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CEO Journal: Blending Into the Melting Pot

Martha Montoya launched Los Kitos Entertainment LLC in 1997 to license the characters from her bilingual comic strip. Today her Santa Ana, Calif., business has more than $3 million in annual revenues.

I was raised in Colombia, and I thought it would be easy to fit into the "American dream." But Latino business traditions are hard to break: We’re more concerned with people than the bottom line.

Relationships. In my culture, establishing a business relationship means taking the time to establish a friendship first. Enjoying another’s company, sharing good food and entertainment can make even the smallest business transaction a pleasure. However, most American businesses don’t allow time for social interaction. The Latino modus operandi doesn’t work in large conference rooms or formal office settings because they don’t create the proper atmosphere.

Presentations. Latinos put more emphasis on the person who delivers a message than on a written presentation. A piece of paper can’t convey the fact that we will give 200% and stand by our word. Yet we do understand that the American business community feels more comfortable when facts are presented in writing.

Finances. It’s much more difficult for an entrepreneur to do business in other countries than in the United States. For example, in the United States we can obtain a line of credit with a reasonable interest rate, while other countries charge as much as 15% interest monthly. That’s why Latinos are apathetic toward financial systems and do so many transactions with cash.

Education. We agree that education is the No. 1 way to advance in this society. But though educational programs are offered to new entrepreneurs, most don’t take advantage of them. Sometimes it’s due to language barriers. Cultural differences also make it difficult. For example, many programs take place on Saturday, a day when Latinos would not think of leaving their families.

Business and family. Yes, we do hire everyone in our family. We work as a team to make the business work. We do not fire our employees because they are our family; even if they do not fit into the category of immediate family, they become an extended family member. I remember a friend from India who kept switching her personnel into different positions to avoid laying them off, which was simply not an option.

Several years ago I would have given up on the idea of two business cultures existing in the same country. Yet when I look at the growing statistics and the enthusiasm that people have to become a part of this country, I believe we can do business together. It’s simply a matter of embracing our differences and learning from one another.

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