HBS Hosts Latin Business Leaders

Academics and investors discuss region's future opportunities

Nearly 750 people came to Harvard Business School on Saturday to participate in the 10th annual Latin American Conference, hosted by the school’s Club Latinoamericano.

The event, which was entitled “New Horizons for Opportunities,” gave audience members the chance to hear from Latin America’s top economic and business leaders through a series of keynote speeches and panels on topics including private equity, health care, and energy.

The conference opened with a keynote session, moderated by Business School Senior Lecturer in Business Administration Michael Chu, which discussed how the private sector and the public sector can work together to improve living conditions for impoverished Latin Americans.

Luis A. Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, talked about the past inclinations of the Latin American private sector, which focused on the higher classes of the economic pyramid and on external markets.

“Those companies that did not enter the international arena did so at their own peril, and many disappeared,” Moreno said. “Yet there is an opportunity today for growth and innovation, and an even bigger opportunity to leverage all of the economic opportunities in Latin America to deal with economic issues.”

Moreno, the former Colombian ambassador to the United States, mentioned cell phones as one example of private sector innovation improving life for hundreds of millions of Latin Americans. According to Moreno, telephone companies have successfully used a prepaid, web-based model to increase the number of subscribers from 10 million in 2002, to over 300 million today.

“Fisherman in their boats can now use their cell phones to determine what’s being sold in the markets and at what price,” Moreno said, “and they sell their catch where it’s most valuable.”

One of the more popular panels of the day was on private equity and venture capital.

Panelist Piero Minardi, a partner at Brazilian investment firm Gávea Investimentos, discussed what has improved investment conditions in Latin America.

“Macroeconomic stability is one of the factors driving change,” Minardi said. “Mexico and Brazil in particular have displayed a stable macroeconomic situation...There are microeconomic factors as well, especially in Brazil, where there are new rules for bankruptcy, strengthened force of law for arbitration, and clear transparency for minority shareholders.”

In an interview after the session, panelist Francisco A. Demalde of American investment firm Eton Park Capital Management, said that it was important for undergraduates interested in finance to start learning as quickly as possible.

“Undergrads should take classes on macroeconomics, and learn about the history of the regions that they are interested in investing in,” Demalde said. “They should talk to finance experts and to alumni to learn about opportunities that are available to them. In addition, they should devote their summers to finding internships in finance.”

Dionisio G. Sada, the keynote speakers coordinator for the conference, said that he thought the conference was a success.

“We had audience members fly in from across the United States, and many even came from Latin America itself,” Sada said. “Our goals were to try and get more investment into Latin America, to make academics more interested in the area, and to get Latin American students to return. We urged the speakers to address these issues, and I think that all of them did a good job doing so.”

—Staff writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.