Advancing the Agenda For Latin America
At Wharton’s 2004 Latin American conference last November, participants from throughout the Americas took part in discussions about growth and development in this promising but still troubled region of the world. Although significant challenges confront individual countries as they try to implement political, economic and social reform, it was clear from panel debates that opportunities exist as well, especially for enterprising companies that can come up with strategies to tap into the U.S.’s Hispanic market, currently 40 million people and growing fast. Senior executives commented specifically on the outlook for areas ranging from private equity to commercial banking to consumer goods. In this section, Knowledge at Wharton covers several of the discussions that took place during the conference.
The participants in “A Changing America” panel at the recent Wharton Latin American Conference hardly needed reminding that 40 million Hispanics live in the United States today, accounting for 14% of the total U.S. population and establishing a base as the largest minority group and the fastest growing population segment in the country. Instead, the three panel representatives from Citigroup, People en Espanol and Univision discussed how their banking, magazine and television entertainment businesses have successfully captured the Hispanic and Latino markets in the U.S. by designing programs and products specifically tailored to these segments.
Investing in Latin America and the Caribbean requires more than capital, patience and perseverance, according to Beatriz E. Rangel, who served as chief of staff to former Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez and is now managing director of AMLA Consulting, the Miami affiliate of Zemi Communications. It requires investors to commit themselves to understanding the fragile business infrastructures within a part of the world that is fraught with volatile political, economic and social conditions. Rangel, keynote speaker at the recent Wharton Latin American Conference, painted a somewhat bleak picture of conditions in this region of the world, but also suggested ways that the country can give its people a “down payment to the future.”
According to panelists at the recent Wharton Latin American Conference, companies interested in exporting to, or operating in, the U.S. market should pay attention to a few key points. First, the U.S. market must be seen as part of a global strategy, not the only strategy. Second, companies must understand the different cultures and expectations of the markets and consumers they export to. Third, no matter how successful a business is in its home country, exporting products requires adequate funding in order not to fail. And fourth, forming the right partnerships and understanding the importance of corporate governance are critical. The panelists focused their discussion on the consumer products, entertainment and financial consulting industries.