October 20, 2013 10:21 pm

How Miami became a business education hub

Abraham Cherem Mizrahi©Angel Valentin

Miami heat: Abraham Cherem Mizrahi, is reaping the benefits of his EMBA network

Since he finished his undergraduate degree in 2000, Abraham Cherem Mizrahi has been busy. His Mexico City-based family business has grown rapidly, with diversified holdings in industries as varied as construction, biomass energy and infant clothing companies.

Now Mizrahi is embarking on new ventures across Latin America, beginning in Panama and Colombia. The new business opportunities sprang directly from connections he made on the University of Miami School of Business Administration’s global executive MBA programme, of which he has just finished the first year.

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“Clearly I had a few choices for my MBA, [but] the University of Miami was in a place where I could do business with Latin America,” Mizrahi says. “It is a Latin America-oriented MBA so … in this way I would have both worlds – how America does business and how Latin America does business.”

Mizrahi represents a wave of Latin American businesspeople who have turned Miami, a city that has always acted as a hub for the Spanish-speaking parts of the Americas, into a global hotspot for executive education. 

The south Florida region houses the offices or Latin American headquarters of more than 1,000 companies and the combination of their employees, Hispanic Americans from the region, and the scions of growing family businesses such as Mizrahi has helped shape the programmes of local institutions like Florida International University (FIU). The mix is also attracting outsiders including the University of Florida (whose main campus is in the north of the state), Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Manchester Business School.

The University of Miami, sensing an opportunity in the interest from the south, launched a global executive MBA programme two years ago (it already ran an EMBA). The curriculum is taught in Spanish and attracts students from countries across the region. Only one in its current 25-student cohort is not from South or Latin America.

Next year, the school will launch its EMBA for the Americas, which aims to attract “executives going both ways – executives in the US that want to do business in Latin America and Latin American executives that want to do more business in the US”, says Eugene Anderson, dean of the school.

“We’ve got people who are willing to travel from Bogotá or Mexico City or even Lima to Miami every eight to 10 weeks,” he says.

While the new programme – one weekend every two months – will better accommodate busy executives, Americans have been drawn to the region for their EMBAs for years because of the potential for Latin American connections.

Pablo Civalero, vice-president of professional services at Campus Management, a software company, lives in nearby Boca Raton and says he chose Miami because his company is aggressively pursuing opportunities in Latin America.

“I figured by going down there I could meet other executives who deal with Latin America and South America and learn from them – getting a better understanding of the market,” he says. 

Civalero has met a few fellow students from Brazil, where his company is currently focusing on opportunities, and they have helped him to understand how to do business and find partners in their country.

Those kinds of connections have for years drawn students to Florida International University, in greater Miami, where the majority of the 50,000 students are Latino. “We’re very oriented to what happens in Latin America,” says Angel Burgos, executive director of MBA and EMBA programmes at FIU’s Chapman Graduate School of Business.

“We also have people who are not Latin Americans who come here to do business and learn about doing business in Latin America,” Burgos adds.

Both types of students have drawn outsiders to the region. Kellogg, one of the world’s top-ranked business schools, launched a Miami-based EMBA programme in 2006 “to build a bridge into Latin America”, says Betsy Ziegler, associate dean of MBA programmes.

Betsy Ziegler

Betsy Ziegler: Kellogg aims to build a bridge into Latin America

“We pull in students from across the globe and we thought with the growth and importance of family business in Latin America, we wanted to give them a chance to earn a Kellogg MBA,” says Ziegler. An MBA allows those businesses to professionalise the skills of some members of the family as the enterprises grow.

Kellogg’s Miami programme is the same one taught at its campus in Evanston, outside Chicago, Ziegler adds, using the same faculty, though it does attract more Latino students.

In 2004, the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida, located about 350 miles north in the city of Gainesville, opened a satellite EMBA programme in south Florida. But Alex Sevilla, director of MBA programmes, says the aim was to access the south Florida market, rather than explicitly target Latin America.

Still, “many of our students have ties to South America and their jobs are related to it and they travel there frequently”, Sevilla says. The university is also now better placed to capitalise on Miami’s place as a regional hub.

“As companies continue to look at Miami or south Florida for a regional hub, that does create opportunities for us in the students that might come from those companies,” adds Sevilla.

Manchester Business School travelled the farthest to launch its own Miami EMBA programme in 2010. The school already had a Brazilian outpost, so Miami’s place as a Latin American hub did not play a significant role in the decision, says Nigel Banister, chief global officer. But its international character was a big draw.

“Miami was chosen because it is a city focused on international business, which reflects Manchester Business School’s global emphasis,” says Banister.

“Miami is also a popular destination for executive students to travel to for part of any programme.”

Of course, for attracting executive talent, Miami’s reputation as a nightlife hotspot with glorious weather does not hurt, says Eric Anderson, a University of Miami student who works for Royal Caribbean Cruises. “The restaurant scene is hot, the nightlife is fantastic, the views are to die for.”

“I’ve been in Miami for around eight years myself, and I don’t have any plans on leaving.”

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