We talked to Craig Dempsey on how Biz Latin Hub has back-office solutions that expand businesses to new markets, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Craig Dempsey: We are doing well, thanks. I am glad to say that the pandemic has not directly affected my family or me because of being infected by the coronavirus. Also, where many of my family are, Australia has performed relatively well in dealing with the situation. However, that doesn’t mean it has been easy. When you are based thousands of miles from your homeland and family back, there seems that much further away when you know you cannot get back to them, so the last nine months were not easy. Nevertheless, compared to the turmoil some families have had to endure, I feel fortunate so far.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Biz Latin Hub?
Craig Dempsey: After a decade-long career as an Australian military engineer, which saw me deployed overseas multiple times, I moved into the mining industry, serving as an executive and dealing with interests in Australia, Canada, Colombia, and Peru. That experience gave me a greater insight into living and investing in Latin America. After spending time living in Peru and then Colombia, I launched Biz Latin Hub with my business partner David Wright. The idea came from our efforts to find the sort of market entry support services that we were looking for when developing a business venture of our own. When we saw that nobody was providing a fully comprehensive service that went beyond just company formation or corporate legal and accounting advisory, to include the likes of product registration, payroll outsourcing, commercial representation — a cradle to maturity service for any investment interest, if you will — that was the lightbulb moment for David and me, and we haven’t looked back since. I am proud to say that after a lot of sweat, and maybe a few tears, over six years later, we are running a fast-growing company with offices throughout the region, more being opened, and operations expanding into other areas. It has been a remarkable journey, though I have to say, I feel that we are just at the beginning.
How does Biz Latin Hub innovate?
Craig Dempsey: I see a lot of our innovation manifesting itself on a client-by-client basis. That is to say because we can offer such a diverse portfolio of services. Because every client comes to us with different expectations, needs, and plans for the future, any two packages of services prepared for clients rarely are the same. We certainly don’t offer some standardized service that clients have to adapt to their needs. Instead, we look to provide a dynamic service responsive to our clients’ individual and changing conditions.
A good example is how we have helped some clients initially launch in a particular market with a professional employer organization (PEO) service — which means we hire staff on their behalf, avoiding the necessity to incorporate a legal entity in the country. That is generally a service that appeals to investors seeking to develop commercial operations for a limited period or of a limited scale. However, in some instances, our clients have used the service to get to know the market better before deepening their involvement through company formation or registering a branch or subsidiary. In other cases, our PEO services have served as a temporary solution to get our client’s business moving in a given territory while undergoing the more time-consuming process of company incorporation. Because while starting a business can take weeks or months, depending on the jurisdiction, hiring staff through a PEO can be done in days. With few firms out there able to offer all of those services as part of a comprehensive package like we do, I see us offering innovative solutions to clients investing in Latin America and the Caribbean. We are also very much focused on finding tech-based solutions for our clients’ back-office needs.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Craig Dempsey: Obviously, the pandemic was not great for business, though compared to the battering some companies have taken, I again have to say I feel fortunate. It is great to be able to say that despite everything, we are still growing. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have taken on new team members throughout the region and continue to receive a healthy amount of interest from new clients and existing ones looking to take the next step in their investment journey.
That said, I don’t want to sugar coat things. 2020 has been a good year for us in business terms, rather than the outstanding year we anticipated. Invariably, during the unprecedented social and economic upheaval, the business environment worsens, and investors become warier. In that sense, our job in many cases has been to offer expert support to develop business plans that are more responsive to the situation and able to identify emerging or previously unexpected commercial opportunities. In terms of the day-to-day running of the business, the extensive home working, the need to adapt to regularly shifting rules that are distinct in each of the countries we are operating in, and above all else, the need to guarantee the personal safety of all of our team members and their families has been of most significant concern and a considerable challenge. But that has also been an opportunity for us to take a step back and implement some new standards and processes that will be useful to our operations long after the pandemic is over. I am lucky to have built an incredibly diligent and effective team around me. I have to say that I am beyond happy with how we have responded and adapted to the situation, and very grateful to the efforts of so many people within the organization who have helped to guarantee that we can still offer our clients the services they need while keeping everyone in the BLH family safe.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Craig Dempsey: It is hard to consider anything a “difficult” choice when they have mainly been guided by the need to guarantee the team’s health and safety. When dealing with a situation in which decision-making is based on safety and welfare rather than normal business concerns, those for me are probably the easiest decisions I ever have to make. Suppose there are two options available to deal with a problem during a situation like this. One of those options offers a more significant safety level for my team but comes at a higher cost, as far as I am concerned. In that case, there is only one option on the table. No capital is more important than human capital, and making sure everyone is well once we get through this situation is the only bottom line that matters right now.
Indeed, there have been some major lessons learned. Like many businesses, we have been forced to adapt very quickly to an environment in which communication is that little bit harder, in which everyone is that little bit more concerned, in which family life invariably creeps into the professional day, in which business priorities are not the most critical priorities. As has been the case for many businesses, the experience has been something of a baptism of fire, but we have managed it well and will undoubtedly come out of the situation more robust than ever before. We have learned to adapt to some unexpected problems and surprising turns in the road, and I have to say I am thrilled with how we have gone about things.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Biz Latin Hub in the future?
Craig Dempsey: On a personal level, anxiety has never really been a problem, and I have certainly felt far more worried about keeping my team safe than over anything business-related. When it comes to stress and frustration, I just run it off. And I mean that literally. For me, there is nothing better for clearing my head than pulling on my running shoes and pounding a nearby pavement or park. In terms of where I see the business going, we are very much on an upward trajectory. I see us growing in the markets where we operate, as well as into new markets. Once a bit more normality is restored — and we are already seeing a measure of it returning — I can see us getting back onto the track we were on at the beginning of the year, and that means an even bigger and brighter future for us and our clients.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Craig Dempsey: For each of the services we offer, we have competitors, but there isn’t anyone offering the same comprehensive portfolio of back-office support in Latin America and the Caribbean as us. When it comes to our PEO services, there are some well-established players in the market — Velocity Global and Globalization being the big two that spring to mind — although very few have the knowledge and experience in Latin American markets that we count upon. With the likes of legal and accounting work or auditing, you could even say we are competing against some of the most highly regarded multinationals out there, such as Deloitte or KPMG.
Yet naming a company able to offer the full suite of back-office and business support services that we can, with specialist knowledge of doing business in Latin America, is far harder. And that is undoubted to our advantage. Because while we count some extremely successful companies among our competition, we can offer such a comprehensive service. We can support and advise our clients when they reach the point where they want to expand into other markets in the region means we don’t have much in the way of direct competition. We are uniquely positioned within the marketplace, where no other competitor has the geographical presence that we possess and the scope of services to offer a complete integrated solution.
That doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. One of the most important things we have to do to stay in the game is to ensure that each of those services offered within our portfolio can compete with big players who only focus on that particular service. That is, once again, where human capital comes into play. So if I had to give a single answer on how I plan to keep Biz Latin Hub in the game, it would be to keep hiring the best and continue helping them get even better.
Your final thoughts?
Craig Dempsey: It is hard to write about my business doing well during a period of such global turmoil without a pang of guilt. Because while I am pleased with where we are and where we are going and incredibly grateful to my fantastic team for all of the hard work they continue to do, I am also aware that this is a time of suffering for many people in the world. That said, we are in the business of supporting investors and entrepreneurs, and I very much see both investment and entrepreneurialism as keys to recovery. To that end, I look forward to being part of the solution and helping our clients create more wealth and opportunity to be so crucial to the region bouncing back in 2021. As an organization, we are cautiously optimistic about achieving substantial growth in 2021.