain and go on to become a media star whilst amassing a fortune in agriculture and real estate from humble beginnings?

Carsten was always an entrepreneur – he remembers at the age of twelve making serious monies by running errands and when he was limited in terms of capacity, he hired others and delegated the task to them.

He comes from a family of entrepreneurs – father, grandfather and great grandfathers were entrepreneurs largely operating in construction and real estate.
Despite being earmarked for a career in corporate Germany. Carsten headed over to South America and in particular to Paraguay where his father had once bought a small piece of land as an investment.

‘ I went to the country for stay for a few years to explore the possibilities and to check on my father’s land, stay for a year or two and learn the language whilst getting overseas experience and ending up staying.’

He has always been a global thinker and recalled travelling the world from a very young age and was always open to new ideas.


How easy was for a European to acclimatize to the Paraguayan culture ?

‘Not easy – albeit, they love German culture and German people, they were suspicious of me because of my age ( I was still in my late 20’s) and I learnt quickly the art of understanding what people really meant when they replied to a question – they never say what they really mean – unlike us Germans – we are very forthright in our answers.

A ‘Yes’ from a Paraguayan may not actually mean Yes’.
He also understood the value of being ‘connected’. Unless you know the right people, the bureaucracy can hinder you massively and issues can take months to resolve.

Whilst they were looking for small construction projects, Carsten and his brother bought some more land and started out to rent it out to farmers. They then moved into rearing cattle before deciding on investing in production of oranges.



‘The problem with producing oranges is that it requires huge levels of investment because it takes 5 years to see your oranges come to ‘fruition’. It takes those 5 years for trees to blossom and with Paraguay having little appetite for investment – (they simply do not have an eco system which supports investment), we had to rely on external overseas investment.’

Europeans looking for healthy returns flocked to Carsten where returns of in excess of 15 % were not uncommon. Carsten was simply the right person at the right place at the right time.
‘Understanding both the German and Paraguayan culture made us the perfect vehicle for those looking to invest in Paraguay.

We are the third largest orange producers in the country selling fresh oranges to supermarkets and producing juice concentrates for export markets. ‘


I asked him at what point did he regard himself a success?

‘I did a lot of things that did not work but I am always an optimist – in fact a pathological optimist – I do not ever consider failure – if you love your work – you do not notice the money – I have no compulsion to count it.’


As a business that has built its success on working with family – would he recommend it to other entrepreneurs?

He conceded that working with family has its downside such as meeting at Xmas parties after a disagreement but on the positive side – family members tend to have something in common – they have a shared vision and you can trust them,

As a Bayern Munich football fan, (member of the Club) he admitted that he was disappointed in his team performance this season but thought it was not possible to continue a decade of unchallenged level of success and also thought that it was good for football fans to see a competitive league.

He described his role in a football team to that of the creative flair of the legendary German midfielder and captain Beckenbauer as he had a tendency like the footballer, to be the creator of new ideas and said his younger brother as more of a goalkeeper or defender .

I prefer to be the one attacking, initiating and scoring goals – I can live with missing goals and leaving it late to score that all important goal. That is how I see the entrepreneurial journey – the ability to be patient and not let missing goals affect you. He continues his sporting analogy ‘ You have to be prepared to be hit and be prepared to fall but then be prepared to pick yourself up.

You always need a good team working behind you and in particular a good defence.’
He continues with the footballing analogy ‘in fact, Beckenbauer would not have been as brilliant as he was without fierce defender Schwarzenbeck having his back, protecting him’

He remarked that he was noting that he was now becoming more of a coach than a player and again referred to Beckenbauer who transitioned from a highly player to become a highly successful coach of the national team.


Is he a strategist or an opportunist?

As a chess player he has always been used to thinking a few steps ahead but explained that any strategy can fail because of unseeable factors and therefore the need to be nimble, to improvise and act on opportunities was an essential tool for an entrepreneur.


And if running one of the most dynamic businesses in Paraguay was not enough, Carsten is also a media star playing key roles in productions not too dissimilar to BBC’s Dragons Dens and USA’s Shark Tank.

He enjoys the media side of things as it brings him in contact with people from all different sectors and backgrounds and also plays a substantial role profiling the business and him personally. This has included interviewing entrepreneurs, economists and politicians. Indeed, one of his regular panellists was non other than the recently elected President of Argentina – Javier Milei. He was a regular member of the team.

‘We still stay in touch (Javier Milei) – he really is a different type of leader, very smart and an (Austrian School) economist by profession which is what Argentina needed. – connections are so important in South America and in particular Paraguay – not too dissimilar to the Asian economies. Connections can get things done’.

He also let us slip that he Carsten) owns the Miss Universe franchise for Paraguay.
He believes a country can only flourish if business and the government work together – you get a sense he has an acute antenna when it comes to politics.


For someone who is famed for his long hours – how does he manage his work/life balance?

‘Although we have offices all over the country and we employ 300 people, our organisational structure and empowered management style allows me to work from mostly home which gives an opportunity me to see my children regularly – I do not want to be an absent father and also I want to ensure that my children see business in a positive light and not one that means that their father goes missing.

I regularly take my three children to meetings. (his father took him to meetings too) I like to think that my working life and home life blend well together. Of course, it helps that my wife (by the way, the 2017 Miss Universe Paraguay and now a well-known tv host) works in the business too.

I really think that the expression ´work-life-balance´ somehow implies that work and life are two separate things. I see it rather as a stew, they merge together and form a whole, meaning you cannot balance them’.


How did Covid affect his business?

‘Our investments rose by 300% as investors looked to invest away from the USA and Europe and Ukraine war accelerated that. We suffered a short term supply of fertilizers that came from Russia and/or Ukraine which really hurt us but this was temporary. – it all seems like a bad dream that we are trying to forget’.



Would he ever sell and do something else – like retirement?

‘Never – and do what ? Invest elsewhere with all my money and then do what?

I have already invested in my own company why would I want to invest elsewhere and if for whatever reason I would indeed sell my company and cash in, I would still PRETEND to work just to set an example for my children; they shall not grow up thinking “sitting around doing nothing” can be a career choice; but if I sold the company, the most likely outcome would be for me to start a new business in no time, I could not help it, I guess.’


Just before we close, I ask him how he plans the rest of the day?

Enjoying time with his young children then off to meet the President of Paraguay he replies. Ultimate example of work/life balance.

‘A fusion, rather’ he adds.

This ominpreneur does not look like to be settling down for anything other than the regular thrust of business – whilst he clearly enjoys business and politics – he would make a brilliant chancellor of Germany – personable, logical and intelligent and of course he has age on his side too.

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