Los Andes and Harvard Business School record accounts from entrepreneurs
Collecting and preserving testimonials from business leaders in emerging markets is the objective of the Creating Emerging Markets (CEM) project, led by Harvard Business School (HBS). Historian Andrea Lluch, professor and researcher of Uniandes School of Management, has conducted many interviews with entrepreneurs in Latin America—from countries like Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. These interviews are part of CEM’s historical archive.
Creating Emerging Markets explores the evolution of enterprises and organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, through interviews with major business leaders in these regions. These are people who have had the opportunity to help their own regions. In the interviews, they discuss the crucial moments in their careers; relate ideas about entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and sustainability; share their views on family enterprises and brand sustainment; and even explore the issues of corruption and climate change.
Professor Lluch emphasizes the historical nature of the project. Without dismissing the importance of current events, the interviews are designed to be reflective—scrutinizing the past in order to shed light on change and continuity over time. Indeed, the interviews seek a long-term vision. “This guarantees that the material lives longer than the news”, Lluch says.
The project’s history
From the beginning, the project was conceived as a public good, such that academics, researchers, and teachers around the world could gain access to the CEM archive through the Harvard Business School Library(Consulting http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/about/Pages/default.aspx). “The material is produced in the language of the region and is subtitled in English, to create the broadest possible readership”, explains the professor. Each month, an average of a thousand individuals from all over the world visit the CEM website, showing that it is truly a unique resource that can support a diverse range of research projects, help solve new sets of research questions, and serve as a source for articles or books.
“This initiative began in 2009 from a centralized project in Latin America, in which I was a researcher. Since 2012, and thanks to the leadership of Professor Geoffrey Jones of HBS, the initiative went global. With my entry in Uniandes School of Management in 2015, I had the possibility of adding Colombia into this project”, remembers Professor Lluch. “It’s important to make visible our Faculty’s contribution as strategic partner in the region for this project”, she states.
In February 2017, she conducted two interviews: one with José Alejandro Cortés, who led Grupo Bolívar for over 60 years and is one of the creators of the Fundación para el Progreso de la Región Capital (ProBogotá Región), and another with Antonio Celia Martínez-Aparicio, President of Promigas, recognized Colombian entrepreneurs that have led those organizations over several decades.
Lluch stresses the importance of this initiative because every interview “can be used to study things like administration and organizational challenges, and because the interviews allow teachers to address complex, often intangible, issues such as leadership, resilience capability, and sustainability trade-offs”.
Importantly, these stories are not all about success cases, but rather about highlighting the critical aspects that any person or institution goes through. “This is very important in Latin America, given the political, social, even geographic difficulties. I have conducted eleven interviews in Argentina, ten in Chile, eight in Peru and—so far—two in Colombia. I hope to continue searching for material to recreate the history of our countries from the perspective of entrepreneurialleaders”, she says.
CEM also includes interviews in countries like México, Costa Rica, Brazil, India, Turkeyand different countries in Africa. Every country and region has its own set of issues, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses, and this contributes to the diversity of the project, magnifying the benefit spectrum. “Before, the interviews were only supposed in audio, but now they are done in video, as long as the interviewee agrees. Every one of them has a transcript that can easily be consulted by visiting the Baker Library”, the historian explains.
About the interviews
With the objective that they can be used in multiple scenarios, the interviews are long, so that they can cover the various themes that have to do with emerging economies. “This is a relatively new concept; back then, they were referred as developing countries. These are economies that have no high level income, but they do have projection. The project does not concentrate on the entrepreneurs within the United States or Europe, where there is a larger tradition and knowledge; it seeks to make visible the experience of businessmen that have lived in other contexts with their own particularities. As a researcher, there is an additional value in rescuing stories from these regions and preserving the struggles and challenges faced by entrepreneurs, for example, during the economical crisis or periods of political instability.It is interesting to know how they managed through those circumstances”, Lluch explains.
According to the investigator, most of the interviewed businessmen have led their organizations for over three or four decades, which allows them to tell the history of their countries over the long-run, through their failures or successes. “It stays as a live testimony for future generations, rescuing the oral tradition value as a methodological strategy. Even though an investigation based just on oral tradition might be flawed, it also has an unmatched richness. I have learnt as much, or even more, from listening to entrepreneurs than from reading books, because it results as experiential”, she states.
“It is a challenge to make these interviews because many themes must be covered. The interviews start with a recreation of the profile of the entrepreneur: the beginnings, social origin, and trajectory, and then themes more related to the enterprise strategy are approached, along with internationalization, life cycles and, in the end, the role between businessman and society. Then, topics of the problem of sustainability, poverty, state role and corruption”, indicates the professor.
There are a lot of differences between entrepreneurs from different countries, even though there are common characteristics in the region.
“Each country has certain characteristics related to crises and political instability that have deeply impacted business. For example, comparing the reality between Argentinean and Colombian allows us to know that the former faced larger economical inestability due to recurrent crisis, acute devaluations hyperinflations and military governments while in Colombia, the challenges have been different: geography, political violence, or the guerilla conflict.
It is impossible not to ask to a Colombian businessman today about the post-conflict, which to an Argentine an business seems irrelevant” she indicates.
“There are common patterns like the role of the family, because many enterprises that we have investigated are still familiar ones, some are owners of economical groups that have diversified and also, off course, there is the difference of each country. That is the game: to establish common patterns and particularities. The same goes with each interviewee. Every person is unique, and there’s only one chance to gasp what he or she wants to communicate. By knowing the history, we can’t predict it, but we can identify certain tendencies and patterns that help understand much better the present”, Lluch points out.