Adriano Galvao and I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Kellogg Latin America Business Conference on Saturday, March 2 on Northwestern University’s campus in Evanston, Illinois. Titled “Introducing the Real Latin America,” the conference delivered on its promise to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the region and to challenge stereotypical notions.
A few of the highlights:
– During the e-commerce panel, César Salazar from venture capital firm 500 Startups forecasted a considerable rise in smartphone usage in Mexico. He predicted that in the not-too-distant future — and this probably holds true beyond Mexico and Latin America — “E-commerce will just be called commerce.” He also noted that Latin Americans value good service, but are accustomed to receiving very poor service. (He used a more colorful expression than “very poor” and got some laughter from the audience.) His point was that a company that can deliver truly good service will receive a warm welcome in the region. If you can delight the people who aren’t used to being delighted all the time, that would be something indeed.
– Also on the e-commerce panel was Lucas Mendes, director of São Paulo-based Beleza Na Web, the second largest online beauty provider in Brazil. He said that for Brazilian startups like his, finding talent is the biggest problem because “The A-people don’t want to work for a startup.” He added that the entrepreneurial community in Brazil is small and the chances of making it as a startup are slim, but he encouraged any would-be entrepreneurs in the room by saying, “Just do it. You will probably fail, but it will be a hell of a ride.” The panelists agreed that there are opportunities for Latin Americans — and non-Latin Americans — to start businesses in Brazil and the region.
– The “Family Business in Latin America” panel made it clear how important family is to Latin Americans and how family businesses truly shine in the region. Mario Ceratti Benedetti from Italian sausage company Ceratti, S.A. commented that his company has protocols in place to deal with succession and conflict between family members. His children are getting excellent educational and professional experience, so they can one day perhaps be leaders of the business. (One of his daughters is currently an MBA student at Kellogg.)
– The CEO of a family business (but not one of the family members), David Palfenier of Seara Alimentos mentioned that he has developed a framework to help maintain some of the culture of how the family used to run the business before his time there. It can be a challenge, he said, but he tries to stay as close to them as possible. César Salazar jumped in to say how difficult it can be when family members sometimes get together for Sunday lunch and make major decisions without you.
– Keynote speaker Christian Laub from Credicorp, one of the Kellogg LABC sponsors, was outwardly trolling for talent among the Kellogg MBA students in attendance. He gave a great presentation about how his Peru-based financial services company is acquiring other players in the region, most notably in Chile and Colombia — and will be rebranding these newly combined banks with a single identity in April 2013.
– Lastly, our own Adriano did a great job moderating a panel on “The Transformation of Latin American Industry,” which featured representation from Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.
Panelist Kenneth Mendiwelson, founder of Refinancia, emphasized that Colombia and other countries need more “heros” — entrepreneurs who demonstrate that is possible to be successful in Latin America.
All in all, it was a great day — oh, I almost forgot to mention the Latin America-inspired lunch! I really enjoyed the ceviche and sparkling conversation with a group of Kellogg students, most of whom were originally from Chile. Thanks to the Kellogg Class of 2013 student team, who organized and managed the event.