Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador. All places I have visited and or worked in at one point or another over the past several years. Speaking Spanish and having a long term interest in doing further work in this region, I was a little surprised when I thought about the gap in my regional knowledge as I have yet to visit Chile. But that is going to change tomorrow.
When I heard about the Chazen Global Immersion Program in Chile focusing on family businesses and the unique challenges they face in Latin American markets, I wasn’t sure that this was the class for me. Unlike some of my peers in the class, I don’t have any stake in a family business and don’t plan to start one in the near future. However, upon further contemplation I realized that this was a valuable experience for me regardless of my (lack of) involvement in a family business. I attribute this in large part to two factors:
1) According to a report by the Family Firm Institute, it is estimated that roughly 75% of all firms in Chile are family owned and controlled. While one might initially think that this is just a very large number of very small businesses, in fact, about 65% of the medium-to-large enterprises in Chile are family owned.
2) Chile’s GDP growth- though somewhat volatile over the past ten years- has held steady at 5% to 6% throughout the past three years and even as the fortunes of its neighbors rise and fall, Chile has retained a sound economy and government about 20 years.
Just these two pieces of information were enough to convince me that this will be a very valuable program! But that was five months ago, so lets fast forward to now.
Though I didn’t know much about Chile prior to this course, my peers and I have all been making an effort to understand more about the country and its progress over the past several years. One of the most surprising things I discovered during our pre-trip lectures was that Chile is one of only about 20 countries in the world that, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, is successfully moving from an efficiency-driven to an innovation-driven economy. Such a move will put this small country of about 17 million people alongside Western Europe and North America in terms of development. The report also ranks Chile as number 33 in terms of global competitiveness (out of 141 countries), placing it ahead of all its South American peers. An economy with a majority of family owned businesses that is on a steady growth path and outpacing its cohorts is a country every businessperson should know more about.
In a recent interview with CNN, the country’s president Sebastián Piñera highlighted the “Four pillars of success for Chile: Education, science and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, and more employment.” He went on to state, “Our vision is to transform Chile into a developed country and to eliminate poverty by the end of this decade. We hope that we will be the first in our region to achieve that… by being an economically open and integrated country.” My classmates and I can’t wait to see firsthand how Chile’s efforts are progressing and how family businesses are having an impact.
Hannah Stern ‘13
(Follow my travels on twitter.com/Iamblond007) [blogging from sunny Rio de Janiero…for now]