U.S. Firms Eye Hispanic Execs To Tap Growing Market

Tim Gaynor, Reuters, September 25, 2006

Phoenix—An unusual mixture of sweet clam broth and thick tomato juice, Clamato was for years a difficult-to-market drink that had failed to connect with a mainstream U.S. market.

But then Cadbury Schweppes Plc took a gamble and reached out to a core group of loyal Hispanic consumers, for whom it was a versatile cocktail mixer, a late afternoon pick-me-up, and a key ingredient for cooking up sea food.

The result? After hiring a Hispanic marketing director and a team of nine field marketing managers to pitch Clamato to Latinos, overall sales ticked up by double digits in each of the past five years. The director, Omar Garcia, has since left the company, but the success continues.

Cadbury Schweppes is among a growing number of companies scrambling to hire Hispanic executives to connect with the United States’ fastest growing minority, which has an increasingly hefty economic clout.

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The U.S. Census bureau tipped the Hispanic population to reach 49 million by the end of the decade, and researchers say Latino purchasing power, currently $700 billion a year, will reach $1 trillion by 2009.

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Home Depot Inc., the world’s largest home improvement company, created a special line of paints for Hispanic customers last year, with the help of a Hispanic marketing team.

An offwhite color in the range is named horchata, for a popular Mexican rice drink, and hunter green is renamed Verde Amazonas. Sales have been extended from pilot stores to all 1,839 stores nationwide.

Recruiters say they are also increasingly looking to sign up Hispanic human resources and personnel managers with the language and people skills to supervise a growing Latino workforce in stores, the hotel industry and customer call centers nationwide.

“Corporate America has realized that we are the fastest growing demographic, and they are trying to catch up,” said Michael Barrera, the President and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“They are thinking not just about the next quarter, but about the next quarter century,” he added.

Transforming The Work Place

To find the talent, recruiters are combing Hispanic job board Web sites and attending graduate fairs, offering the right candidates packages including five-figure sign-on deals, share options and salaries up to 30 percent over market rates.

“There is a battle on for able Hispanic executives,” said Manuel Boado, CEO of SPANUSA Inc., a New York-state based firm that specializes in recruiting bilingual executives.

“Every time we have a good candidate there is always more than one company interested in them, and if the client doesn’t move fast, we lose them,” he added.

Headhunters caution that so far the recruitment drive has mostly amounted to a raid on middle-ranking Hispanic managers to bolster share of the increasingly valuable market, and is not reflected in representation at the boardroom level.

At present just two percent of board seats in Fortune 1000 companies are filled by Hispanics, although as a group Latinos now make up 14 percent of the U.S. population.

“Even though there is a plethora of (Hispanic) talent in the middle market area today, there is very little representation in the senior level suites, and that’s going to have to change,” said David Gomez, the founder of Chicago-based David Gomez and Associates executive search firm.

For large U.S firms to continue to develop their business with Hispanic consumers in the years ahead, recruiters say they are going to have to hire more top-level executives and adapt to Latino culture and values to better manage their Latino workers.

Among the changes, they say, is a need for corporations to accommodate traditionally strong ties to family and community, which make many Hispanics reluctant to be uprooted and moved around in order to be brought on within a company.

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