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DR. JACK SPILLAN: Professor explains ‘doing business in Latin America’

May 5, 2014

Dr. John (Jack) E. Spillan spent three arduous years writing “Doing Business in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” (Routledge, April 2014; 312 pages), but he has spent much of his adult life traveling, working, studying and teaching in Latin America.

Dr. John (Jack) E. SpillanDr. Spillan teaches international business and is associate dean of the faculty of UNC Pembroke’s School of Business. He is the book’s lead author with co-authors Nicholas Virzi, senior vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce and director at the Private Sector Council for Competitiveness in Guatemala, and Mauricio Garita, an international economist at the Universidad Rafael Landivar and Universidad Galileo in Guatemala.

The authors seek to incorporate both academic and business perspectives into the prospects for business enterprise in Latin American. As such, the book has appeal to both scholars and practitioners, Dr. Spillan said.

“This is the big picture of Latin America,” Dr. Spillan said. “For a long time, Latin American governments turned over frequently. A new era of political and economic stability has opened new markets in powerhouse nations like Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Costa. Even Columbia is changing as business interests appear to be taking the lead.”

A growing middle class is fueling consumer spending, said Dr. Spillan, noting the larger trends in Latin America. “Latin American has a young population and online business has caught on,” he continued. “It’s worth noting that in Latin America, you will always see informal or street markets, which is an interesting interface between modern and old economies. This is a strong part of the economy and haggling seems to be the currency of exchange there.”

Likewise, “Doing Business in Latin America” incorporates historical and modern trends for the savvy student and/or entrepreneur. Taking on the entirety of Latin America is a big challenge, but Dr. Spillan said globalization dictated an inclusive view of the region. “There are very real trends that affect the entire continent,” he said.

With globalization and North America’s geographical proximity to Latin America, it would seem this book should not be necessary. Not so, as Dr. Spillan says, “there remain big gaps between the Americas.”

Dr. John (Jack) E. Spillan book cover“A diligent study of the region would quickly bring to light that business transactions are substantially more complex than simple intuition would suggest,” the authors note in the preface. “The geographic terrain, the infrastructure, the language and culture and the political-economic climate all factor into the complexities that must be considered when doing business in Latin America.”

Latin America comes with political hotspots and special difficulties, such as physical infrastructure that must contend with soaring mountains, enormous rivers and vast rain forests. The region continues to lag behind the developed world, and there is wide income disparity, he said.

Culture too can be an obstacle to business success in Latin America. Dr. Spillan and his co-authors are uniquely positioned to address modern Latin culture.

“While (co-author) Nicholas is an economist, Mauricio is from a prominent business family with many contacts who provided us with case studies,” Dr. Spillan said. “My travels to Latin American began with the Peace Corp in Peru. I speak Spanish, and my wife, Martha, is from Guatemala. We visit family frequently.”

In the end, Dr. Spillan and his co-authors are optimistic about the future of doing business in Latin America. Protectionism is receding, economic forecasts are robust and the political environment is improving in most nations. Their best advice is to read the book to gain a roadmap for future investments.

“Without question, business people who study, analyze and understand the history, culture and business climate of Latin America will be better prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities that are pervasive in this region of the world,” the book concludes.

Readers will find that “Doing Business in Latin America” is accessible and its chapters well organized as it moves from topics of political and economic history to doing business and future prospects. The appendix offers a nation-by-nation overview.

“Doing Business in Latin America” is Dr. Spillan’s second book since he joined the faculty of the School of Business in 2008. (See “Crisis Management: Leading in the New Strategy Landscape,” John A. Parnelll, William Crandall & John E. Spillan; SAGE Publishing; 2013) He has authored many articles for leading journals and taught at the Universidad de Talca in Chile.

For more information, contact the author at (910) 775-4357 or email