Imagine swallowing a capsule with a tiny camera inside. As the capsule moves through your body, it takes photos of your stomach or intestines that can pinpoint lesions from cancer or other ailments.
Sounds like science fiction? Japan’s Olympus already makes those devices, and within five years, it aims to upgrade the technology, so that you can control and program the camera and maybe even deliver drugs at the exact spot where you see a lesion or hemorrhage.
Victor Corzo, president of Olympus Latin America, described the capsules at the May meeting of the CEO Club to illustrate the speed of change in the technology and health care industries worldwide. He represents a company that started making microscopes in 1915 to replace supplies from Germany in World War I and, now, produces a range of optics-related products from cameras to medical devices.
From its Miami base, Olympus Latin America focuses on selling medical products and related services mainly to Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Most of its clients are in the public sector: hospitals and health care systems. Sales have been growing at a steady clip â€“ up about 20 percent a year for the past five years, as medical technology improves and Latin America modernizes its health care system, Corzo said.
Participants marveled at Corzo’s tales of medical innovation. Gall bladder surgery, for example, used to require a cut across the abdomen, a week’s stay in the hospital, one or two weeks rest at home and then, a week or two with leakage from the wound. Doctors then found ways to operate through three small incisions in the abdomen. Now, they can simply insert equipment through the belly button.
“Today, you have your procedure and can walk home in the afternoon,” Corzo told the CEO Club.
Executives at the meeting shared their concerns about selling to government entities in Latin America, citing problems that include outdated laws, excessive red tape and long-standing corruption.
“How do you see transparency in Latin America: increasing or going down?” asked Ruben Rotulo, president of consulting firm Robles Advisors.
Corzo said governments are becoming more transparent for contracts, but results vary by nation. Chile is among the most open and as a result, competition for bids is increasing there. Brazil remains “tough” because of so many laws and regulations — including some that differ by city and state, he said.
Other participants asked advice on bridging cultural differences between Japan, the United States and Latin America. George Calienes knows the cultural frustrations. He runs Latin American sales for U.S.-based manufacturer McQuay, which was bought out by a Japanese company.
Calienes said he’s found problems reconciling the level of detail and follow-up that the Japanese demand with the need for lean operations and for speedy decision-making in the Americas.
Corzo, a Chilean medical doctor who worked for years with German and Swiss companies before joining Olympus, suggested patience. And in dealing with Japanese managers: “You have to learn to apologize. My advice to you is: Apologize profusely,” he told Calienes.
Corzo cited ways the three cultures might clash at work. For instance, the Japanese value consistency. Americans tend to focus on results, changing their approach when something fails and trying something new. And sociable Latin Americans sometimes “just say things and we don’t really mean to do them,” he joked with the CEO Club.
Questions also arose over economic prospects for Latin America. Fernando Rodriguez, president of Terra Networks, asked if Olympus saw the region as a global bright spot or at risk of “overheating.”
Corzo said the outlook remains bright, but Latin America still lags behind other areas in growth and competitiveness. The region accounts for only about 3 percent of Olympus sales worldwide.
“Latin America in terms of its weight in the world has gone backwards,” Corzo lamented.
The CEO Club is one of six event series hosted by WorldCity that bring together executives to discuss international business. The CEO series is sponsored by the Diaz Reus law firm, University of Miami School of Business Administration and telecom giant Telefonica. The next meeting is set for June 11.