Exporting Smart Services in the Land of Beef

Team Uruguay XXI is in Montevideo, Uruguay, working with Uruguay XXI on a project to promote exports of Uruguayan services to the United States. 

Our month-long trip to South America began in bustling Buenos Aires, Argentina: A city where the beef is plentiful, delicious, and thanks to widespread economic mismanagement, cheap.  Image

Our first interaction with a local resident was similar to our first interaction with our client, total confusion on both sides. Language and cultural barriers made corresponding with our Airbnb host, Dalia, challenging to say the least. We even considered canceling the reservation. However, once we met Dalia in person, she was incredibly nice. She gave us wine, showered us with hugs, and helped us to plan an amazing few days, including a personal Tango lesson from the world’s top (and strikingly beautiful) Tango dancers.

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While in Argentina, we focused on acclimatizing to southern Latin America. The region has a distinctive accent that made our limited Spanish language abilities challenging. In Argentina and Uruguay, the ‘ll’ is pronounced ‘cja’ rather than the traditional ‘ya’. In addition, ‘que pasa’, which means ‘what’s up’ in the U.S., apparently means ‘WHAT’S GOING WRONG!’ in southern Latin America, which lead to several convoluted and panicked exchanges.  The remainder of our time was spent absorbing the culture, which included eating ‘ojo de bife’ (Ribeye cut) and enjoying the region’s notoriously late nightclubs.Image

After 4 great nights in Buenos Aires, we boarded our Aerolinas Argentinas flight to Montevideo. The airline, which was recently nationalized by the leftist Argentinian government, had an inflight magazine that amounted to an all out political advertisement for the current president. This government and economic uncertainty and anti-business sentiment in Argentina is something we learned is not shared by its close and stable neighbor, Uruguay.

Upon arrival in Montevideo, we walked over to our client’s offices to get a better sense of the city. The whole team was immediately struck by how quite Montevideo is compared with Buenos Aires.  The streets were deserted, few shops and restaurants were open, and we saw few signs of life.  This tranquil pace of life was initially dis-heartening to our adventure-minded team, but quickly became one of the country’s most endearing qualities.

The next morning we arrived at our client, Uruguay XXI, a government entity formed to attract foreign direct investment. Uruguay XXI was established as a collaborative project between the Inter-American Development Bank and the Uruguayan government. Its primary objectives are to act as a reference institution for both public and private sectors, to promote foreign direct investment and exports, to internationalize the Uruguayan economy, to promote export growth, and to position Uruguay as a strategic destination for investment in Latin America. We have been working specifically with the global services division that focuses on increasing service-based investments in Uruguay.

Our task was two fold. First to provide contacts for Uruguay XXI across 4 sectors: architecture, pharma and biotech, technology, and back office services. And second, to provide strategies for how Uruguay XXI should promote the country in the United States.

Let’s first give you some context on the problem Uruguay XXI faces. The country of Uruguay has only 3.5 million people and situated in the southern part of South America between two flashy neighbors, Brazil and Argentina. When U.S. companies consider expanding Latin American operations, most executives don’t even consider (and in many cases have never heard of) Uruguay. Beyond the problem of branding, Uruguay has considerable additional disadvantages including high labor costs, high infrastructure costs, little diversity of skill set, and labor market inflexibility.

As we set about our task, we developed a warm working relationship with our peers at Uruguay XXI. Our boss, Alejandro, visited our office many times everyday to consult about branding and brochure slogans. The services team took us on a barrage of interviews, which included company CEOs and the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay. After considering all the information collected during class and in-country, we came up with several strategic recommendations for Uruguay XXI. We recommended that Uruguay leverage its unique strengths, including talented work force, strategic location between Brazil and Argentina, pro-business environment, and governmental stability, to position Uruguay for high value-added investments such as regional headquarters and R&D centers. We also proposed that new marketing materials should aim at specific target segments, which we have helped them identify. Finally, we proposed the implementation of a customer relationship management tool to better manage relationships with investors.

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For our final nights in Montevideo, we were treated to two night of fun with our Uruguayan hosts. On Wednesday night, we went to a traditional Uruguayan grill, hosted by our boss Alejandro. He grilled up a variety of meat, including kidney, live, pork, chicken, and of course, ojo de befe. We ate the meat and drank wine over the course of 3 hours, which gave us ample time for bonding with our new coworkers.

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On Thursday night we attended the championship game of the Uruguay soccer league. We watched the clear favorite, Penarol, dominate the far smaller Defensor team. The crowd sang taunting songs and danced throughout the entire game. We learned that Uruguayans love sparklers and fireworks, and have no problem setting them off in soccer stadiums!

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For our weekends, we were lucky enough to visit the quaint fishing village of Colonia and the posh resort town Puta del Este. Image

We all now feel an allegiance to Uruguay, this tiny country in Southern Latin America is our new adopted home. Everyone here, including our client, Haas alumni, and future Haas students, have gone way above expectations in assisting us with our work, and have made us feel at home 6,000 miles away from Berkeley. 

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