There are quite a few things I learned about Brazilian corporate culture in my time here. Knowing the below helps one navigate the system and overall retain one’s sanity in the long run.
Bêtania Tanure is a very well known consultant and author on corporate culture and she has given a very good talk on the radio here. For those of you who understand Portuguese, it’s provided below.
Some of the most interesting key points are provided in the first 5 minutes. She summarizes the Brazilian corporate culture in 3 main aspects.
1. Adaptability and Flexibility, which is a positive in the current changing economic situation and overall uncertainty. The downside is that this comes with a lack of discipline, doing things last moment and looking for a jeitinho (tricks/shortcuts to go around the system).
2. Relational – to the envy of American corporate world, Brazilians are much more attached to their companies and leaders and overall work place, but the downside is that they find it hard to tell the difficult truth to friends and also give feedback.
3. Dealing with Power Structures – Brazilian corporate culture is much closer to the authoritarian style than the democratic one but seems like it’s evolving. However, this is a process that takes a lot of time and effort. One of the main pitfalls of this dynamic is that executives of Brazilian companies are often very weak, as they accustomed to delegating everything downward. The advantage of it (which frankly, sounds very conspicuous to me), is that decisions are centralized and in times of crisis, there is no confusion as to who is the decision maker.
Almost one year ago, I wrote yet another (unimaginative) paper for one of my international business classes. The subject of the paper was “Challenges and Opportunities of Doing Business in Brazil.” I learned a lot and wrote a lot, while working on that paper, but only now I am really understanding what do they things I wrote about really mean. What is a complex legal system and bureaucracy? How can a country of 200 m have a failing infrastructure? What does lack of services translate into?
As an aspiring entrepreneur (some day, some way), I’ve been collecting ideas for potential businesses, identifying gaps and inefficiencies in the market. The examples are plenty: Forget e-commerce – the average business in Rio has a website that looks like something a 12 year old in the 90’s would make, while learning HTML. This is a great opportunity. Another one is customer service – an average waiter at a restaurant, would barely even look at you until you grab him by the sleeve, forcing him to get your order or bring you the check. The dismissive answer – “I don’t know, go ask someone else” from someone who SHOULD know, is extremely common.
There are many many opportunities in services and training, one could capitalize upon. For now, I shall continue brainstorming though..
One interesting anecdote I heard yesterday is a typical example of the types of risks we don’t think about as gringo investors accustomed to the developed world. A fellow colleague was considering buying land near an area in Rio where they are planning to build the olympic complex. She then consulted a guy who already owns a land there who informed her that his largest challenge was land invaders who will come every so often and try to set up their housing on his land. Then he had to get guys with guns, to get them away from his property. Solution: buy land and immediately build something on it and get tenants to make sure you don’t get a favela on your property!!