Business Brazilian style: Business culture
Like the national psyche,
business culture in Brazilcan also be described as ‘diverse’. Sao Paulo is Brazil's most internationally orientated business city, so here business conduct is more ‘western’ than in other cities. In general, the more north you go in Brazil, the more conservative business mentality becomes.
|A major part of the
economy of Brazilconsists of family businesses, an important factor to keep in mind while
doing business in Brazil.
These kind of companies are more patriarchal and formally organized than western companies. Brazilians consider having a decent family background as important as entrepreneurship.
Traditionally, Brazilian companies are vertically organized; even the slightest business matters are dealt with by superiors. In case a superior is not available, decisions are made by elder members of staff. Most foreigners in Brazil are working for global enterprises in the metropolitan areas though, which management styles are only slightly influenced by local traditions.
Good manners and keeping up appearances are a must while doing business in Brazil. Dress sharply, show intellectual interest, for instance about Brazilian literature, music and history and receive business partners in style. Do not cut down expenses by staying in a cheap, shabby hotel while on a business trip in Brazil; if you want to be taken seriously by Brazilians, stay in a first class hotel.
When addressing another person in a business situation in Brazil, be as formal as possible. Use the title Senhor(a) or Doutor(a) (‘doctor’), followed by the person’s second first name. A Brazilian has at least two first names, the second is from fathers side.
A working day usually consists of 8 hours plus a one hour break. Often managers start later than their subordinates, but stay longer. Best times to arrange business meetings in Brazil are around 10 am or between 3 and 5 pm (except São Paulo where any time will be appropriate).
Brazilians are one of the most fashionable people on the planet; dressing smart is very important, also in business situations.
Underlying philosophy is that if a person spends a lot of attention to his appearance, he will do the same in doing business.
Best is to take a few well tailored, dark suits and long-sleeved shirts on your
business trip to Brazil. Do not forget to bring a tie and to polish your shoes!
Women wear best feminine dresses or well tailored trouser suits and skirt suits while doing business in Brazil. Smart, closed-toe shoes with semi-high heels are a must. Avoid bow ties, ruching, busy patterns and other frills; plain colours are best. Also, pay attention to details like nails and teeth but be modest in using cosmetics.
Naturally, in Brazil temperature is a factor to take into account. In hot weather it is acceptable to use light fabrics and natural fibres like cotton and linen. Although depending on the industry, in the tropical north it is common not wearing the jacket of your business suit and roll up your sleeves. On the other hand, always keep in mind it can be chilly in air-conditioned offices.
Other tips are not to wear short-sleeved shirts (especially when in combination with a tie) and not to wear yellow and green combined (the colours of the national flag of Brazil).
For ‘after work’ business occasions in Brazil you should wear a dark suit (receptions, formal dinners etc.). Smart jeans combined with a good quality shirt and a blazer are acceptable for less formal occasions. Keep in mind in Brazil ‘being a successful businessman (or woman)’ does not stop after business hours. If your Brazilian business partners ‘catch’ you in your free time wearing worn clothes or having an unkempt appearance it might affect your next business deal.
It is vital to understand that good personal relationships are essential for being successful in doing business in Brazil. Therefore it is of the utmost importance you learn Portuguese as thorough as possible!
|Brazilians do not come straight to business, first they want to know you personally and check you out.
It helps a lot when you are being introduced by a mutual acquaintance or someone respected by your Brazilian counterpart.
Lots of small talk is part of the entire process of closing a deal in Brazil, so train yourself in first showing personal interest in your Brazilian business contacts. Do not become too personal though and avoid the economy and politics; food, travel, arts, literature, family life and soccer are rather safe topics.
In case your experience in doing business in Brazil is low, it is best to wait until the Brazilians are showing they want to get to the point. Always close important deals in person, never by telephone or in print. Things in Sao Paulo usually go faster, but the personal component of a business relationship is as important as in the rest of the country.
Arrange business meetings at least two weeks in advance and confirm them about two days before the actual date. It is highly inappropriate to visit companies or institutions without a proper appointment. It is pointless to have a business trip to Brazil during holidays, especially Carnival (usually in February).
Business meetings in Brazilcan take longer than you are used to and if you need to travel from one office to another, traffic can also consume your precious time. Schedule two to three hours for each meeting and not more than three per day. On the other hand, do not be surprised if an appointment will be cancelled on (very) short notice.
It is also not uncommon – especially outside Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – when business meetings start later than planned.
If this is the case, try not to show annoyance when your Brazilian business partner is late. By the way, you as a foreigner should always arrive in time.
During a business meeting in Brazil, seats usually will be arranged in a hierarchical order.
Exchange of business cards is part of the reception; make sure you bring some written in Portuguese as well as English. In case you use an interpreter, make sure you address your business partner and not the interpreter. Learning at least a few Portuguese words is very useful to break the ice and establish a bond. We stress it again: if you want to be successful in business in Brazil, it is essential your learn to speak Portuguese.
In Brazil, business meetings usually are lively, rambling occasions. When you get the impression your Brazilian counterparts wander off the subject, it is often part of the ‘ritual’ of getting to know each other, which is vital in doing business in Brazil. If you get interrupted while speaking, it is often a Brazilian way to express interest in the topic or discussion; the louder your business partners speak, the more the matter is important to them.
|In Brazil, business presentations should be expressive: spend as much time on fine-tuning the contents (which should be positive but accurate and genuine) as to the style of your performance. Self-confidence, eloquence and being able to explain things in detail are important.
Do not be afraid to exaggerate your body language a bit. Presentations should be lively, visually attractive and with opportunity for discussion. Also important: keep it short (not longer than half an hour).
Do not be offended when a phone call will be answered in a business meeting, it does not mean the other is not interested in the deal. In Brazilian culture you look the other person straight in the eyes. If you neglect this, it might get interpreted as if you have something to hide. It is important to Brazilians to discuss things fully through and spend time to draw a satisfying conclusion.
Also, do not leave too fast after the meeting has ended. An extended farewell is essential to the protocol of business meetings Brazilian style. At arrival as well as departure it is customary to shake hands of all participants.
As previously mentioned, the ‘personal component’ of a business relationship with a Brazilian is very important. Changing your team during the process of negotiations can be lethal; even the perfect business deal can be off.
Getting to know each other might take a while, so do not be disappointed when it takes several business trips to Brazil before you go home with a signed contract (at least do not show your annoyance).
To a Brazilian, the entire process of negotiating from the first meeting to the closed deal is as important as the business deal itself. In Brazil, people enjoy discussions and will passionately defend their position but are always looking for consensus; you will seldom hear a straight ‘no’.
Through western eyes the process of doing business might seem to start slowly but later on details suddenly will be analyzed thoroughly. In any case, expect a rather time consuming process and do not push too hard for strict deadlines; this might put of your Brazilian business partners and there will be no deal at all.
Building a strong business relationship is more important to a Brazilian than just a simple cold contract. Invest time and money to maintain the relationship, so have personal contact on a regular basis. Second best way to keep in touch is by telephone; letters and e-mails might not be replied to. During phone calls, small talk is still important; start a conversation by chitchatting and do not disconnect immediately after discussing the business matter.
|After reaching an agreement it is customary not to sign a contract immediately. This will be done at a later occasion.
By drawing up a contract, you should be advised by local legal professionals. If you only use people from outside Brazil, your business partners might be offended by your ‘proof of distrust’.
Be aware of the fact that a signed contract in Brazil is not naturally a definite agreement. It might differ from what you agreed upon in the first place and can be changed while already in effect.
Summarizing the information mentioned before, some final tips concerning the navigation through Brazilian business conduct will be given below:
• Knowledge of the Portuguese language is essential in order to be successful in business in Brasil. With only English and a few words of Spanish usually you will not succeed;
• In many cases it is a good idea to start a branch office in Brazil, staffed by local personnel or foreigners with extensive knowledge of the Portuguese language and local customs. If a local office in Brazil is not feasible, you should build a personal business relationship with a Brazilian partner.
Go have lunch with reliable professionals, talk about soccer and family and ask innocent questions. Lobby a lot, in Brasil good friends and acquaintances are more important than in Europe and North America;
• Hierarchy is important in Brazil. Indicate to your Brazilian counterparts that you are empowered to make company decisions. In Brazil it is easier to go from top to bottom in an organization than vice versa;
• Brazilians do business with people. This means a business relationship in Brazil may need to be rebuilt if you replace local representatives or personnel;
• Speed in Brasil is never good. Adjust budgets and planning accordingly;
• Do not think of Brazil as a developing or third world country. Consider Brazilian business people always as equal counterparts and look for a win-win situation;
• Brazilians are quite critical of their country. Enthusiastic approval of a foreigner is not appreciated though;
• Brazil is champion in bureaucracy. A wrong paragraph in a contract can result in a delay of months. A despachante (Portuguese for agent) knows the system from within and takes bureaucratic hurdles; consider hiring one.
Be sure you never offer bribes to get round bureaucracy: foreign entrepreneurs in Brazil are being watched closely.
Always remember: the operative mindset you need to start a new business, buy a company or invest in Brazil, is patience;
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