Latino-American Student Organization Hosts Alumni Dinner

The Latino Student Organization (LASO) at Harvard Business School hosted its second alumni dinner at the Harvard Club of New York City on Friday, April 2nd. Nearly 80 HBS alumni, current students, and guests filled the Harvard. Also present were members of the New American Alliance, a preeminent Latino business association, who were key in helping to secure the keynote speaker, and the National Society of Hispanic MBA organization, who has been a partner in promoting our program.

Founded in 1999, LASO is a growing organization for Latino American students and alumni. Since its inception, the organization has grown from six to 50 student members. The organization’s leaders are hopeful it will continue to grow, with approximately 30 U.S. Latino admits in the Class of [MIE5]2006 in the first and second rounds.

The highlight of the evening was keynote speaker Honorable Roel Campos. Mr. Campos, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is currently a Commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Prior to his current role, he served in the U.S. Air Force, worked as a Federal Prosecutor, and founded a radio broadcasting company in Texas.

Mr. Campos’ speech was entitled “The Heat is On: Being a CEO or Director after Enron,” and addressed two main themes. The first topic was the impact of the Sarbanes-Oxley act, and its effect on corporate governance.

Mr. Campos emphasized that independent directors are key to preventing future corporate scandals. He cited the recent turmoil facing Walt Disney Company Chairman Michael Eisner as an example of no-confidence votes that may become more common in the future; however, he feels that events like this will become less common as boards increasingly appoint independent directors.

The second topic of his speech was the growing influence of the Latino market in the U.S. Latinos currently comprise over 13% of the U.S. population; this percentage is expected to grow to 21% by 2020. Purchasing power is also expected to increase sharply, from $600 billion per year in 2002 to $900 billion in 2007. Despite the promise that stems from this rapid growth, the Latino community still faces formidable challenges; namely, the need for education. Mr. Campos emphasized how community leaders, like HBS alumni and students, play an important role in tackling this challenge. “The speaker was inspiring,” said LASO VP of Alumni Relations Solaria Perez (NG), “He highlighted the importance of being informed and involved in improving the educational system.”

Addressing this growing market is top of mind for many U.S. corporations; however, to do so they confront the reality that this is not a homogenous market. The term “Latino” simultaneously applies to various national, racial, and cultural groups. Studies conducted by Mina Pacheco Nazemi’s (OJ) and other LASO members have shown that U.S. companies have focused on one of two approaches to resolve this issue. For industries with large economies of scale, like media, companies have expanded into multiple markets at once to leverage content and cultural commonalities.

Alternately for businesses requiring unique local flavor, like consumer products, major U.S. corporations have chosen to allow “grassroots” players to trail blaze and grow with the help of private equity before buying their way into the market.

The event was sponsored by American Express. Gabriel Esparza (MBA ’00) spoke about American Express’ support for a diverse business community. Ten American Express employees from various business lines were in attendance to show their support for the community.

The event offered students and alumni a great opportunity to meet each other and local Latino community leaders. Participation at the dinner was 40% higher than last year, and included alumni from a variety of industries and job functions. There was a strong showing from private equity firms that are focused on the Latino market, as well as representatives from various industries. “It gave me the opportunity to meet alumni and let me see that an event like this can be successful; it’s not just in the interest of the students, but also beneficial for the alumni themselves,” added Perez, “Based on the energy and enthusiasm of attendees this year, I can definitely see this event growing in the future.”
LASO is continuing to build strong bridges to Latino graduates of HBS, and is intensifying its effort to build a Latino Alumni Association of HBS.

“Alumni are enthusiastic about forming an organization that will create a formal Latino network and serve as a unified channel for communication with the school,” commented Al Bolivar (NA), Co-President of LASO.

Several prominent alumni leaders have already indicated their strong interest in playing an active role in the organization..