Business Monday

More than 1,200 multinationals hold sway in South Florida

The sharpest, shrewdest and most seasoned business minds with expertise in Latin America and the Caribbean are in Miami, in our back yard. One problem. They’re not often in their own back yards.

That’s because they take a plane to work, not a car. They rack up five, eight, 10 and 20 frequent flier miles for every mile they put on their cars. When it’s time to call it a day, they are just as likely to swipe a card to gain entry as use a key in their front door.

South Florida is home to more than 1,200 multinationals as identified in WorldCity’s Who’s Here database, and beginning next week in this space and every Monday thereafter, you will find a profile of one of the multinationals and its top executive.

Among them are household names like Clorox, HP, MasterCard, Campbell’s, SAP, UPS, ConAgra Foods, HBO, Coors, Novartis, Sony, Adobe, Siemens, Maersk, L’Oreal and the BBC. The list also includes hundreds of lesser-known global brands headquartered in South Florida that are growing their business by heading south, and sometimes south, east, west and north. Brightstar and Citrix are two of the better-known and biggest multinationals headquartered here.

WorldCity has been compiling, updating and expanding the Who’s Here database virtually since the company’s 1998 founding, learning about the key executives here, the employees overseen locally and globally from here, the revenues overseen from here, and more.

For example, there are at least four dozen multinationals overseeing more than $1 billion in annual sales from South Florida — including a number of those mentioned above. More than 50 nations are represented by their global headquarters, with the largest foreign concentration in South Florida coming from Spain and the United Kingdom.

But there are changes afoot. Latin America is deep into an unprecedented period of growth and relative political stability. That is changing, and will continue to change, South Florida’s multinational business community as well, in ways large and small.

Those shifts will ripple through the South Florida economy, affecting a wide range of businesses that, whether knowingly or not, depend on the multinational community for their economic well-being. That includes universities, law firms, accountants, Realtors, restaurants, mortgage brokers, banks, hotels and landlords, dry cleaners, auto dealers and more.

One such change: Because most of Latin America, without access to a mortgage market, missed the global economic crisis it wrought, a number of multilatinas continued to grow. Some are finding themselves in a position to enter the U.S. market, using Miami as a beachhead from which to attack. Brazil — now the United States’ 10th-largest trade partner and long Miami’s No. 1 — easily comes to mind. The list also includes companies from Colombia, fast-ascendant Peru and Mexico, whose companies are also eager to spread their wings beyond the traditional routes in Texas, Arizona and California.

This creates opportunities for companies that can explain how America works rather than the traditional expertise for which Miami is known, which is explaining Latin America.

Another change: More of the traditional, “south facing” multinationals are finding their revenues in Latin America growing faster than their companies’ global revenues. Growth rates exceeding 10 percent and higher are relatively common — and have been for the better part of a decade. Whereas the norm for many of these multinationals a decade ago was 2 to 3 percent of global revenues, today the norm for many is more than double.

But the above-average growth in revenues means at least two things for the “CEOs” of Latin America: Greater expectations from headquarters and, in a more positive vein, a better case for additional resources.

This creates opportunities for executive search firms (Korn Ferry, Heidrick & Struggles, Egon Zehnder and Spencer Stuart are all here, as well as a host of others), continuing education (in addition to the University of Miami and Florida International University, Northwestern is here with its first and only campus outside of Evanston, Illinois, that is inside the United States), airlines and local hotels that benefit when companies bring top executives in “from the region.”

With the growth in Latin America, education has improved and the talent pool has grown. Many multinationals are finding it easier, if not a little expensive, to hire “locally” in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That means a continued reduction in the number of employees based here relative to those managed from here. Years ago, most multinationals based one employee in South Florida for every four they based elsewhere. Now the norm is one employee here for every eight elsewhere.

While in some cases, overall Miami head count might continue to increase, in some it will remain flat or shrink as employees are added more quickly in Latin America. With technology making remote working more feasible, landlords will find space demands changing. Enter the offices of many of the multinationals today and what is most striking, quite often, is how quiet it is.

Along with increased access to education, the rising middle class in Latin America has access to many other things, like air conditioners, rice makers and motorcycles. That means that companies like Daikin, which is Japanese and the largest heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) company in the world, is growing rapidly from here. So are Jarden, which makes a wide variety of household appliances, and Harley-Davidson.

Depending on the supply chain route, that creates opportunities for freight forwarders and Customs brokers in South Florida. Indeed, the biggest logistics multinationals are all here, from UPS, FedEx and DHL to multinationals like Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, Senator International, Schenker, Yusen Logistics, C.H. Robinson and Panalpina.

The younger, better-educated generation in Latin America is also a vociferous consumer of technology and equally ravenous when it comes to social media. Miami exports more cell phones and computers than any Customs district in the nation — which is why giant tech distributors, like Tech Data and Ingram Micro, are here, along withlocal powerhouses Intcomex and the previously mentioned Brightstar. Paypal is here. YouTube is here. Facebook is here, and expanding rapidly.

The real opportunity for South Florida, then, is to recognize that right here in our backyard, if only sporadically, are the sharpest, shrewdest and most seasoned executives not only regarding Latin America but business around the globe.