The Importance of Miami in Latin American Business

Gilberto Caldart believes one of the most important hubs for business in Latin America isn’t located in the region. Instead, he’s seeing Miami play an increasing role in business decisions shaping Latin America. Caldart should know—he has extensive experience in both regions.

Gilberto Caldart, president for MasterCard’s Latin America and Caribbean region, talks about the importance Miami in Latin American Business in a Duke Fuqua Q&A

Gilberto Caldart, president for MasterCard’s Latin America and Caribbean region

After spearheading Citigroup’s businesses in Latin America for more than 26 years, Caldart began his career at MasterCard in 2008 as president of the company’s GeoSouth division based in Sao Paulo. In this role, he managed operations in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Five years later, he embarked on a new adventure as president for MasterCard’s Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region based in Miami.

Caldart graduated from the Global Executive MBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in 2002. He shared industry and regional insights in a Fuqua Q&A.

Q) What makes Miami such an attractive city for business involving Latin America?

More than half of the 1,200 multinationals doing business in Miami conduct business in Latin America and the Caribbean. While there are a number of distinct reasons why Miami dubs itself the “gateway to the Americas”—or as many of us doing business in the region out of Miami informally call it, the “capital of Latin America”—two reasons in particular stand out for me:

  1. Its strategic geographic location and its fast airway connections. Miami has the largest and best aerial connection to and from the principal cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, with direct flights several times a day. It is the fourth largest cargo airport in the United States (11 in the world), and tenth in number of passengers (26 in the world) according to Airports Council International. Numerous multinational businesses based in Latin America have headquarters in the U.S., and many of these cities, including New York, are a quick and convenient plane flight away from Miami.
  2. Its social makeup and human capital. With more than 70 percent of its inhabitants from multicultural backgrounds, Miami has received much of the best talent from Latin America since the 1990s. This rich population makes up a highly qualified, powerful bilingual sector that has developed a wide array of services geared toward Latin America. Most of these professionals bring their network of contacts from their respective countries of origin, which facilitates business.

These characteristics among many others, place this city in a unique position, which offers mutual benefits for both Miami and Latin American and Caribbean cities.

Both U.S. companies as well as companies from other parts of the world seeking to conduct business in the region take their first step in Miami. Even businesses founded by Latin Americans in their native countries look to put down roots in Miami so they can move their businesses up to a regional level because it’s simpler, more practical and more effective.

However, while over half of the multinationals based in Miami have their target set on Latin America, many European and Asian companies see Miami as their entry into the U.S. Although Miami is in fierce competition with other American cities that are very powerful and have deeper roots in this area, no one tops it as the home to offices of the world’s largest firms in logistics (like FedEx Express, Ryder System, UPS Latin America & Caribbean, DHL Express, Exfreight Zeta Inc.), and some of the world’s largest in air freight, exports, executive search and accounting.

Q) When did MasterCard analyze these benefits and make the decision to set up its regional offices in Miami?

In the last 25 years, the characteristics that I just described transformed the city, which historically was seen only as a place where people came to retire or have fun. The result of the transformation was that Miami became a major business mecca, especially for coordinating operations in Latin America. More than 700 multinational companies have established themselves here during that time period, and today when combined with the ones that were already here, they add up to 1,200. Additionally, half of these companies have their corporate and regional or hemispheric headquarters in Miami (for example Telefonica, Burger King Worldwide, Microsoft Latin America, FedEx Latin America, UPS Latin America & Caribbean, Emerson, Citrix Systems, Office Depot).

At MasterCard, we can proudly say that we came to the scene way before that. Next year it will have been 30 years since our corporate headquarters for the Latin America and the Caribbean region established itself in Miami. We have operated from the same building since 1986, and since then have grown from two to 250 employees. Our offices are in Miami’s financial district which is home to close to 200 Latin American multinationals. From our offices we have witnessed this tremendous transformation.

Q) After witnessing and participating in the rise of Miami as major business city, what do you see coming during the following decades?

We see this city and its surroundings as a center for technological development. There is a strong and growing interest from both governing bodies as well as from civil and business leaders to promote Miami as a tech hub with its own flare.

Once again, Latin American companies are integral to this transformation. Many of them are supporting efforts to grow the local developer and startup community by hosting programs such as hackathons and shark tank-style challenges in front of potential investors which capture the interest from Latin American tech talent. One example is the MasterCard-sponsored eMerge Americas Conference which focuses on bringing attention to the South Florida tech community as a hub for the region. The conference, now in its second edition, brought together over 500 companies from across 50 countries to discuss topics such as technology, mobile payments, and smart cities and to make connections between startups and multinational organizations.

Opportunities like this strengthen Miami as an international business hub, but also help us address the critical social issue of financial inclusion in Latin America, where roughly 277 million people are underserved. Because of its location, its unique demographics, and its growth as a hub for technology and entrepreneurship, Miami will play a central role in addressing that need.

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