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Wednesday
Mar112015

From Latin America: The art of the intermediary

As Mike Scher said last week on the FCPA Blog, there are honest, decent people everywhere who want to do business the right way. And thank you Mike, for rightly calling business that depends on bribery an out of date practice that doesn't serve anybody.

The true art of business is to do it the right way, the responsible way, the legal way, where everybody wins. It's where you play the long game, based on trust, transparency, and honesty.

I've talked in prior posts about the many opportunities and challenges of doing business in Colombia. But how do you enter a foreign market? Especially one perceived as a high risk, high reward destination because of corruption levels and a less developed infrastructure?

The key is the intermediary. Without effective and honest local help, businesses are navigating blind in unknown waters, exposed to risks, both known and unknown.

In my ten years of doing business in the Americas, I established Latin branches and created alliances in Bogota, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Panama City, São Paulo and others.

My latest operation started from 0% market share and grew to market dominance with over 500 clients and millions of revenue in less than 6 years, with yearly sales growth of at least 60%.  

The recipe for success? Connecting with people in personal and profound ways by learning about their cultural differences and needs, and how they define a successful business relationship.

I learned tequila goes a long way in Mexico and that people there put more value on the human connection than pricing and benefits. I learned that in Colombia, costs and benefits are supremely important and that local competition is fierce. I learned that in Brazil, unless you have a local operation run by Brazilians, you're probably wasting your time. 

Above all, I've learned that Latin America is so diverse that language and cultural barriers are tough to overcome and unless well managed are likely to determine whether a deal closes or not. There are different business practices for each region, and different expectations. But everywhere in Latin America, it's essential to connect with people on a deeper level. Trust is everything.

Venture magazine said: “Understanding what it means to be an effective middleman is invaluable to a company’s innovation and success, especially in an increasingly complex global economy where every business has to deliver value to a customer by procuring and transforming resources.”

The FCPA, UK Bribery Act, and other anti-corruption laws have pushed the concept of the intermediary in a new and better direction. It's no secret that most anti-bribery enforcement actions of the past have grown out of poor practices by a middleman somewhere. But in today's world, intermediaries can only prosper and survive through the best compliant business practices. That's my aim every day.

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José Da Silva is the founder and CEO of Vantech Group. From offices in Latin America and Miami, Vantech combines specialized consulting, tailored outsourcing, compliance systems and enhanced due diligence, and cutting-edge technology to help companies entering and operating in Latin America. He can be contacted here.