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Doing Business in Brazil
Carmenza Gonzalez is vice president of international business development with the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, which connects companies in Orlando, Fla., with those in Brazil. She’s immersed in all things South American, so she offers these suggestions for any entrepreneur prepping for his first business meeting in Brazil:
•Expect your business meeting to start late–even an hour after the starting time–and thus run late. “Traffic in São Paulo above all other Brazilian cities means that sufficient time should be scheduled for transportation,” Gonzalez advises.
•Late owls thrive here. “If there is a business event such as a cocktail hour at night, it will often begin at 8 or 8:30, but most will not show up until 9:30 or later,” Gonzalez says. Same goes with dinner–it’s late, usually starting around 8:30 p.m.
•”During a first visit to a company, it is often customary to give a gift, though it is not required,” Gonzalez says. “Business dress is often formal, though it will depend on the type of business and position of the individual with [whom] one is meeting.”
•Gonzalez says that office hours in Brazil are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but decision makers generally begin work later in the morning and stay later in the evening.
•Telephoning and dropping by. “The best times for calls on a Brazilian executive are between 10 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., although this is less the case for São Paulo, where appointments are common throughout most of the day. ”
4 Ways to Kill a Deal in Brazil
Sometimes cultural barriers can undo a multimillion-dollar deal. Make sure the barrier isn’t you.
When Jason Lomoriello, now 38, first traveled to Brazil right out of college, he was blown away by, well, everything–the towering skyscrapers, the emerald trees and grass, the panoramic mountains and, of course, the vast rain forests.
“When I landed, I landed in heaven,” says Lomoriello, who came as a tourist but eventually returned to start a business seven years ago.
Lomoriello, who owns Exporting Brazil, which specializes in Brazilian furniture, doors and home-related items, has blazed a path that many American entrepreneurs have been traversing or considering heading down.
“Nearly every one of my clients who has come down to Brazil has mentioned how they prefer Brazil to Asia. What they usually tell me is, ‘The quality is better, the food is better, the time zone is closer, the people are nicer, it’s cleaner. ‘ But then the compliments always end with, ‘Too bad Brazil can’t beat China on price,’” Lomoriello says.
Brazil may be more expensive than Asia, but if all goes according to plan, the capital city of São Paulo, the 20th largest city in the world, will be the 13th biggest by 2020. But if you’re going to capitalize on Brazil’s emerging fortune and grow with it, there are many things to consider before striking up a business deal.
#1 Deal-Breaker: focusing the conversation on how Americans do business. It’s one thing to talk about how it’s done in America; it’s another thing if you sound like it’s your way or the highway. And careful if the conversation turns to American superiority, warns Anthony Stiso, president and CEO of DEUSA Enterprises, a marketing and communications firm in Miami Beach, Fla. Stiso has been doing business with companies in Brazil for the past 10 years.
“Some Brazilians feel a national pride that is immense and view American ways of doing things as arrogance,” he says. “Others realize that Brazil is lacking in many areas and seek out U.S. solutions.”
The best tack to take, Stiso says, is the center, agreeing when you can on areas where Brazil bests America.
“Admitting a U.S. shortcoming will give you a lot of credibility among Brazilians and separate you from the arrogant Americans who believe in ‘my country–right or wrong.’”
#2 Deal-Breaker: discussing business over lunch
Lunch, which can easily stretch out over two hours, is sacred here, Lomoriello says.
“When doing business in Brazil, you should respect and enjoy their lunch ritual. Business is rarely discussed during lunch and is seen as an American stereotype [if you do]. Brazilians hardly ever eat on the run and enjoy personal conversations during their meals. Discussing business during lunch is [considered] bad for digestion.”
#3 Deal-Breaker: refusing a cup of coffee. No need to invite your Brazilian colleague to a coffeehouse, but if it’s offered, have a cup of joe–a lot of cups.
“Think golf was important in closing a deal in the U.S.?” asks Stiso. “In Brazil, it’s coffee.”
Sure, you can refuse and ask for a Coke or mineral water, but you’ll convey the message that you’re not really in sync with Brazil and–not to sound high schoolish–but that you’re not all that cool.
#4 Deal-Breaker: not understanding social mores and hand gestures. “People will use words that Americans might flinch at. Calling someone a ‘big black man’ is not an offensive term,” and neither is ‘gringo,’ so if you’re called that, don’t take it as an insult, Stiso says.
And while touching and kissing is part of Brazilian culture, and you may get a hug or be patted on the shoulder during a meeting, you could kill all of your progress if someone asks for your opinion and your hand suddenly flashes the OK sign. It’s like giving someone the middle finger. Don’t do it.
Cultural mishaps are forgivable, of course, but if you want to build a reputation as a serious business owner in Brazil, learn the social norms–coffee cups and all.
Communications in brazil
1. Handshaking, often for a long time, is common. Shake hands for hello and goodbye; use good eye contact; when leaving a small group, be sure to shake hands with everyone present
2. When women meet, they exchange kisses by placing their cheeks together and kissing the air
3. First names used often, but titles important
4. Music and long, animated conversation are favorite Brazilian habits. When conversing, interruptions viewed as enthusiasm. Brazilians enjoy joking, informality, and friendships
5. Portuguese is the language of Brazil
6. Good conversation topics: soccer, family, and children
7. Bad conversation topics: Argentina, politics, poverty, religion, and the Rain Forest
8. Stay away from phases such as, “Is it true that everyone in Brazil is either very rich or very poor?” It is very likely you will be talking with someone that isn’t either one
Behaviour in Brazil
1. Make appointments at least two weeks in advance. Never try to make impromptu calls at business or government offices
2. Be prepared to commit long term resources (both in time and money) toward establishing strong relationships in Brazil. This is the key to business success
3. Some regions have a casualness about both time and work. However San Paulo is not one of those, and in Rio casual refers to the personal and social events, not business. In these two cities, business meetings tend to start on time
4. Never start into business discussions before your host does. Business meetings normally begin with casual ‘chatting’ first
5. Midday the normal time for the main meal. A light meal is common at night, unless entertaining formally
6. American coffee is a mere shadow of Brazilian coffee. Expect to be served small cups of very strong coffee
7. In Brazil, restaurant entertainment prevails versus at home
8. If entertained in the home, it is polite to send flowers to the hostess the next day, with a thank-you note
9. Giving a gift is not required at a first business meeting; instead buy lunch or dinner
10. Purple flowers are extensively used at funerals, so be cautious when giving someone purple flowers. Violets are OK to give
11. Toast: Saude or Viva (Sah-OO-Day, VEE-va)
12. Tipping is typically 10% in Brazil
13. If you here the term jeito – it refers to the idea that nothing is set in stone, that a good attempt can break a rule
Apperarance in Brazil
1. Three-piece suits carry an “executive” connotation, whereas two-piece suits are associated with office workers. Conservative attire for women in business is very important. Also make sure your nails are manicured
2. The colors of the Brazilian flag are yellow and green. Avoid wearing this combination in any fashion
3. Touching arms and elbows and backs very common
4. The O. K. hand signal a rude gesture in Brazil
5. To express appreciation, a Brazilian may appear to pinch his earlobe between thumb and forefinger
6. To invoke good luck, place your thumb between your index an middle finders while making a fist. This is also known as the “fig”
7. Flicking the fingertips underneath the chin indicates that you do not know the answer to a question
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