14 Oct 2022

Finding the Diverse Protagonist: Sourcing Research Cases in Latin America


by Dorian Salinas

While reviewing notes for a potential case with an e-commerce company in Argentina, the research team at HBS’s Latin America Research Center (LARC) noticed multiple mentions of one of the organization’s leaders, Karen Bruck. As the director of corporate sales, Bruck was facing challenges developing one of her managers who, though business savvy, was struggling to adjust to the workplace culture. Excited at the prospect of finding another case highlighting the region and industry, the research team quickly created a one-page case brief and soon after produced a case with HBS Professor Joshua Margolis, whose research interests include exercising leadership through difficult situations.

For over 22 years, LARC has been essential to helping HBS maintain a strong presence in Latin America (LATAM). Their team of five senior researchers and case writers work with faculty on research cases and projects that are locally relevant. Originally launching with one office in Argentina, the team has expanded their reach with offices in Mexico, Brazil, and soon Uruguay.

By reading newspapers, watching the news, and intentional networking, LARC’s research team stays up to date on the issues of the region. But there’s more being done to find fitting cases and protagonists. To correlate with what’s happening around the HBS campus in Boston, LARC looks for sources that tie into the School’s recent ventures. With the creation of the Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society (BiGS), LARC has increased its focus on cases that examine how businesses can help tackle societal challenges. “We are looking at what businesses are doing to fight discrimination, contribute to a more sustainable world, and even how to raise cattle without inducing deforestation,” said Mariana Cal, assistant director of research at LARC. LARC also works with a regional network of universities to find topics their students are interested in—resulting cases may be translated to Spanish or Portuguese and taught in their classrooms.

The center also uses their “friends and family” network to stay on trend. This includes board members who are well connected to business leaders in the area, former case protagonists, local networks, and HBS alumni. After the production of her case, Bruck joined this network of friends and family not only as a former case protagonist, but also as a member of their Latin America Advisory Board.

With nine cases currently in production, including one with Margolis, LARC is one of 10 global research centers helping HBS faculty with international research and case development. As such, their cases give students the opportunity to learn about real-life businesses and how they are impacted by the topical issues of their geographic locations. “Every region will have economic and political differences,” said Fernanda Miguel (MBA 1997), LARC executive director. “But within these differences, there are similar issues that businesses face. The case method is giving students an opportunity to learn how these issues are solved in other countries—which may or may not be similar to how it’s handled back home.”

Karen Bruck: Growing Managers at MercadoLibre,” illustrates a specific difficulty that Bruck faced, but being a protagonist meant more to her than just highlighting her own experience—it meant showing the world a different side of LATAM, one that is not overshadowed by stereotypes of an underdeveloped region. “A world-class tech industry is not always what comes to mind when thinking of a company founded in Latin America,” Bruck said, noting that Mercado Libre is the first technology company in LATAM to be listed on the NASDAQ, a unicorn, and among the top 100 companies in multiple rankings. A case featuring a Latina protagonist also helps shine a light on leadership diversity in the region.

For Margolis, Bruck’s case was a way to bring more diverse representation into the classroom. A case highlighting a female leader in the LATAM tech industry may seem to speak to a niche audience, but Margolis said it illustrates issues that leaders across the globe can encounter. “The case presents a digital and scaling business. At its core, it’s about how to develop your team as a manager. No matter where you are, every manager faces that challenge, and the solution will never be a straight line.” Margolis aims for his case portfolio to broadly represent where students are coming from and where they are going.

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