Craig Dempsey is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Biz Latin Hub Group, an organization dedicated to assisting investors in Latin America and the Caribbean via the likes of company formation and tax advisory, as well as through recruitment and payroll outsourcing. Craig holds a degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in project management, and other certifications covering logistics, personal management, and government administration. Craig is an Australian military veteran and has been deployed overseas on numerous occasions. He is also a former mining executive with experience in Australia, Canada, Colombia, and Peru.
In seven years of operations, BLH has grown from a single small office in Colombia to have offices in 16 countries around Latin America and the Caribbean, with a multimillion-dollar annual turnover, and expansions into new markets in the region ongoing. Craig is based at the BLH head office in Bogota, Colombia.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Craig Dempsey: Mi name is Craig Dempsey and I am the co-founder and CEO of Biz Latin Hub, a company that provides tailored packages of back-office services to investors and corporations entering and doing business in Latin America and the Caribbean. Having started the business in 2014 in Bogota, Colombia (where I am based), today the company has offices in 16 markets in Latin America and the Caribbean, and trusted partners taking our coverage to almost every other corner of the region.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Craig Dempsey: Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be a soldier when I was little, and that is exactly what I did. I served as a military engineer with the Australian army, including doing tours of the Middle East. After leaving the service, I moved into the mining industry, which is what took me to Latin America. That, in turn, saw me develop the interest I have in the region, and it was when I was looking to set up a business of my own and found a distinct lack of the sort of integrated back-office services I was looking for — basically a partner who could handle all of my outsourcing needs, rather than having to deal with multiple providers — that was the lightbulb moment for Biz Latin Hub.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Craig Dempsey: We provide tailored packages of integrated back-office services to investors and corporations looking to enter, expand, and do business in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our porfolio includes company formation, legal services, accounting & tax advisory, visa processing, and due diligence. Another important service we offer is professional employer organization (PEO) services, which is essentially a form of outsourcing that allows clients to employ local staff in a given market without going through entity formation. This is particularly attractive for companies that want to hire a small team for a short-term project, or those who need a local or regional sales director or other executive, for which forming a local entity would be unnecessary.
What is unique about our company is the unrivaled reach we have in Latin America and the Caribbean — which will continue to grow in the future as we launch inot more new markets — and the fact that we are one of the very few (if not only) provider who can provide such comprehenive support to companies “from cradle to maturity”.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Craig Dempsey: Obviously there are two main routes to becoming a CEO — the first is to join a company and work your way up, the second is to found that company. As someone who has become a CEO via the latter route, I would say the two most important elements needed are bloody-minded determination and an ability to spot talent. Because getting a company of the ground is almost always extremely tough, filled with early and unexpected challenges, coloured by doubts and conflicting advice from those around you, and demands the confidence to make decisions and see them through. It is a rocky road that not everyon is cut out for.
Part of being able to navigate that road is being able to spot talent. Because the best person for a given job is not always the person with the most experience or strongest CV. Different roles and situations call for different types of personalities and being able to match personalities to roles you need is a definite skill. I am glad to say that I have had a lot of success finding great talent, and am proud to say that more than seven years later, the first two people I employed for Biz Latin Hub when it was just a tiny office in Bogota are still with the company today.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Craig Dempsey: The secret ot becoming a succesful CEO — certainly when it comes to running a company you founded, as I do — for me has never been about aspiring to any particular example or seeking to emulate a role model. For me, it has always been and continues to be about one thing — making a vision a reality.
As I mentioned before, finding that gap in the market while I was seeking to launch a mining venture (another company I am also co-founder of) was the lightbulb moment and from then on there was no looking back. The road has involved a great deal of learning and a great many recalculations, but at all times I have had a clear vision of where I want to take this company and, with a presence in 16 markets around the region and plans to expand into more, I can say that we are firmly on track.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Craig Dempsey: It is certainly true that part of being a CEO, especially in the early stages when the company remains small, is being a jack-of-all-trades who is a quick learner and able to adapt in order to assist in any way needed. I don’t think there is any other way to be as a founder-CEO during the early growth stage, but certainly there is a point where the company has grown so much that it is no longer feasible to be involved in everything.
It is impossible to name one or two things that a CEO should begin focusing on at that point, but one thing is for sure. it is at that point that the ability to identfy talent becomes all the more important. Because once you get to the stage where you cannot be involved in everything, you need to have people in place who you can trust to do it for you. As such, I would say creating an environment in which talent is nurtured and allowed to flourish and competing perspectives are encouraged is critical.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Craig Dempsey: I guess one on the biggest challenges has been adapting to the situation, both in terms of the direction the business is moving in and in terms of internal processes.
What do I mean by that exactly_ Well, in the case of business direction, we have found that while foreign investment took a hit due to the pandemic, it also shifted in focus. We have found a lot more interest in our professional employer organization (PEO) services — whereby we hire staff on behlaf of a client via our locally based entity. Because this allows for a quick market entry and exit and avoids the need to establish and liquidate a company, it has become increasingly popular as investors and companies look for opportunities to expand internationally with better market agility. Another service we have seen growing demand for is due diligence, which you could assume is because, at a time of greater financial hardship, it becomes all the more imperative to verify that a company’s financial and regulatory status is as healthy as claimed before going into a partnership or commiting to a takeover.
With regards to internal processes, the shift to more remote working has obviously had an effect on how we operate, as well as how we assess performance. Because with people online more, we have had to accelerate our development of in-house online platforms for managing projects and workloads. It also means that assessment becomes somewhat more quantitative rather than qualitative, as peoples’ ability to hit targets and complete tasks from home becomes more central to their evaluation.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Craig Dempsey: I would say one of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make is the failure to pivot their business focus, or failure to do it fast enough. When you are leading a business and you have a particular model or project in mind, it can be hard to break from that track, but unprecedented times call for unprecedented maneuvers. One great example of someone I know who was not afraid to pivot, and who reaped the rewards for it, was an acquaintance (not a client of ours) who runs restaurants, four out of five of which are based in shopping centers.
The first thing he did was to move production of the four shopping center-based ones, which staff could not access during an extended period, to the kitchen of the fifth one, allowing all five to continue doing takeout, even though only one remained in operation. Seeing which commercial activities were allowed and which were not, he then opened a pet food shop with dog grooming services. It was not something he had ever done before, but in a time of limited opportunities, he moved to capitalize on one that was still viable, and he did extremely well out of it. He turned what could have been a disaster for his business into an opportunity to diversify and grow.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Craig Dempsey: I think the fact that we had a service offering (PEO) which many of our clients were shifting towards to meet their expansion and outsourcing needs meant we were able to continue to be profitable. The reality is that, while investment has obviously taken a hit due to the pandemic, it has continued.
People have continued to form companies or need corporate legal services, but without doubt, having that service within our portfolio helped us weather choppy waters in some of the 16 markets where we are based — especially Central America, where US and Canadianinvestors in particular are becoming increasingly wise to the highly competitive rates that they can get skilled staff at, while still enjoying the benefits of proximity.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Craig Dempsey: In all honesty I would say one of the biggest challenges is getting the message out there that Latin America is still a great place to invest, and offers a huge amount of opportunity. There has been a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the pandemic, with obviously good reason, but this awful global emergency has not eliminate opportunities entirely.
In fact, in many cases, it has created them. I believe the prior to the pandemic, Latin America was on the cusp of a major outsourcing boom, as more and more foreign companies get wise to the amount of skilled talent there is on offer here, in terms of professional services, as well as in the tech space. The pandemic has only delayed that, because all of the advantages of outsourcing closer to home (what is increasingly known as “nearshoring”) still remain, and as economies reactivate and companies grow in confidence, things will get back to where they were.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Craig Dempsey: Learning to play the recorder in primary school has worked out to be fairly useless so far. However, who knows when a high-pitched rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat might come in useful…
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Craig Dempsey: One of the most difficult decisions I have had to make, and still do have to make, is to turn down potential clients. In particular, potential clients looking to enter El Salvador to do something related to Bitcoin, since the government there made the cryptocurrency legal tender earlier this year.
The reason I have had to turn them down is partly because they are focused on dubious activities — online gambling, or suchlike — but also because there is so much uncertainty when it comes to Bitcoin, both in terms of volatility, and also in terms of the potential for a reversal of that policy to legalize it. For those clients we retain, who are focused on more traditional business activities, this has been incredibly beneficial because it has allowed us to continue catering for their needs without unnecessary distractions, while it has also benefited the staff whohave been allowed to focus on the things they do best, even if it has meant turning away potentially lucrative opportunities. I am not saying we won’t deal with clients interested in cryptocurrency, but the decision not to enter the space this year has been one of the biggest questions I have had to answer about the direction we are moving in.
AUHOR NAME, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Name for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Name or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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