San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Latinos Reaching Top Rungs at U.S. Companies

Despite his humble corner cubicle on the third floor, the general manager looked all the part of his high-ranking position at Hewlett-Packard.His gray suit had not a single wrinkle. His royal blue tie was knotted solidly below a well-manicured goatee.

César Trujillo, originally from Mexico, has worked for the information technology giant for 16 years, the last three of which as head of its Central American and Caribbean regional office.

“There might be some other people that … have the skills and abilities and everything to come over here, but I think not all the people are able or available to come to new markets … or sometimes to take the risk,” said the 39-year-old Trujillo.

Trujillo is one of a growing number of Latin American executives taking the regional helms of major U.S. companies on Costa Rican soil. Coming from Mexico to Chile, these high-level professionals are equipped with business, cultural and linguistic expertise that outpace homegrown candidates for the job.

Damaris Sánchez, regional director of advisory services for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, has seen executive searches move in this direction in recent years.

“We’ve seen a clear trend toward more frequent hiring of local executives for multinational operations,” she said.

Typically, foreign companies choose a representative from their home office to set up shop in overseas markets for security reasons and for their innate knowledge of the business, according to Doris Peters, a San José-based human resources consultant.

“Before managers of U.S. companies were almost always North Americans, but that isn’t the case anymore,” Peters told The Tico Times. “Many (North American companies) transfer someone from another country or look for a local person, whether Costa Rican or a foreigner, but who fills their requirements.”

The switch has happened for several reasons, according to Sánchez and Peters. U.S. companies can find highly educated and qualified people with knowledge of the region. Candidates often have previous experience working at other multinationals, which makes any management transition much smoother.

Hiring local is also a matter of economics.

“It’s much cheaper than bringing an expatriate to whom they have to offer a very attractive and much more expensive package for the company,” Peters said.

Several heavy hitters are among companies recruiting from abroad. Citibank’s incountry manager is Chilean; Coca-Cola’s regional president is Mexican; and 3M’s regional general manager is Venezuelan.

While some in the business see it as a new twist on management, others consider it part of globalization.

“I feel that, for some of the companies, (recruiting foreign-born executives) could be a new trend because they are coming from different regions,” Trujillo said.

But Oscar Rodríguez, president and general manager of Bridgestone Firestone of Costa Rica, sees nationality as irrelevant.

While Latin Americans may have linguistic and cultural advantages here, they are not the only ones his company hires for regional management positions “We’re global, and there are no boundaries,” said Rodríguez, a Venezuelan.

From the executives’ side, Costa Rica is an attractive place to transplant a career and new life abroad.

Costa Rica’s respectful work environment, high level of professionalism, and relative safety and security attract big talent to the country, Peters said. She added that families fall in love with the environment and can find strong local schools for their children.

Rodríguez, who moved to Costa Rica 10 months ago, pointed to the stable economy and political environment, supportive government and highly qualified workforce as major attractions. On a personal level, he said, his family is better off here, where they no longer have to travel with private security.

“It was a blessing coming to Costa Rica,” said the 46-year-old Rodríguez. “We feel at home.”

Trujillo echoed Rodríguez’s observations. He described the Costa Rican business culture as more open, friendly and relaxed than his previous posts in the United States and Mexico.

Being married to a Tica, with whom he has a 1-year-old son, also played into his decision to take the job here.

“It was a sensational decision, and I expect to stay here for a few more years,” he said.

Costa Rica’s Brass Band

Company                               Executives                              Nationality

Bridgestone Firestone               Oscar Rodríguez                       Venezuela

Citibank                                   Jorge Mora                              Chile

Coca-Cola                               Xiemar Zarazúa                        Mexico

Intel                                          Mohsen Fazlian                        United States

Microsoft                                 Gustavo Quesada                     Costa Rica

Motorola                                  Mauricio Flores Meyer             Mexico

Procter & Gamble                    William Merrigan                      United States

3M                                           Gustavo Angulo                        Venezuela


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