Op-Ed: P.R. should be ‘internationalized’ island

Written by  //  December 21, 2015  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

Author Jorge Mejía is director and founder of Fusionworks Inc.

Author Jorge Mejía is director and founder of Fusionworks Inc.

The Puerto Rico Mexican Entrepreneurial Society, in which I participate as a board member, is a group that comprises Mexican and Puerto Ricans and epitomizes what the island’s future should be: internationalized and no longer surrounded by mirrors, as a politician once said, or that insists on having narrow tunnel vision.

With each passing day, Puerto Rico is becoming more of an internationalized island where we can see more “Puerto Ricans by choice.” It is interesting to see how the local Mexican community has organized to ensure they bring growth to Puerto Rico, where they live and contribute. This group has chosen not to stand by just watching how things are going. This group came to take action.

The group’s recent business meeting brought together 22 speakers, each with seven minutes to explain to the audience what they have done to change and excel, not just survive the crisis.

Among the 22 presenters were the presidents of Triple S, Subway, Claro, Aerostar, Intec, and Carla’s Sweets, among other business leaders. So, what happened in some of those seven minutes with each?

Carla Haussler, president of Carla’s Sweets, chose to give us a great life lesson on the topic of spirituality in business. This woman stood firmly to expose her reality since 2006 — she almost lost her business, got a divorce, suffered the death of her mother, and got cancer all while parenting and experiencing a depression.

Then, as she incorporated meditation, spirituality and rosaries in her life, she left behind everything that tormented her and even started a new business, Carla’s Rosaries, a collection of “fashion” rosaries made to remind us that we are still spiritual beings in the field of business.

Next came the story of Triple-S, a company which all Puerto Ricans should feel proud of, because Puerto Rican doctors founded what is now a public company that just bought another one in Costa Rica and will continue conquering Latin America.

For me, the surprise of the day was Intec. It started operations in the 80’s and drove the public conversation on solid waste management and renewable energy generation. Intec has about six companies, including presence in Colombia and Dominican Republic. It was also a source of pride to learn that Brenda Marrero & Associates said she has a presence in 16 countries, from Canada to Peru, not to mention Spain.

Meanwhile, it was shocking to hear how the issue of labor reform was discussed. We saw the incredible differences in our laws when compared with other places, particularly the U.S. mainland.

Ricardo Castro, president of the Puerto Rico Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution Chamber (known as MIDA), presented a powerful example. How is it that Puerto Rico, which has such protective laws for employees, is losing its resources through a brain drain to the U.S., where there are fewer protections and benefits? Is it because our people feel they do not need “protectionism,” and go to the U.S. believing their talents are enough for employers to value them without anyone to protect them? I firmly believe that is the case. We must reform Puerto Rican labor laws now.

I’ve learned that opportunities are always there, the problem is that we do not pay attention. As a living example of this, I want to highlight the presentation by Angel Torres, president of Plaza Provision, a company that distributes consumer goods — mostly food and beverages.

Given that as a result of our economic recession, in the last year alone we have lost 84,000 residents, it stands to reason that less food and drinks would be sold. So, this group of professionals led by Angel was given the opportunity to diversify the business. A company that sells tools approached them and asked them to distribute their product in hardware stores, a line of business they are not into. Because they were wide open to diversification and willing to reinvent themselves, they evaluated and accepted the challenge. It proved to be a success. They are selling more than they expected.

In short, we live in a place full of opportunities. Stay true to your spirit, as Carla said, with eyes wide open, as Angel says. Opportunities are there; you may just not be paying attention.

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