This is part 1/2 of an article published on Biz Latin Hub
Toby Feldman of Biz Latin Hub was invited to speak to the Australia, New Zealand and Mexico Business Council (ANZMEX). In an interesting and lively interview conducted in their Mexico City office, Sergio Almazán, Director, and Donald Smallwood, President, share with us their astonishing development story and give us their highly competent and professional insight into Australasian-Mexican business relations.
The interview will be split into two parts. The first part will focus on the direct work of ANZMEX and the ways they contribute to a dynamic and amicable community for Australian and New Zealand businesses. Part 2 of this interview will focus on the industries that are flourishing in Mexico as a result of Australian and New Zealand investment and support, as well as isolating a few business opportunities that the ANZMEX board feel have yet to be exploited.
Biz Latin Hub (BLH): Can you tell us a little bit about how ANZMEX began as a business council? What are the origins?
Donald Smallwood: The Australian-New Zealand community is still small in Mexico compared to the business communities of other countries that have been doing business here for decades even centuries. Having said that, there are still companies coming here from Australia and New Zealand that want a space where they can share ideas and thoughts on how to do business and how to interact with the respective governments.
It was in response to this problem that ANZMEX was born. We began life as a consortium of the Australian and the New Zealand embassy. Companies, some of them large, some of them small, would approach us looking for support. I have been in Mexico for 36 years working with a number of different companies and I definitely think that there is a strong cultural factor that motivates Australian and New Zealand companies to look for a group like this.
We believe Australia and New Zealand can bring something interesting to the commercial ecosystems present in Mexico.
Australian and New Zealand people have a very similar culture which is different from the Americans… or the Latins…
Toby interjects…: or the British!
Donald Smallwood continues: Haha! Yes and even the British. Even though we fight each other about cricket and we do enjoy that, we definitely have a very different attitude – Australians are much more independent. The business council was pulled together 7 years ago to start to lobby the areas of opportunities with the government. For example, the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) which is actually just about to become law, included us in some of the discussions that they were doing with the government to try and create the trade agreement. When like-minded people get together, we start to create something of value. Over the last 7 years, we have grown impressively. We now have 80 members, which includes 11 or 12 gold members (our top membership level). Companies include Qantas, Air New Zealand, BHP and Macquarie Capital. Macquarie I think is the largest bank in the world in terms of its involvement with infrastructure projects.
Sergio Almazán: We also have Mexican and international companies such as GoldCorp or KPMG as members. In fact, this is something I would like to add to what Donald has mentioned. What we do as a Chamber is to try and add to what has already been done by the embassies. Both embassies have a commercial department, one is Austrade and the other is New Zealand Trade and Investment. We use our freedom and liberty to try and achieve what they cannot. Our funds are not provided by the taxpayer which allows us to be more creative and to try and create synergies to achieve a common objective. This is why other companies that are not necessarily Australian or New Zealand in origin want to become part of this business community as it is becoming stronger and stronger through our work.
BLH: It sounds as if you have connections with many companies, not only Australian or from New Zealand. Do you have any sort of relationship with any other countries and embassies that operate in Mexico?
Donald Smallwood: It is actually really interesting that you ask this question. We just had dinner the other night, where we invited the chambers of commerce from 6 different countries, including the Canadian, the Italian, the British and a few others. We spoke about what we needed to do to try and collectively work towards whatever objectives we wanted to set in terms of a relationship with the Mexican government, in terms of investment, etcetera…
It is a really interesting new initiative, and ANZMEX is leading this process.
BLH: What I love about this initiative is that despite being in the news for all of the various business opportunities that Latin America is undoubtedly presenting, I do still feel that it remains relatively unexplored compared to the other markets. This is a great project that you have launched. This will hopefully encourage many countries to get involved.
Donald Smallwood: Yes… well, we have just started that! So I can’t really give you results yet as the next job is to compile a list of concrete objectives and goals, but, then again, you have to start somewhere! We want to attack this as a group.
We run several different types of events, and most of our effectiveness comes through events. People who have something to tell us and want to add to our knowledge base will join us from the government, from other industries, and from social organizations. We also have universities that are members, and they put on events; for example, Sydney and Macquarie Universities are members, too.
BLH: I actually attended a fascinating event put on by Sydney University a few months ago. They sent a cohort of their best students over as part of their business degree programme, and Biz Latin Hub was sent over to help give them some market entry advice for their projects. They all were working on potential business pitches as part of their final-year studies
Sergio Almazán: Ah yes that is right! And then you were invited back two weeks later to listen to their final pitches and presentations.
BLH: How has ANZMEX changed its events in the last 7 years?
Sergio Almazán: As with anything else, you are constantly stumbling towards your next great success. We started off very small, and now it is three times bigger than it was at the beginning. Secondly, we have organized our programme to be much more sophisticated. We have had to make our events more appealing than the other groups. I think we are achieving it. There’s a lot of competition out there and we think it is better to not have too many events but to just have good ones.
The other thing is to make sure that we have events that have special value to our members. It is not enough to have members pay this amount, and non-members pay that amount because, normally, the difference isn’t really that significant. But we occasionally have really special events just for members. Recently we had an event with the key negotiator for NAFTA. He came, and he spoke about how he negotiated the deal and how he reported directly to Ildefonso Guajardo (a Mexican Politician). He explained to a small group of 20 members exactly how the negotiations went. And it was fascinating. That was a member-only meeting!
BLH: I believe I was actually going to come to this exclusive event, and then our legal counsel pipped me to the bill and took my place! Could you tell me more about your events?
Donald Smallwood: We are thinking about having a few events with members of the new government. We have contacts with some of the more interesting ministers, and we want to ask them some pointed questions to hopefully yield some interesting answers.
Sergio Almazán: I wasn’t here for the hard work at the beginning, but I was lucky to join an already consolidated chamber. I think we have successfully carved out a real niche. We are different, we are creative. We know what the other chambers offer, and even members of these chambers like to come to our events. They have fun in a relaxed atmosphere with camaraderie and a level of trust. I think it is great value for money.