Doing business on Cuban time: Experts speak at Fordham

Three panelists talked about the future of business in Cuba during a discussion on Sept. 16.

By Joseph Vitale, freelance writer for GabelliConnect

Several experts on the economic state of Cuba came together last week at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to discuss the future of the nation and its developing relationship with the United States.

The speakers covered topics ranging from joint business ventures to Cuban real estate, its business interactions with the global market to its national identity.

Vito Echevarria, a New York-based freelance journalist who contributes to Cuba Standard, a digital news service covering the Cuban economy, spoke at length about the economic future of Cuba.

He covered foreign direct investment, joint ventures, government control, and real estate.

Concerning America’s embargo, he suggested that Cuba is America’s “wild card,” before adding that “ending the embargo could change [foreign direct investment] in Cuba.”

“In reality, the government knows it can’t hire everyone. It is letting citizens open businesses and this includes real estate,” Eehevarria added regarding a growing entrepreneurial scene in Cuba.

Noting the limits imposed on citizens there, he added: “Still, there are not transactions between Cuban citizens and foreigners.”

Michel Villand, a French entrepreneur and one of the authors of My Business Partner Fidel Castro: Cuba: From the Dream to Reality, was one of the speakers to discuss investing in Cuba, citing his own experience.

Villand, who was a business partner with former leader Fidel Castro until he sold his brand “Pain de Paris” to the Cuban government, alleged unfair play, suggesting that there are many obstacles to overcome when establishing joint ventures in Cuba. He added that the government has “two sets of books” when it comes to record-keeping, and suggested some potential “dos” and “don’ts” for conducting business in Cuba.

Alvaro Sainz Ortiz, MBA ’16, who explored opportunities for a global music company, spoke about some of the finer lessons he learned while conducting business in Cuba.

Ortiz explained that the Cuban understanding of time is much different, and that one of the most common refrains in the country was to put business matters off to the next day, resulting in a Kafka-esque experience for entrepreneurs.

The event was organized by Marcia Flicker, an associate professor of marketing at the Gabelli School of Business.

“Things are changing rapidly between the United States and Cuba,” said Flicker, who briefed attendees on some of the finer details of the evolving relationship between the two nations.

She even discussed President Barack Obama’s limited authority on this foreign-policy issue, saying: “This embargo cannot be fully raised without the help of Congress, which we all know can be very dysfunctional.”

“You’re not about to be flying down there for a vacation,” she said.

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