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The rocketeers: four companies in Latin America that can power-up your resume. (Best Employers).

There are hundreds of corporations in Latin America, most offering generous benefits, decent entry-level pay and a chance to become, some day, a hard-charging business leader. For mid-career executives, though, there are only a few key spots that can make a career.

In our first annual LATIN TRADE Best Employers survey, we set out to find the companies that offer that kind of executive quantum leap. We polled international recruiters at the top of their game, and we asked them a pretty simple question: I want that big job, the one that turns me into a hot prospect for every recruiter in the region. Where do I send my resume?

We started with a list of 51 companies culled from already-published best employer surveys for the region. We then asked recruiters to rank the Latin American operations of global companies in four sectors--finance, oil and gas, technology and consumer products. Once we got the top four, we went back and asked recruiters why their No. 1 choices ranked so highly. Then we quizzed the winning companies and their workers.

What the top companies have in common is a focus on recruiting the very best, then building those people into the culture. In the case of Citibank, workers get hit early on with big responsibility. At British Petroleum, mobility ensures talent can thrive.

For Microsoft, it's all about brain power--and motivating people to stretch. And at Coca-Cola, understanding your customers is the name of the game. "A manager trained in marketing at Coca-Cola has a great ability to listen to the consumer. You know what the consumer wants, in your guts," says Javier Meza, a senior brand manager for the company in its southern Latin America division, based in Argentina.

Hunting a high-pressure job with big rewards? Read on. If not, turn the page. These companies seek only the hungry....

British Petroleum Wildflower Power

About a dozen years ago, British Petroleum (BP) bet that emphasizing diversity, social concern and inclusiveness would attract the best people. That, says Rafael Carrillo, one of BP's top Latin American talent executives, is an integral part of what could be called BP's wildflower philosophy: Get good people onboard, then let them blossom where they may in the organization.

"We have medical doctors acting as business leaders. We have reservoir workers, drillers and mechanical engineers in managerial positions. We have lawyers working in supply chain management," says Carrillo, who came to BP as a surgeon in 1991 and stayed, rising to become head of human resources for Colombia. It works because open postings of internal jobs make it easy to move from one position to the next and from country to country.

Once inside, BP recruits--often university graduates with no experience--are heavily trained and rotated around the company. The best get challenged with fast-track management jobs within three years.

Ines Shuk joined BP soon after finishing a graduate degree in international relations at the University of Kansas, then rapidly moved from the press office to corporate communications, became an executive assistant, left that for gas sales, then jumped to management. "That's a lot of jobs in 10 years, and that's the way this company works," says Shuk, recently appointed general manager for BP Solar Colombia, the part of BP in charge of developing solar power. "I think merit and delivery count in this company," she says. Shuk says she took courses to polish her business skills, but "if you deliver, they will give you the opportunity you want."

The BP philosophy--society and diversity count--has a curious effect of focusing people, says Jorge Milberg, managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles in Buenos Aires. Milberg says he once interviewed a BP executive in an effort to place him elsewhere.

Instead of considering the new position, the BP exec talked mostly about people, social responsibility and what he liked about his current job--at BP. He stayed put. "It made my work tougher, but I was pleased," says Milberg. "They do what they say. It's not just a poster on the wall."

Citibank Sink or Swim

"If you like living in the comfort zone, this is not the corporation for you," says Patricia Ferro, Citibank's consumer bank head in Peru.

She should know. The Colombia native's first big assignment: Running an 80-person corporate branch in Central America with US$10 million in revenues,--solo. "I was 36 and running a bank in Honduras," says Ferro. "It was great. The risk is measured to an extent, but you're still running a whole business."

The bank doesn't abandon you, says Ferro, but compared to companies that stress top-down control over risk, Citibank can be quite hard on the unprepared or unwilling. "You push hard and scream if you need help. If you think you know it all, it won't work," Ferro says. "You don't have to be a genius, but you have to resourceful."

That kind of sink-or-swim ethic is prized by outside recruiters, who see it as the bank's strong suit: self-reliant people. "They give you responsibilities. They let you make decisions. They let you make mistakes, which is very important, as long as you don't make the mistake twice," says Jose Luis Daly, a recruiter for Korn Ferry in Lima and a former 20-year employee of Citibank. "They give you parameters, but they empower you early in the game."

Citibank does this by building people from inside with quick rotations from radically different business units--from commercial side to operations, then to staffing, for example--early in the career. "Of course, we support them, but I see a lot of young people learning on the ropes," says Eduardo Comella, Citigroup's human resources director for Latin America and a 15-year employee.

On top of internal challenges, competitive international banking now undergoes nearly constant change, recruiters say, so the pressure comes from inside and out. "You tend to get tested to your limit pretty soon, and if you don't make it, you're gone pretty quick," says J. Steven Bartley, director of Seeliger y Conde International in Miami.

Ignacio Jasminoy, country head for Citibank in the Dominican Republic, joined the bank 17 years ago. When Argentina launched pension funds in 1994, Jasminoy developed marketing plans there for what was then an unknown financial product.

In February, the Dominican Republic will do the same, so Jasminoy is looking forward to applying his learning from Argentina. Teamwork is very important, he says, but the level of challenge means that meeting your personal responsibilities is all the more essential. "You have to know how to manage yourself," Jasminoy says. "It depends on your push and your attitude."

Coca-Cola People First

The world's No. 1 brand didn't get that way on fizzy water alone. Making Coke second only to water takes people.

Coke meets the people goal by setting aside daylong meetings among the top brass every quarter to hash out who gets promoted and why. A week per year, on average, is dedicated to figuring out how to take advantage of the talent on hand. "One of the things we see as critical is international development of our folks." says Ben Cardoso, vice president of human resources for Coca-Cola in northern Latin America.

The right person matters. Executives are expected to plug into their markets, get the lay of the land and work hard to make a relatively generic product--a cola drink--seem culturally indispensable, no matter who in the world is buying it. It's a commitment only a few can master, but being that person can lead to an interesting career.

Executive recruiters agree on that point--Coke's shadow is long around the world and in Latin America, too. "They've been a partner of the region for 60,70 years and they'll continue to make investments for decades, and that's an important part of any career development." says recruiter Jean-Dominique Virchaux, a partner at Spencer Stuart in Coral Gables, Florida.

Javier Meza, a senior brand manager for the southern Latin America Division, has spent the last five years at Coca-Cola. "It has been five years of constant challenge, but also of development and responsibilities." says the Ecuadoran executive based in Argentina.

Coca-Cola is unique in part, says Meza, because ideas move quickly around the company. Using internal company Web sites, he can peruse plans elsewhere in the world and take what he wants for his region. Quarterly meetings around the world encourage intellectual transfer and informal sharing among colleagues, wherever they are.

For example, Meza saw cans promoted during the World Cup in Korea that chilled instantly upon opening. He worked to adapt the technology to glass bottles--the preferred container for Coke in Latin America--but hit technical problems at the sales floor level. The project was scrapped, but Meza is not frustrated. "Nobody saw it as a failure, he says. "We learned a lot. They gave me freedom, they gave me resources, and encouragement.

Yet, nothing is forced on you. "I have access to information from around the world, but the power to think and act locally," Meza says. "Nobody is going to make me do something because it was done somewhere else."

Microsoft Get Smart

Brains, brains, and more brains. That's what Microsoft wants most, and management aims to get the most out of the gray matter. In the ferociously competitive arena of high technology, the world's biggest software company seeks every ounce of smarts to stay on top. Education matters, but Microsoft "really looks at a person's capabilities, intellect and talent," says Bonnie Crabtree, a managing director for Florida at Korn Ferry International.

Clara Hori can attest to that. The Brazilian started as an intern in Brazil when operations there totaled 40 people. Today, there are 260 in Brazil and Hon has moved on to become regional manager for Microsoft's partner group, working from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hon advanced her way through different sides of sales operations--often plunging headfirst into new areas, she says, with little or no understanding of them at the start. Now she works with consultants and other companies that promote Microsoft by influencing corporate buyers.

"It keeps surprising me how intelligent people can be," Hori says of her coworkers. "We do not look for skills, or experience, but intellectual horsepower. What we look for is smart people that have the right behavior and the right values. Whether you know this technology or have done that before, that's second."

That kind of work atmosphere, Hori says, plus being on the cutting edge of new technology, motivates her beyond pay and benefits. "Working with these people keeps me here," she says.

Improving people is a matter of constant internal analysis, says Fernando Esquivel, human resources manager for Microsoft in Latin America. To build team spirit, sales and technical people take four-day training modules four times a year, plus online refresher courses in their area.

In Latin America, 35 potential leaders are tapped each year to review business cases in three sessions in different cities. The challenges are not made-up business school problems; they're real obstacles faced by the company right now. The Latin American board then takes the responses as a roadmap for the future of the company.

"Microsoft is the most fabulous company, in terms of giving opportunities to young people," says Horaclo McCoy, president of Korn Ferry Mexico and Latin America chairman for the executive recruiter. "You find young people with high levels of responsibility, I'm talking director level."
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Title Annotation:Best Employers survey
Comment:The rocketeers: four companies in Latin America that can power-up your resume. (Best Employers).(Best Employers survey)
Author:Brown, Greg
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:0LATI
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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