Inaugural Latin Business Week Showcases Vanderbilt’s Ties with Latin American Communities

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The Latin Business Association (LBA), a long-time sponsor of events celebrating Latin American culture and business, hosted the first “Latin Business Week,” bringing leaders from on and off campus together for a variety of events, from speakers to salsa lessons and case competitions to cooking classes.

AT&T, Deloitte, and Aertson Midtown provided corporate sponsorship. Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), Latin American and Caribbean Student Association (LACS) and the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (TFC) also provided support, underscoring the university’s commitment to working across disciplines and programs to educate, inform, and connect.

“This is the first time that the LBA has attempted to put on a full week of events, and I would say that it was certainly a success,” said Marita Lawler (MBA ’18), President of the Latin Business Association.

TFC Director Mario Avila (MBA ’12) noted that the week was a natural extension of the university’s long-standing relationship with Latin America. “Vanderbilt has the oldest Center for Latin American Studies in the country (est. 1947),” he said. “The fact that we were able to bring together CLAS and other Centers, like the TFC, from across the University highlights our focus on Latin America and commitment to understanding how intertwined our economy is with theirs.”

Events often blended cultural and academic elements. Avila discussed microfinance lending models in Latino communities in the US while students ate cochinita pobil and rice. Marshall Eakin, Professor of History at Vanderbilt and one of academia’s leading authorities on Brazil, discussed the current state of Brazilian society and economy over arroz con pollo, tostones con aguacate, and fried yucca. Locally owned Latino businesses Karla’s Catering and Que Delicias provided the fare.

Students made a little food of their own as well; a cooking class at Vanderbilt’s Demonstration Kitchen, co-sponsored by LACS, introduced participants to the flavors of different regions. Salsa lessons and Spanish conversation classes expanded the overall experience and probably took a few students out of their comfort zones.

The “Business” element of Latin Business Week was not lost on students, either. Hector Calzada, Managing Director at Deloitte Corporate Finance, used Constellation Brands acquisition of Grupo Modelo as a case study to illustrate typical deal issues that arise in Latin American M&A.

The entire week was capped off with a revival of Vanderbilt’s Latin Business Case Competition, which featured competing teams from Washington University’s Olin School of Management and Vanderbilt. The case presented the struggles of Grupo Bimbo, a leading Latin American player in the baking industry, as the company expanded from Mexico to South America, the U.S., and China. Students analyzed the company’s entire global strategy, placing particular attention on how a multinational firm adapts to differences in institutions and consumer preferences across countries. The competition’s Keynote Speaker, Michael Bowling (MBA ’97), talked about his current role as President, DirecTV Latin America Northern Region at AT&T. Bowling is an Adjunct Professor within Vanderbilt’s EMBA program.

Teams from Vanderbilt took 1st and 2nd place, which came with prizes of $5,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Building and executing a full week of events is no easy task, but the LBA was able to accomplish their goals through careful planning, on- and off-campus partnerships, and learning on the fly.  “As the week continued, we were able to involve more and more of the Owen community,” Lawler said. “I think we met our goal of showcasing Latin America through cultural, academic, and business expositions.”