By Bob Burdett, RSM’s Regional Leader for Latin America.
If you were starting out as a young and eager business professional in Latin America today where would you want to locate?
My first choice would be Santiago, Chile, and sometimes I wish that I was a lot younger so that I could try my chances there.
OK. I know that there are plenty of other attractive places in Latin America. Brazil is so big and bustling. Colombia is vibrant. Argentina is seductive. But Santiago is all about dynamic business, and is already filled with some of the best young business and financial talent in Latin America.
I’ll grant you that Santiago is not the most exciting city in the world; it’s no Paris or New York. But if you want to do deals and be where the money flows, Santiago is for you.
This is where private equity and venture capital for all of the hot markets of Latin America is happening. It’s the safe, we-know-how-to-do-it bridge city between the investment money of the US and Europe and the more difficult target countries in the region.
I recently did a three month stay in Santiago to work along with my colleagues at RSM Chile, our RSM member in the country. I have vivid recollections of the 8am meetings every Tuesday morning where partners and managers met to review the state of business – work in progress, outstanding billings, prospective clients in the pipeline, etc., etc. This is a business culture not found all over Latin America, and it produces results Chilean style. The firm has been growing at 20-30% a year for the past five years.
While in Santiago I got to know ACAFI, the Chilean trade association of private equity and venture capital firms. I spent a lot of time working with the private equity sector before I retired as a partner at McGladrey in the US, so one of the first things I look into when I arrive in a new country is the private equity business. Does it exist at all? Is it vibrant or stagnant, collegial or exclusive? What I found in Chile is a super dynamic and very global private equity sector.
Attend one of the conferences put on by ACAFI, and you will run into more top multi-lingual grads from Wharton, Berkeley, Harvard and University of Chicago than anywhere else in the south. You will learn about the many funds managing money from all over the world, and investing all over Latin America. And you will learn about some of the young, high tech portfolio companies with talent and products that you would not imagine exist in this part of the world.
These are some of the impressions and experiences that fuel my enthusiasm for Chile as a place to build a career. You could add to these the warmth and openness of the people. Before you know it you’ll probably find yourself invited into someone’s home or country house for dinner or a weekend.