The Nashville Health Care Council has for years used international trade missions as tools to build Middle Tennessee’s profile as an industry hub. The group’s trips have taken delegates to more than a dozen countries and it has hosted events for overseas dignitaries and executives here and in Washington, D.C.
Next up for the council is a trade mission this week to Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina — the organization’s first formal visit to Latin America. Business Editor Geert De Lombaerde recently spoke with Caroline Young, president of the Health Care Council, and Janet Miller, chief economic development and marketing officer at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, about what makes trade missions work.
Q: Why pick Latin America for this trip?
A: Caroline Young: This is the ninth trade mission we’ve co-hosted with the Nashville Chamber. We’ve been to most European capitals and to Asia twice, but we haven’t yet been to the South American market. These trips are attractive to us as a way to open doors. We’re seeing growth in private-sector delivery systems there, so there are things
to be learned.
Janet Miller: As we looked for potential destinations, we were surprised by the number of Nashville companies doing significant business in the region — names like Thomas Nelson, Gresham Smith and Gibson Guitar. So the general information that we’ll learn on this trip will also be helpful in a broader business sense.
Q: Will you be doing anything different on this visit?
A: Young: No, we’ll be meeting with the same types of people: health ministers, industry executives and policy think-tank leaders. They’re similar types of individuals as on past trips, but it’s what they have to say that might be different — especially since both Chile and Argentina have different economic and political situations from what we’ve seen before.
Q: Is there a visit that you look back on and say that’s where the light went on in terms of how to make them work better for everyone involved?
A: Young: We’ve had many unique experiences, but one that comes to mind as being a little bit different is when we took a smaller group to the United Kingdom in March of this year. We organized a discussion dinner along with a policy think thank where everyone was seated at a big, long table for a moderated discussion on health policy.
It was a very different experience, very intimate and informal. Our delegates loved it. They said it felt like they took a deep dive and were able to take some good ideas to apply back home.
Q: How different are Health Care Council trips from those organized by the chamber as a whole?
A: Miller: The level of sophistication is very high and the discussions more deep and intricate. The broader chamber trips serve as more of an introduction. Here, the dialog is much more sophisticated.
Q: Do you seek out a specific delegate mix or does the group kind of shape itself?
A: Young: Both. We have members in the group who have been on several trips and bring that experience with them.
Miller: The mix is very interesting. Leading the group is Jack Bovender, with all his experience in the industry and in leading trade missions. Then you have attorneys who have done merger-and-acquisition work and architects who have designed facilities around the world. Having them makes the conversation more interesting. They’re all looking at this from different perspectives.
Q: What do you want to see as a result of trips like this?
A: Young: First and foremost, continuing relationships. It’s a marathon when you’re starting to build relationships from scratch, but at a minimum, you want to see some business development activity. Here’s a case in point from our London trip in March: One of the delegates recently
told us that because of the connections he made on that trip, he’s opening an office there soon.
Q: Is that time frame — about eight months — typical to expect developments like that?
A: Miller: That’s very quick. This is a long sales cycle and it comes down to personal relationships. There is also a lot of serendipity involved. You never know when the relationship you have with that ambassador or executive will pay off. But being there on the ground can get us to the front of
the line when it comes to capitalizing on opportunities.
Q: You have on the schedule sessions on Chile’s public and private sectors as well as innovation in its health care system. That seems particularly appropriate given the U.S. health care reform law passed this year. Was that intentional on your part?
A: Miller: Not really. I think our delegates are always interested in how private systems are run elsewhere.
Young: Regarding the panel on innovation in private systems, there are probably things to be learned about how others are driving innovation through a growing public sector.
Q: How important is it to follow up on what happened on the trip once you get back to Nashville?
A: Miller: It’s huge. We’ve learned over the years that it’s really important what you do when you get home. You have to take what you did and leverage it, build on the experience.