I just returned from a visit to our operations in Caracas and Mexico City. It was great spending time with the local management teams and understanding their unique challenges and opportunities. In both places, I spoke at “town hall” meetings to give employees a better understanding of some of our recent announcements. There’s been so much news lately, it’s difficult to comprehend it all – especially when you are in a field office 3,000 miles away from headquarters.
I attended meetings in both cities with members of regional IT associations and local economists. They provided validation for what we already know – the Latin American market is growing rapidly. One economist made the case that Mexico should be considered a BRIC country. He based his position on a variety of economic measures (GDP, inflation, population, infrastructure) and comparisons with Brasil, Russia, India and China. Overall, it was very compelling.
In Mexico City, I visited with executives at one of Latin America’s largest media companies. They are using Sun technology as the backbone for a new global distribution system for news, entertainment and sports content. It was surprising to learn the reach of Spanish telenovelas – they are now distributed globally including to Japan, Russia and Australia. Perhaps, “Ugly Betty” (based on a Colombian telenovela) represents a new shift in television programming in the U.S.
When visiting our field offices, it has become a Sun Legal Department tradition that we partake in the most “interesting” food of the region. In Mexico City, it was crickets and worms. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. I can eat anything deep-fried in beer batter and chili oil. This is the WGEA* about to make the jump into the gustatory void with a nice crispy worm.
The best part of the trip was the time I was able to spend with our local field attorneys. The volume and breadth of their work is always impressive. On any given day, they manage complex sales agreements, employment issues, litigation, tax concerns, compliance training and attend meetings with government officials. The rest of the time, they handle their “day jobs”. In both locations, recent government actions have added significant complexity to their work. The situation I observed in Caracas was the more extreme example. The current congress in Venezuela has given their president broad powers to unilaterally enact laws for a period of 18 months in a wide range of areas. The result is that new laws and changes to existing laws are issued almost weekly. Last month, Venezuela’s president announced plans to nationalize the country’s oil, telecommunication and electricity companies. There are concerns that he may go further.
I spent over an hour meeting with a group of eight local attorneys in Caracas to discuss this fluid political situation and how it impacts their work. They represented a cross-section of the local legal profession – lawyers from firms and in-house with IT, energy and telecommunications companies. They very openly described the challenges of trying to advise their clients about laws that appear first in the morning newspaper with no prior legislative debate or announcement. Many of these new enactments were described as inconsistent or ambiguously drafted. This forces citizens to seek prior approval from the government before taking any action. And, there is no stare decisis to be relied upon for guidance.
It’s a very anxious environment in which uncertainty pervades most aspects of life. Thus, I was surprised at the candor of our discussion. I was also impressed by the resilience of these attorneys. They weren’t giving up. Instead, they were focused on applying their skill, training and knowledge to support their clients through this turbulent period. I left the meeting filled with admiration and honored to be part of the same profession.
(*World’s Greatest Employment Attorney)