Many Latin American executives still look to North America for their management training needs, but signs of a shift in focus to Europe were visible at a recent conference in Barcelona.
More than 200 Latin American and European academics and heads of business schools met at the end of last month for the annual meeting of the Latin American Council of Business Schools (Cladea), hosted by Spanish business school Esade's European-Latin American Centre of Studies (Ceal). The theme was "Consolidating European-Latin American relations and management training".
While academics from both continents presented their latest research findings, others spent the three days exploring new opportunities and striking deals.
Spain is the natural venue for such a meeting. But historical and cultural links aside, during the 1990s Spain leapfrogged the United States to become Latin America's largest business partner. It accounted for 53.3 per cent of European direct investment in the region from 1990-99, according to Ceal. Many Europeans would like to see Europe's cultural influence match its economic weight in the region.
Spanish business schools such as Esade, the Instituto de Empresa and IESE have been present on the Latin American continent since the 1970s. But the rest of Europe is not so well represented. Some French, Italian and Danish schools have established a presence, but most of Latin America's business schools still look to the US for international links and exchanges. German and British schools are notable for their absence.
Xavier Mendoza, dean of Esade, said the UK's historical focus lay elsewhere. "Because of the structure of its economy, having a foothold in Asia has been a priority for the UK."
Large-scale privatisations attracting big flows of foreign capital have transformed the economies of countries such as Argentina, Peru and Brazil in the past decade. This leaves managers and economists of the region in need of new skills.
Relations between business schools have also changed. "In the past there tended to be more of a supplier-customer relationship," said Professor Riveros. "This is now changing to the idea of partnership."
Shared research programmes and joint courses and qualifications are in high demand. Esade already has links with universities in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Peru. Working with other European and Latin American institutions, it will soon launch one of the first PhDs in business studies in Latin America.