Chamber of Commerce conference to focus on business with Mexico

Two businessmen meet on the street, they embrace and one pats the other on the back several times.

In the U.S. — unless the men were family members — that kind of greeting would likely be considered too close for comfort.

But in Mexico it would mean the men are close allies or are about to strike a deal.

"Sometimes an American will come to Mexico and he gets a hug and he gets startled," said José Luis Romero Hicks, a lawyer in Guanajuato, Mexico, who will give tips on doing business in Mexico at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's 2009 Global Conference on Friday.

Romero Hicks is the featured speaker at the all-day conference held in Southern Oregon University's Rogue River Room, in the Stevenson Union.

"Primarily we chose to hold our third annual Global Conference on 'Doing business with Mexico' to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Guanajuato, Mexico," said Sandra Slattery, executive director of the chamber.

Slattery met with Guanajuato's mayor and other Mexican business officials about a year ago to discuss expanding the sister-city relationship into a business relationship, she said.

"The whole point of the conference is to discuss what the opportunities are and also discuss how exchanges can happen and what resources are available to help people," she said.

Romero Hicks will speak in the morning, and a series of other speakers and panels will follow his talk.

"We selected him because of his extensive experience in business and governmental affairs in Mexico," Slattery said. "He's not only incredibly qualified, but he's also a dynamic speaker."

Romero Hicks, who received a master's in economics from SOU, has held a number of high-level government jobs, such as director general for housing policy at Mexico's Ministry for Social Development, a position in former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's administration.

Last week, speaking from his home in Guanajuato, Romero Hicks offered a preview of his Friday talk, which will focus on investment opportunities in Mexico and on understanding the mannerisms of businesspeople there.

"There are important differences in terms of how to approach a contract and how to negotiate," he said. "It's important to be aware of these cultural differences."

Men who are close friends hug when they greet each other, and women or two people of the opposite sex kiss once on the cheek, Romero Hicks said. The number of times a man pats another on the shoulder while embracing equates to how close the two men are, he said.

Businesspeople also "shake hands constantly" when they're negotiating, he said.

Ashlanders who are looking to do business in Mexico should also understand which economic sectors are growing, Romero Hicks said. Investing real estate, restaurants, clothing companies, medical technology and computer equipment in Mexico would be smart, because those economic sectors are doing well, he said.

Romero Hicks' 13-year-old daughter, María José, is attending seventh grade at Ashland Middle School this year, and his 15-year-old son, Luis Felipe, did the same last year.

"One of the main reasons we want to do this with our children, is my wife and I believe in tomorrow's world it's not enough to be bilingual — you have to be bicultural," he said.

Romero Hicks; his wife, Chiemi Murakami; and Luis Felipe arrived in Ashland Tuesday for Guanajuato week. Romero Hicks' two brothers, Juan Carlos, also an SOU alum, and Eduardo, mayor of Guanajuato, are also here for the week.

"When everybody in the family's traveling, we have an expression: even the parrot is coming along," Romero Hicks said. "I think no one will be left here."

The sister city relationship between Ashland and Guanajuato can help open opportunities for businesspeople in both countries, he said.

"I believe that the sister city relationship is probably one of the most successful in the world between Mexican cities and U.S. cities," he said. "Forty years is a long time and I think the sister-city relationship has surpassed everyone's expectations."

For more information on the Global Conference log on to or call 482-3486.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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