Brazilian Business Culture
Brazil is a heavy weight in the Global Economy, with the fifth largest population in the world, 191 million inhabitants, which creates by itself a growth momentum and triggers a critical mass for domestic consumption and infrastructure. Far from the clichés of Carnival and Copacabana, Brazil is the N°1 single agricultural world power, ranking first in sugar, ethanol, coffee and orange juice export. This is also a major industrial economy: Embraer, the third largest aircraft manufacturer, is their flagship; the country produces over 3 millions motor vehicles and, less known, it is the N°1 exporter of shoes. In our surface preparation industries, size wise, the Brazilian market is in the same league as Japan and Germany if stone processing is included. It is therefore worth knowing more about the business culture of this key power in the Global Economy.
The Portuguese genius
Brazil is carrying out a unique development model deeply rooted in its history. The country was founded by the Portuguese who transmitted the language and the culture. Looking at the map of South America, we notice many medium size Spanish speaking countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia...), former Spanish colonies and one single Portuguese country, Brazil, representing about 50% of the population and of the area of the sub-continent. Why did the Spanish Empire fragment and not the Portuguese one? Even in the XIX century, the Rio or Sao Paulo regions had no more in common with the Amazon basin or the Nordeste region than Venezuela and Colombia or Peru and Ecuador. The root cause of this cohesion is to be found in the Portuguese culture and its talent for avoiding or minimizing conflicts, its genius for finding reasonable compromises and making things work. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum of what used to be the Spanish way. These non confrontational skills are strong assets in the Global Economy: the Brazilians are arrogance-free and therefore good at working with others and finding quickly a constructive relationship to make things happen.
Cosmopolitan and frontier culture
Brazil was populated with waves of African slaves and European immigrants. The considerable mixed race population is probably an indication of what mankind could look like in the next centuries: 80 million people are of African descent, 20 of Italian’s, 10 of German’s, 6 of Lebanese’s, 2 of Japanese without mentioning the Portuguese and all the others. This is not notional, most of the Brazilians you meet will refer to their roots in Europe; they often learnt the language of their ancestors and are well acquainted with foreign cultures. The French and US influence were strong also in all fields in the XX century. The outcome is the Brazilians naturally and very quickly integrate with other cultures and effectively establish a strong bond with the ones they meet.
Do not take the Brazilian kindness and easy going attitude for floppiness or weakness. Back in the XVIII century the Bandeirantes were tough guys exploring and settling the immense hinterland. They built a country like the US settlers in the Far West or Russian Cossacks in Siberia. The same frontier spirit is well alive and today’s Bandeirantes are the resolved Brazilian entrepreneurs setting out to conquer a fair share of the world markets! Furthermore the non-aggressive pattern of the culture is a considerable strength: Brazilians are very resilient to hardship, solidarity is a daily reality at all level of the society. This was instrumental in coping with the dreadful hyperinflation years (when prices were up 2% or 3% every day!) and brilliantly rebounding from the mid nineties on. There is no issue the Brazilians are shy to tackle and overcome.
Working with Brazilian
By language and culture they are typically Latin (ref. MFN March and May 2008); prolific talkers they always look for a connection with people they meet to create a bond; being arrogance-free translates into genuine congeniality but their extravagance at times may unsettle non Latin executives. Their natural passion participates into creating strong team ties and triggering a winning spirit in all ventures.
Managing Brazilians is pleasant and constructive: they are eager to understand the other’s standpoint and adjust in a positive manner. Emotions and passions run high and at times cross the border with strict business principles; this hence requires some legitimate and well accepted control.
There are indeed local differences in this immense country to take into consideration: articulate and result focused Paulistanos, broad minded and creative Cariocas, strong minded people of the Minas Gerais, German influenced Southern States of Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul…
Brazil is a key world power, growing its own way, setting its own business standards like the Asian countries, as for instance the creative and prolific tariffs and tax system aimed at a societal solidarity. Thanks to their culture and national experience Brazilians work and interact efficiently in every possible environment, from the sophisticated to the most rudimentary ones. While Europeans and Asians often have an incremental vision of business development, hopping from country to country, Brazilians grasp faster the entire planet as a market target. The legacy of the Portuguese arrogance-free genius is more powerful than nukes, making the soft power of Brazil an outstanding recipe for success in the Global economy.
By Erwan Henry(*)
Contributing Editor MFN
(*): Erwan gives International Business MBA lectures in Universities such as FIA-USP in Sao Paulo (ranked (N°1 MBA program in Brazil), I.Kant State University of Russia in Kaliningrad, Magister Management University of Indonesia in Jakarta, PUC University in Rio de Janeiro, and other lectures at SUPELEC Paris and UPMF Grenoble.