Doing Business in… Brazil

Last week we launched the first series of events of the new platform at Business Base Camp in Barcelona. This series of events called “Doing Business in …” deals with the intercultural aspects of doing business in a particular country. Each session starts with a general introduction to cross-cultural management and why it’s important for entrepreneurs and small business owners to manage that successfully by Edith Finkbeiner. Edith is the founder and owner of Crossing Cultures and has over 30 years of experience in the relocation field. Than a country specialist takes over to introduce the business culture of the particular country, last night that was Tulia Lopez and she talked about Doing Business in Brazil. Patricia Jorda from Privalia, a Spanish business woman living and working in Sao Paulo, Brazil ended the session talking about her personal experiences.

The subject is not new to me. I’m an expat child and have experienced at first hand what it means to live in a culture very different from my own. Next to that I spent 15 years working in the International Mobility Industry and I have worked with thousands of professionals and their families relocating to and from all possible locations in the world. Having moved to Spain 3 years ago has added to my personal experiences also from a professional point of view. Culture Shock, cross-cultural management and multi-cultural teams are all familiar terms for me.

Yet Tulia surprised me with a new theory, where she linked cultural behaviour to climate. She explained to us how people from the so-called cold countries (countries which have clearly defined seasons) value the aspect “time” as important. People from these countries have a strong focus on time control; they are mostly punctual and have a tendency to plan their activities. In countries where seasons are not so definite, the aspect of time doesn’t seem to be as important. Instead of having clearly defined stages for activities with a start and an end, time is more like a circle which allows for more activities to take place at once.

Other things Tulia explained us where regarding business ethics, Brazilians want to know about the person they have in front of them, before doing business. Topics to avoid during general chit chat are deforestation of the Amazon Forest and poverty, amongst others. She explained some cultural blind spots and told us the best way to establish relationships.

Next to learning about the theory it’s always interesting to hear about the experiences of somebody who has gone through the transition. Patricia Jorda works for Privalia in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 7th largest metropolitan area according to Wikipedia and it has all the problems that go along with that. Patricia taught us that the term motorboys refers to people (mostly young men) who will take you on the back of their motorcycle to your destination. Very much like a taxi, but due to heavy traffic they never reach the required place in an acceptable time. She also explained that frequently people arrive late for work. This has everything to do with the cities attempt to control traffic, there are regulations for each neighbourhood concerning the time slots you can travel each day.

All-in-all it was very interesting to listen to experts and first hand experiences about working and living in this exciting upcoming country.

At the last stage of setting up this event we experienced our own little cultural clash. An hour before the start of the presentation we were getting ready, setting up the room and making last-minute adjustments to the presentation. The teams from Crossing Cultures and Business Base Camp together are an interesting mix of nationalities, Maltese, German, Brazilian, Dutch, Spanish, French and Polish. When I saw 7 people in the same room trying to organize it for the presentation, each one going into a different direction, moving chairs and tables from side to side without some type of plan, I panicked for a moment.

In the Netherlands when a task like organizing a room is at hand, the team will take a few minutes to discuss the pro’s and con’s of each setting, reach a decisions, distribute the tasks and organize the room. This strategy doesn’t work here and at times it’s difficult for me to reach a desired result without knowing how to get there. It feels like driving to a destination without my roadmap, instead I have the written instructions of somebody whose language I don’t understand.

But of course we got the room and the equipment all in working order, the guests arrived, and we all enjoyed an informative presentation, followed by a good networking session with some Brazilian finger food and a glass of wine. We all considered this first event a successful one.

It is of course very important to learn about different cultures, to try to understand the different ways people accomplish tasks. But very often these differences frustrate us and we focus so much on them that they control our (professional) lives. We should not forget that in many cases we all have common goals. As entrepreneurs and small business owners we all vision our ideas to grow into healthy and successful businesses and we work very hard to accomplish that. We all face the same demons, “is this the right strategy?”, “am I ready for the next step?”, “am I taking enough/too much risk?”.

We should try a little harder to keep the common goals in mind and learn from each other. Throw away our own roadmap, open up and make an effort to understand what the other one is trying to tell us. See a challenge in uniting instead of letting the differences frustrate us. After all – All roads lead to Rome. Or perhaps I should say – to São Paulo.