Handshake or hug? Teaching the rules of Hispanic business

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Smaller Chamber of Commerce leaders exchange business cards at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce national convention in Los Angeles with each other to try and connect Hispanic businesses with non-Hispanc business owners.

Mitt Romney will try to woo Latinos today at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Los Angeles. But the Republican presidential candidate isn’t the only one perfecting his pitch to Hispanic business owners.

Many of the convention attendees are learning the cultural rules of the Latino marketplace during the week-long convention in Los Angeles.

In one of the Sunday training sessions, about 50 heads of small Chambers of Commerce from across the country watched and listened as Jerry Campagna demonstrated how to help non-Hispanic businesses do business with Hispanic businesses – Latino style.

Campagna pats a colleague's back with “un abrazo grande” - a big, showy hug. In the Hispanic business culture, it’s about personal relationships.

“We are not going to be doing business right away with each other," said Campagna. "We’re going to have to get to know each other. That’s Latino style. Because otherwise, when you are talking about doing business in a general market environment, everybody gets down to facts and figures: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!”

Antonio Lau with the Latin American and Caribbean Business Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco said some of his clients started their own businesses because they couldn’t find work. But it Lau said they sometimes have a hard time doing it.

“The Latino small businessman: most of them are entrepreneurs, small entrepreneurs," said Lau. "For one reason or another, they become entrepreneurs. But that doesn’t mean they are a businessman."

The U.S. Census reports most Hispanic-owned businesses are in construction, repair, or laundry services. The Census also found that Hispanic-owned business grew by nearly 44 percent from 2002 to 2007. But those numbers don’t reflect the damage done by the recession. The unemployment rate for Hispanics is still around 11 percent – about three points higher than the overall rate.

Lau said keeping the company running and then expanding it can be a challenge for Hispanic business owners who often rely on long-lasting business partnerships that take time to nurture.

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