When Henry first came to Ecuador from his native Alabama, he was 40 years old and his Spanish was less than basic. “I didn’t even know what an amigo was,” he admits with an easy laugh. In high school, Henry had chosen an elective class in typing instead of Spanish, reasoning thus: “I’ll never need Spanish and there are more pretty girls in typing.”
But today, married to a pretty Ecuadorian, Henry is one of Quito’s most successful businessmen. For two years he traveled to Ecuador arranging mahogany shipments for a furniture company.
Not yet accustomed to the last-minute nature of business here, he grew frustrated with logistical challenges and decided to leave for good. He had bought the ticket for his ﬁnal ﬂight home when Ecuador again deﬁed all his scheduling. At the very last minute, Henry met his future wife.
After a long-distance relationship Henry decided to seek permanent work in Ecuador. He ﬁrst tried exporting foods. That was what one did in developing countries, wasn’t it? Export resources? But it was when he took a break from international trade that he discovered an untapped market.
In 1999, teaching an English class at EPN University, he saw a gap between services and student needs. An entrepreneurial itch compelled him to draft a business plan; his wife translated it, and he pitched it to the administration. They gave him a salary of $200 and six months to produce results.
Since then, the University’s language institute has grown from three teachers to over 170 and from a yearly student population of 479 to over 25,000. His compensation has grown too. Henry explains that business here is problematic, but that there is a market for solutions. “It is because of the many problems,” he says, “that so many opportunities exist.”
While he worked to get things off the ground in 1999, inﬂation was out of control and banks were closing. Nonetheless, people wanted English classes and Henry’s model provided that service in a way they felt was worth paying for—even during hard times.
Henry is humble about his success: “The basics are competitive here,” he explains, referring largely to customer service. While many countries fear the demise of their middle class, Ecuador slowly adapts to the demands of a rising one.
But even though job titles have changed, a belief in the old “hacienda economy” of land owners and peasants persists. The popular view that advancement is only available through connections encourages the ambitious to dedicate their energies to social networking as opposed to improving businesses.
There are Ecuadorian visionaries who see the possibilities, however. They, along with newcomers like Henry, are launching alternatives to existing, and poorly-run, businesses. While providing an educational service that people need, Henry has created hundreds of well-paid jobs. And there are countless sectors in which others might prosper here by doing the same.
Editor’s note: In the full article, in the current issue of International Living magazine, Herb goes on to reveal how to make the most of the business opportunities in Ecuador—he gives tips on securing the visa you need, getting your own business up-and-running, and on negotiating the country’s fast-changing regulations and slow-moving bureaucracy. Subscribe to International Living magazine here and get instant access to this issue.