By Geoff Colvin, senior editor-at-large
FORTUNE -- If you were offered an attractive job in Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, or another high-potential emerging market, would you take it? Or would you think seriously about whether you really wanted to bring your family there and wonder if you'd be able to sleep at night worrying about their safety?
Talking recently with a couple of high-level players from emerging markets, I was reminded of how frequently we ignore two of the most significant issues that many of those markets face: personal security and its close cousin, corruption. They're impossible to quantify, so we often conclude that they're not important, obsessing instead over whether China will grow at 6% or 8% this year. But safety and corruption influence business people's decisions importantly. It's just that no one wants to talk about any of it publicly.
Player No. 1 is the CEO of a privately held Brazilian company. He's a native Brazilian and lives in a beautiful but not large house in Rio de Janeiro with his wife and three young kids. His company isn't especially well known. He tells me that all of his cars are armored. He isn't worried about himself, he says. "The bad guys aren't going to kidnap me. They're going to try to kidnap my wife or kids." His wife and kids are driven around by a professional driver. Executives themselves often forego the armored car, he says, preferring to hail a cab -- unostentatious, anonymous, more secure.
Player No. 2 is a top economist in Mexico who has been in and out of government over the past 30 years. We talk at length about Mexico's economy -- he isn't as upbeat as many of the analysts I've been reading -- but when I ask him to name the top issue facing President Peña Nieto, his answer has nothing to do with the economy. "Security," he answers immediately. The government simply isn't in control of large parts of the country, he points out, and it's hard to do much for the economy until that gets fixed.
It's by no means clear that security is improving in emerging markets. The recent bombings in Russia, just ahead of the winter Olympics, mock President Putin's ultra-tough-guy tactics. The murder in Mexico last year of a top ArcelorMittal (MT) executive, Virgilio Camacho, apparently on the orders of a drug cartel, remains unsolved; just this past weekend, a group of armed vigilantes opposed to the cartel took over the government of a town where the cartel has run free. Several top Chinese executives have vanished in the past year, taken not by criminals but by Chinese investigators who are apparently cracking down on corruption. These men haven't been heard from in months.
Talking publicly about personal danger is in almost no one's interest, so we don't hear much about these issues. But they're just as real as the subjects everyone would rather talk about -- trade balances, interest rates, etc. -- and for the future of emerging economies, they're far more fundamental.
With voters protesting this week's election results, the nation's leaders and global multinationals can no longer ignore the nation's economic hardship and systemic corruption.Aug 2, 2013 10:53 AM ET
In Global Tilt, Ram Charan shows just how little Western business leaders understand the shifts in global economic power.Jun 28, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Toy makers see huge potential in China and India, but sales numbers there are still relatively small.
FORTUNE -- While emerging markets tend to have big, young populations, American toy companies such as Mattel and Hasbro have yet to turn them into large profit centers.
They have, however, learned a few things. Barbie, for example, had a bit of a botched debut in China, but, according to a spring report from Euromonitor, MOREJun 5, 2013 7:48 AM ET
When it comes to finding and keeping top managers in emerging markets like China, it's a sellers' market.May 15, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Poor countries that want money from the Millennium Challenge Corp. pledge to end corruption and embrace democracy. Can this little-known agency change the model for global aid?
By Nina Easton, senior editor-at-large
FORTUNE -- Dole Food Co. has been knocking on his door, but Tony Botchway wasn't sure he wanted to cut a deal. Five years ago, this Ghanaian farmer could only dream of becoming a supplier to the world's largest producer of MORENov 11, 2011 5:00 AM ET
Sure, emerging markets provide opportunities for tremendous growth in business. But companies need to do their homework before going abroad. By Shelley DuBoisAug 17, 2011 11:40 AM ET
|4.2 million have signed up for Obamacare as open enrollment nears close.|
|Why casino workers hate Obamacare|
|Tesla lashes out at Chris Christie|
|Five predictions for the World Wide Web that were way, way, way off|
|Netflix faster on Comcast, following deal|