Business, Governments, and Political Risk in South Asia and Latin America Since 1970

by Geoffrey Jones and Rachael Comunale

Overview — This study shows how perceptions of political risk by business leaders in emerging markets have differed between regions. For Latin Americans, macroeconomic and policy turbulence were the biggest sources of risk. For South Asians, excessive bureaucracy was the biggest source of risk. The study is based on a unique Harvard Business School oral history database.

Author Abstract

This working paper provides a new perspective on how businesses have responded to political risk in South Asia and Latin America over the last half century. The existing business history literature on political risk is focused on the experiences of Western multinationals in the 20th century, especially in Nazi Germany and the post-colonial developing world. This working paper is instead focused on perceptions of political risk by domestic business leaders active in Latin America and South Asia since the 1970s. Employing data from the Creating Emerging Markets oral history database developed at the Harvard Business School, the working paper identifies five major sources of political risk: macroeconomic and policy turbulence, excessive bureaucracy, political instability, corruption, and violence. Employing NVivo coding, marked regional differences were identified. Macroeconomic and policy turbulence was the biggest perceived source of risk in Latin America. Excessive bureaucracy was the biggest source of perceived risk in South Asia. There were regional differences also in how leaders in different regions responded to the same risk. In both regions business leaders reported having to dedicate significant time to navigating government regulations, but interviewees in South Asia frequently reported attempting to steer clear from highly regulated industries, while many interviewees in Latin America discussed how they adapted to heavier government oversight by forming closer ties or working relationships with incumbent administrations.

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