As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDI is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory. 

As the world’s largest copper producer, Chile has to deal with the perfect storm as the coronavirus epidemic combined with plummeting copper prices. But Cristián Rodríguez, director of national investment promotion agency InvestChile, says he wants to stay positive, which involves adapting now and gearing up for post-pandemic business. 

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Q: What has it been like in the past few weeks for you and InvestChile?

A: It has been a time of concern and adjustment; first, because of the spread of Covid-19 and the measures taken by the government to combat it, which mean the vast majority of the agency is working remotely; and second, because of the need to implement mechanisms that enable us, as an agency, to protect our employees, clients and suppliers while also staying fully operational.

We have been able to implement remote work in all the agency’s critical functions, doing so quickly and efficiently. This has allowed practically our entire team and especially executives who are in direct contact with overseas companies to carry on working without interruption. From a technological standpoint and in terms of skills, we were well prepared for such a crisis, which speaks highly of the InvestChile team (we are a public agency and remote work is, or was, not common in Chile’s public sector).

From the business point of view, we have reinforced communication with companies, both through our investment promotion executives and by generating new products that we are making available through a newsletter tailored to “doing business from home”.

Q: How has this crisis impacted you on a professional and personal level?

A: The pandemic has driven us to value things as simple as being able to walk freely down the street or shake hands with someone. What’s important is to stay connected with our loved ones, and to acknowledge how fragile the system in which we live can be, as well as the need to take care of our environment.

From a professional point of view, I am obviously traveling less – or not at all – which in normal life is a relevant part of my role as we connect with investors overseas at their home base. But technology is helping with that, and I am also grateful for the opportunity of being more present in the agency’s day-to-day work.

Q. What sort of leadership skills do you think are required to deal with this crisis?

A: Three things are key. The first is to maintain fluid communication, transmitting information to teams in the clearest and most agile way possible. This includes preventive measures to combat the pandemic, as well as the objectives and goals that we must not lose sight of during this period. The second is the ability to adapt and find new ways of doing our jobs. Conditions have changed and that implies that we all have to use creativity and flexibility in able to make things happen. The third is confidence in our teams. It is in an adverse scenario where teams show what they are really made of, and fostering and transmitting confidence is the best way to maintain a high performance.

We are living in times when the news can fill us with anxiety, and maintaining healthy and motivating work collaboration is very important for our daily routine. 

Q. What would be your advice to other IPAs dealing with the current crisis?

A: My advice is to maintain short and medium-term goals, considering that the long term looks uncertain, especially when it comes to planning events and roadshows. In the case of promotional activities, I think this is a good time to focus on those closest to us: to keep channels open with the companies that already have operations in the country, both to know how affected they are and see how we can assist them, and to look with them at potential investments through which to grow or diversify their business.

Similarly, check the situation of companies that already have greenfield projects under way to see what support to offer, so they can continue to develop these projects. 

Q. What do you see happening in the mid to long-term?   

A: It is difficult to predict what will happen. Even though Unctad has projected that foreign investment flows will decrease by 30% to 40% this year, I want to maintain an optimistic view. The best thing we can do as an agency is to prepare for the rebound in economic activity, which will hopefully happen in the second half of 2020. 

Cristián Rodríguez is the director of InvestChile

If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com